Blended learning - a combination of e-learning and classroom-based courses - is widely seen as the most effective way to teach new skills. But deciding on the right blend and method often depends on the skills being taught
When it comes to teaching people about new products and software, electronic learning is second to none. It enables people to sit down, in their own time, and get to grips with the latest product developments at their own speed. But e-learning, once the province of software courses for providers such as Microsoft, is now also regularly used to teach business skills - from team management, delegation and mentoring skills to interview techniques, financial capabilities and even bookkeeping.
This is partly thanks to technical developments that have improved the access, speed and innovation of e-learning products - video clips and interactive tools have taken e-learning far beyond the days of straightforward electronically delivered books. But enthusiasm for e-learning is also the result of a better understanding of what can and cannot be achieved using online methods of teaching.
When e-learning first gripped the corporate imagination just a few years ago, many went about it by simply digitising chunks of course material and making it available online. But, just as people don't respond to training in the classroom unless there are good reasons to do so, they won't be keen to sit in front of a screen unless the training is directed specifically at their needs and the work is stimulating.
Today it is accepted that blended learning - where electronic tools are combined with class-based methods of teaching - works best. Wide Learning once provided all its training courses online but now includes a classroom element. "We were 100 per cent e-learning last year but we decided it only gets you 60-70 per cent down the road for learning outcomes," explains Jan Hagen, head of solutions group for Wide Learning.
"You have to look at what works and what does not," says Christopher Crosby, managing director of TMA. "There are elements of skill development that cannot ever be done virtually - those that depend on human relations and responses that one never gets in a virtual setting.
"You also need to consider different cultures and environments. If we work for an Italian team, for example, the whole issue of physical processes and being with peopl