Classroom Learning: In or Out?

Emma Weber

The rise in social media and explosion of open source material has drastically changed the face of learning as we know it. We have seen more pedagogic change in learning in the last 10 years than in the last 1000 years. From the TEDxGlasgow stage, Donald Clark from Plan B Learning illustrates the magnitude of these changes. Long gone is the sole reliance on books to learn – how very 15th Century. The rise of the internet has changed the learning landscape forever; with the scalability of learning material and content reaching peaks never seen before (think Wikipedia and Google!). We are living in an age of digital abundance.

What does this mean for learning?

We are being told that “classroom learning” in the workplace is becoming somewhat oblique, with so many new and exciting different ways to deliver learning content and engage learners. Despite this, our new learning transfer research (coming soon!) found that 96% of contributors are still using classroom delivery as one of their learning delivery methods. 

When we talk about “classroom learning”, what do we really mean? When is a classroom really a classroom? With so many new, shiny, digital options out there, classroom learning can sometimes depict a stuffy, scholarly sit down / shut up environment! “Chalk and talk” as the old phrase coins it. But my view is that classroom learning is so far from this preconception it’s not funny! A lot of “classroom learning” on offer out there is actually learning in amazing locations, in inspiring environments. With effective facilitation it can be a rich, reflective learning experience with engaging conversations, crucial for adult learning. For example, our partners in leadership LIW run their off site initiatives in iconic locations around the world.

Rather than a stuffy, sit down “classroom” learning experience, these rare opportunities to get out of the workplace in an interesting environment offer the chance to reflect, get perspective and learn.

A new report from Josh Bersin talks about how the workplace has changed, driving the need for continuous, micro learning. As we move towards this world of continuous learning, where “classroom learning” becomes less of a focus, we may find that actually people will crave connection more. In this digital age, classroom learning provides essential human connection as well as the opportunity to get reflective outside the business. Getting out and about, really connecting deeply with other people, off site, in an open learning environment could be the antidote people crave.

The Bersin report also suggests that we don’t learn well through “binge education” like a course, and that we learn better by being exposed to new skills and ideas over time, with spacing in between. I do wonder though whether modular or spaced learning for certain types of learning is really as effective. Taking a few hours or half days a couple of times over a series of months may help in not overloading your calendar, but sometimes we need that bulk block of time to step out of the business and really get stuck into our learning. Hard to achieve when we’re rushing to get a lunch and learn, or cramming in learning between meetings.

Think about it this way, if you took a couple of half day holidays, would you feel as relaxed and rejuvenated as if you had taken a week or two week long holiday? No way! Likewise, if you take a few half days in modular learning, you’re not going to be able to dive deep into the learning as you would with an intensive 2, 3 or 5-day long learning initiative. It may be hard to get that solid block of time away to truly immerse ourselves and create space for ourselves, but people are rarely disappointed when they do.

Could taking a learning holiday be the new way forward?


Emma Weber

Emma Weber is a recognized authority on the transfer of learning. As CEO of Lever – Transfer of Learning, she has helped companies such as Telstra, Oracle and BMW deliver and measure tangible business results from learning. Emma has also been a guest speaker at learning effectiveness conferences worldwide and authored the hugely successful book Turning Learning into Action. Much more detail around the issues and solutions examined in this article are available in the book – please feel free to download a free chapter.