I am often asked whether or not the new Virtual Training technology will eventually eliminate the need for face-to-face training. I simply ask them: Did people stop going to church after Guttenberg printed the first bible? Let’s face it, distance learning started the minute Guttenberg finished with his printing press. In 1950, my dad learned how to sell encyclopedias by listening to LPs (Long Playing Records for those born after 1980). I still have the ‘box set’ of Tony Robbins’ “Unlimited Power” somewhere in a box in my basement (right next to the Jane Fonda video cassette). All of these distance learning ‘technologies’ were effective, but never eliminated the face-to-face training experience. So even with the advent with incredible technology today, I do believe, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “the death of face to face training is greatly exaggerated.”
That being said, virtual training has changed the game in a very significant way. In the past the choice was typically either you learned in a group in a classroom, or you learned ‘at a distance’ on your own via books, records, etc. The difference today is that people can learn in groups, but still be at a distance. Technologies such as Second Life or VirtualU, participants are fully immersed in a setting where they can see and interact with people that are part of their learning group, even though they may be thousands of miles away. Therefore, the need to be part of a group learning experience is no longer entirely dependant on being in the same room. That being said, no one will deny that being in the same room has its benefits and will always be part of the landscape. However, people will learn how to use all the technologies in a unified forum so that people learn asynchronously by watching a video on YouTube or participate in a WebEx, then attend a live session at the corporate offices, and then extend the group learning experience by continuing with classes in a 3D virtual worlds. The good news is that the face to face training experience will be much more efficient and impactful, as it will only have to focus on the areas of live training that require a live audience, such as best practice sharing and role playing. Everything else can be handled via the other technologies. So in the end, face-to-face training will be enhanced (rather than be eliminated) by virtual training technology.