And with this solid knowledge in place, you’ve started to make informed, forward-looking choices about your online training.
To start with, you’ve decided on an LMS and the authoring tools you’ll be using. You’ve also assembled your dream team of instructional designers and content producers. Your budget’s looking very doable, and you’re excited to pitch your plan to the decision-makers at the top.
But, during your pitch, someone raises their hand and says “I’ve actually read that web-based training costs are much higher than offline training costs. Have you considered just holding this as a few live sessions here in the office?”
While you’d probably love to do it all, a finite budget says you’ll need to make a choice between traditional offline training and innovative eLearning courses. In this chapter, we’ll compare the cost of each and then arm you with the right questions to ask to get the best learning bang for your buck.
Online vs Offline training costs
To train online or to train offline? That’s the question.
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. You see, each training approach has its own costs, its own advantages, and its own constraints.
The impression that traditional, off-site training is less expensive than eLearning is fairly common. But then again, so was the belief that the world was flat. The truth is, the most feasible and effective training approach depends on a number of factors, starting with your training needs.
In order to compare eLearning with offline training costs, you’ll need to consider factors like the resources available to you, including human capital, technology, place, and budget. You’ll need to ask yourself questions, like who’s my audience, what are their time constraints, where are they, and how often will the course be repeated?
Addressing each of these elements will give a good indication of the viability of both online and offline training programs, and as a result, the costs involved. Keep in mind though, that the most important question is not necessarily, “What would be cheaper?” but rather, “What would be the most value for money?” And a big part of answering that question lies in understanding your training objectives.
So with those in mind, let’s compare offline and online training, looking at the considerations and cost implications of each.
Place: Finding The Right Space
Traditional training requires, well, something of a traditional setting. You know – a quiet room with chairs and tables and other equipment necessary for facilitation and learning activities. But finding an appropriate training venue can be difficult. And then once you’ve found it, there’ll likely be a charge for its use.
Sadly, even if you do have access to a physical space in the office, something free of charge, other costs can incur. For example, if the training venue isn’t centrally located, learners might need transport or parking.
As a rule of thumb, the costs of a training venue can be multiplied by the number of days space is needed for, as well as the number of people in attendance (for catering purposes and size of the venue).
In contrast, eLearning requires no venue, no catering, no parking and no transport. An LMS, while possibly requiring subscription costs, is far less constrained by the number of learners, their location, or the duration of the course.
eLearning (often) allows for an unlimited number of learners, and multiple course presentations, without the need to re-purchase the virtual space for every presentation. Learners can access the course content and partake in activities from the office, an airport waiting room, or even their couch at home while sipping on a cup of their own favorite coffee blend.
Participants: Who, Where, And When?
Some of the most critical questions when evaluating online training versus offline training costs are about the audience. Where are the people you want to train? Are they geographically dispersed? How many of them are there? Do they require transport? And rather importantly, are they all available on the same day and at the same time?
If your learners are busy employees (which they often are), they might need time-off during working hours to attend a traditional course. And time-off is a cost. Alternatively, when participating in an eLearning course, there are flexible structures allowing for non-synchronous learning. This means that learners can engage with the content in their own time, at their own pace.
On the flip side, when it comes to eLearning you’ll also need to consider the learners’ level of computer literacy and familiarity with an LMS. No matter how intuitive or user-friendly the interface, learners will need to feel comfortable with navigating an LMS. If they don’t, technical confusion could interfere with their learning.
Team: Who Do You Need And For How Long?
Online or offline, there’s always a need for humans in training. And humans, especially the talented ones, come with a cost. Where is the cost higher? Well, it depends.
eLearning courses need anything from a team of one or two, to a team of fifteen, depending on their complexity, support, and live components. Some roles, such as course instructors or coaches, could be necessary throughout the eLearning course.
More traditional offline courses generally need a smaller team for developing the training but have a higher dependency on facilitators during its delivery.
Some roles, such as course instructors or coaches, could be necessary throughout the eLearning course. More traditional offline courses generally need a smaller team for developing the training but have a higher dependency on facilitators during its delivery.
But while eLearning development can require more intensive human resources, a significant portion of this is a once-off investment. Why? Well, because eLearning courses are usually more labor-intensive in their development than in their actual presentation.
This means that if the course is well-developed, it can be presented to many learners, many times, without much further cost incurred.
Technology: How Will You Be Teaching?
Technology is becoming increasingly important in almost all fields of training and development. Whether presenting online training or on-site workshops, using multiple forms of technology is unavoidable.
The cost of this technology largely depends on which technology you’ve already got access to, what technology you’ll still need to purchase, and which technology is best suited to the skills or knowledge you’re looking to build.
Offline training costs tend to take the gold medal here because less technology is required to develop and deliver the training. But, more advanced technology can also have huge benefits for learning, like webinars to reach international attendees, gamification to improve motivation, and microlearning for flexible, on-demand, and relevant learning.
For this reason, some argue that technology is a worthwhile investment. In fact, research has even found eLearning to save up to 67% on training costs![i]
Repetition: How Often Will The Course Run?
It’s generally accepted that eLearning courses, while often costing more to design and develop, don’t cost as much in the presentation phase. In contrast, offline courses tend to cost less to develop, but more to present.
But again – it really depends on a number of factors, which mean that the cost of repeating a course can range widely.
While offline training costs typically include the facilitator’s fees, venue hire, catering, and transport, online training requires at least a technical support officer, and sometimes an online instructor to present the course.
Let’s recap this chapter:
Generally, offline training costs are lower for design and development, while online training costs tend to be lower for delivery. But this depends on a multitude of other factors, like your target learners, your learning objectives, and the complexity and duration of your training program. Now that you know the factors and costs influencing online and offline training, you’re empowered to make the best decision (and get the right sign-off!) for your needs.
[i] Sissine, M., Segan, R., Taylor, M., Jefferson, B., Borrelli, A., Koehler, M., & Chelvayohan, M. (2014). Cost Comparison Model: Blended eLearning versus traditional training of community health workers. Online Journal of Public Health Informatics, 6(3), e196.