At this very moment an instructional designer somewhere in the world is making a very important decision. In a perfect world, this decision is being made near the beginning of the project. Learning & performance objectives are aligned with organizational outcomes and they’ve been confirmed with stakeholders. Subject matter experts and actual learners have been engaged in the project. And then the decision.

How should I deliver this?

It’s a media decision. Our intrepid instructional designer will weigh the art and science of instructional design with some practical considerations around delivery. And then, all things being equal (and, of course, they never are), she’ll consider what the learners prefer. Or so we hope. I mean, they’re the ones taking the course, right?

Around here, we believe there are many right answers to all the most interesting questions in life. This is most certainly one of those cases. Great elearning is just as great as great classroom training. Bad classroom training is just as bad as bad elearning. (For a more academic treatment of this argument, check out one of our favorite instructional design texts by Ruth Clark & Richard Mayer.)

So what do learners think of our media choices?

We did some decidedly unscientific research on this recently, polling the local training & development community at our semi-annual Download conference in May 2013 and Megan’s Facebook friends just a few weeks later. The same sets of people gave us their reactions to four learning media: instructor-led training, elearning, webinar and mobile learning, or mlearning. We sorted these into positive comments, negative comments and comments that are neutral, contain both positive and negative components, or that provide qualifications or suggestions. In the process, we’ve made as few value judgments as possible although there were some obvious choices. We decided that people generally think of “interactive” as a good thing. And we decided that “quaint,” “nap time” and “multitasking” in the context of a learning situation to be bad things. “Learning in my pajamas” seems like a good thing. While we like “coffee” (a lot), we weren’t sure if that means the coffee is an enjoyable part of the experience or required for staying awake during the training.

Here’s what we learned.

The results show a lot of variability in people’s experience, some of can be attributed to their roles, industries and personal learning preferences.

  • People who deliver classroom training, whether in an academic or a corporate setting, tended to prefer that model to the others. And providers of digital media preferred elearning and mlearning to the instructor-led models.
  • Two decades after the serious advent of elearning, instructor-led training is not dead yet.
  • The instructor seems to be the critical factor in instructor led training (with little to no mention of content). The content, approach and interactivity are critical factors for elearning and webinars.
  • Regardless of the choice of medium, when done poorly, training is boring, boring, boring and confusing.
  • Megan’s Facebook friends are using social media during traditional work hours.

The bottom line

In a world of unlimited budgets, we’d cater to everyone’s personal media inclinations, but in the real world, that instructional designer will need to consider context and the average learner preference. And regardless of the choice of medium, execution rules the day.