Should All Training Be Online?

Of course not. That would be silly. But having a conversation about what should and shouldn’t be online is important. But first, it is essential to highlight the benefits and negatives to the different forms of instruction – online is not a magic bullet, and ILT is not perfect either. Each has a place.

Online Versus ILT

As you know, there are three general types of training delivery – instructor-led (ILT), online, and blended. You might be less familiar with blended learning; it involves a mix of online and instructor-led training. The type of delivery you choose should depend on the kind of training you want to provide; you can’t learn to shoot online, but you can learn the parts of the firearm, steps for cleaning it, and be introduced to safety precautions and do’s and don’ts at the range.

A 2010 Department of Education study found that online and instructor-led training were statistically equivalent in terms of learning outcomes; as long as the training is designed the right way, each is effective. However, blended learning was found to be more effective than online and instructor-led training and you should think about this approach.

For those hesitant about online training, this same 2010 study found that it was valid for a broad mix of individuals – college students, graduate students, and professionals.

Some Positives and Negatives

Instructor-led Training - Positives and Negatives

Instructor-led training is good and bad. It allows trainees to quickly and easily ask questions. Also, if allowed to work in groups and conduct role-playing exercises, trainees have the opportunity to learn from each other. It also builds relationships between the instructors and the trainees, and it allows the material to be adapted to the audience. On the other hand, implementation can be inconsistent, often it is over reliant on lectures, and ILT training may interrupt the work day.  ILT training is also especially challenging for organizations that provide a 24/7 service because shifts may have to be adjusted and staffing levels maintained.

Online training can save time and money. Edgepoint Learning indicates trainees spend 40-50% less time taking online in comparison to an equivalent instructor-led course. For ILT, it is not just instructional time but all the other extra logistical time included (travel, breaks, lunch, interruptions). If you have some time, take a look at our online calculator, which calculates the costs savings of online versus instructor-led classes.

Online training can also be used to target a geographically remote workforce on different shifts. It allows a consistent message, and trainees can more easily be evaluated. Depending on the program, trainees may be able to refer back to the materials as needed when doing their job. In some cases, trainees can take courses during their downtime at work instead of their employer having to set aside dedicated time to train. However, it does have downsides. Some people don’t learn well online, there are high development costs, it can be tedious if poorly designed, trainees still need access to computers, and many skills simply can’t be learned via computer-based training.

Online Training - Positives and Negatives

Blended learning takes on the best of both worlds.  In this approach, background, theory, and lecture-type material is migrated online - allowing the instructor more time to focus on skills development, practice, and role-playing. When a lecture is moved online, trainees can review at their own pace, with knowledge checks and assessments. The hands-on practice can then be done in person. This approach maximizes the value of in-person training.  

In our course offerings, we also offer a blended course where students first take our 8-hour online Threat Awareness program than participate in 24-32 hours of instructor-led training where they learn to weave active threat assessment techniques into an interdiction. This approach saves time, has a lower cost, allows more practice, and a better mastery of skills.

Course Development & Economies of Scale

After leaving the DoD and starting Second Sight, I spent a lot of time learning to develop online courses – both how to use and manage a Learning Management System and how to build the interactive practice exercises and exams that people want to complete. It is a lot of work. Way more than ILT training.

Any organization seeking to DEVELOP online training should think about cost, updating, the volume of trainees and type of training that needs to be delivered.

Building an instructor-led course might take 8-10 hours per hour of training. Building an online course with all the bells and whistles can take hundreds of hours of development per hour of instruction. The amount of work depends on how interactive and asynchronous the training is (e.g., how much independence the trainee has from the instructor). But after you build them, you can use them repeatedly. If a class is being taught once a year to a small volume of students, likely it should be kept instructor-led. If you have hundreds or thousands of officers, it might be worth the initial investment to move some of your training online.

Next Steps

You should think about what training your organization provides and how it is provided. It might be worth purchasing online courses from external vendors to free up time and resources for you to invest in the instructor-led training you want your officers to have.  

There might also be some aspects of training that can be migrated online. If you are interested in learning more about migrating ILT to online or have other questions about online training – send me an email ( or a contact form.


Dobranksy, M. and N. Vanry. (ND). Instructor-led Training vs. eLearning. Edge Point Learning. Obtained February 2019 from

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., and K. Jones (2010). Evaluation of Evidence-based Best Practices in Online Learning: A Meta Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U.S. Department of Education. Obtained February 2019 from

Nathan Meehan Ph.D.