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Face-to-face or online training: Which works better in your unit?

It’s happened to all of us. You call a customer service hotline, and the computer can’t comprehend your plain-English request.

No matter how many times you say “agent” or press 0 or bang your phone against the kitchen counter, you can’t seem to get a human being on the other end.

Ain’t technology grand?

OK, there are times when it’s made our lives easier. It’s never been simpler to order a pizza, pay your phone bill, or read Scouting magazine’s archives — all from your computer.

But sometimes it’s nice to have that personal interaction, and that’s especially true in the Boy Scouts of America.

Take training as an example. Many of the BSA’s excellent training courses are now available online at MyScouting.org.

Thanks to MyScouting, you can take Youth Protection training on your couch on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The good news? More busy Scout leaders get this important information. The bad? It comes at the expense of personal interaction.

There’s more. Even in 2011, not every Scouter is as connected as we might think.

Just check out this post on Scout Wire, which told us that “only 66 percent of urban, and just over half (51 percent) of rural households had broadband access in 2009.”

So how do you strike a balance between the convenience of online training and the “fellowship, mentoring, and personal interaction” of face-to-face training?

I asked the experts, Scouting’s 11,000-plus Facebook friends, to weigh in on the matter. Here were some of my favorite responses:

Best of Both Worlds
“We have borrowed the computer lab at the local elementary school for training. That way, non-computer-literate people have assistance, each person can move at their own speed, but we also have the personal interaction where we can discuss questions, etc., as needed.”
- Paula C.

In Defense of Online — To a Point
“As a District Training Chair, I do belive complex concepts require ‘face time,’ but the basics are great delivered via online courses. Let’s face it, the younger parents have been raised in an online world and can cope with online training better. They leverage other online tools to reinforce that training (forums, Scouting magazine online, blogs…) And most importantly they can return to the training at will and as often as they want for a refresher. Granted maybe they are not receiving the best education they absolutely are better off than having nothing at all!”
- Adam S.

Fond Memories
“I am old school of 22 years in Scouting and love the way we used to do training. I made so many long-lasting friends at trainings. Introductions online are fine, but I have found the one-on-one builds friendships that can last a lifetime. You get instant feedback from others in the class. I really miss the old training for Cubs where we put on a pack meeting, dressed up, and had fun.”
- Dianna F.

Been There, Done That
“I will argue that, after 40-plus years in uniform and personal and family requirements, that there is little new that could not be updated and revised and retrained to someone who already took a course in person with an online experience. I do not need human interaction to prove I can take the old TTT and all the versions in between and not understand EDGE, nor should I need it to update my camp school certifications or other things.”
- Tom P.

Trained Is Trained
“We’d rather do it face-to-face, but we’ll take a trained leader anyway we can get ‘em! The boys deserve it!”
- Steve M.

What are your thoughts? Share them below.

18 Comments on Face-to-face or online training: Which works better in your unit?

  1. The training that is currently offered through MyScouting.org is what needs to be online. I’ve been to many face-to-face training venues and most of the time it’s time I’ll never get back because material is outdated and poorly presented.

  2. For me, I prefer the online training. First of all I have 4 children, I give enough of my time and money to scouting I should not have to pay a sitter to get trained for a volunteer position. With 3 children in scouting it is difficult to make it to a face to face training with everyone’s schedules too. Our district would prefer that you not bring your children to training. They offer the training one time or drag it out in many sessions and if you can’t make all of them oh well for you. So for me and my house it is easier to train online.

  3. Face to face Training is always the best. Face to face training allows for feed back, questions and fellowship. No short cuts, no skipping material to get to the end and go home.

  4. First (patch cop stuff) why the “old” Trained patch? Jump on the bandwagon as we have all been tossed on. New uniform, new patch etc etc and please don’t tell me a uniform is a uniform and all that, so fake. Used to be “face to face” was good, but available personal time and “must have” training no longer coincide. I also agree that, most of the time, materials presented at such training is outdated, the instructors are not up to date (the Net keeps the better informed leader on top of things quicker than a syllabus can be changed) AND, my big issue…..councils turning “required and mandated” training into fundraisers have turned off the leaders I know. If you REQUIRE it, YOU PROVIDE IT. The old methods worked, but those days have gone. Supplemental (not-required but suggested for leaders who want to improve) that involve actual skills should be “face to face.”

    • It’s not an obsolete patch; Cub Scouting still uses it for everyone, and if you’re still wearing an ODLR uniform you wear it.

  5. A District Training Chair here. For the most part, I applaud having so much training online, but not everyone will go on the computer to get the training, and not everyone has broadband access. Sadly, most of the people most diligent about taking online courses are those willing to take the “live” courses too. I would like to get rid of the online Troop Committee Challenge, as everyone who has taken the live course (especially if they took it with the rest of the committee) prefers the live version.

  6. Having had an exceptional Scouting experience as a youth under very talented and caring mentors who truly influenced my life choices, I was strongly motivated to follow those examples and to serve in various leadership and education/training roles for more than 50 years. I appreciate the need to make training as widely available as possible and online training fulfills many of those needs where face-to-face classroom learning may not widely reach out or be as readily available for a variety of reasons. However, and as others have noted, my experience has been that the synergy of classroom learning with student interaction cannot be effectively duplicated or replaced by ordinary programmed online learning on the same par. Online learning does not seem to afford the opportunity to tailor discussions and use pertinent examples to further explore topics of interest and adjust to the background of learners, which may then be more readily and thoroughly retained by the learners.

    Experiential learning with “hands-on” involvement by the learner has been shown to be imprinted in much greater depth and with much longer retention than ordinary didactic learning such as is afforded byprogrammed on-line courses alone. Scouting has known this since its founding, unlike the didactic approach of most public education methodologies, and may partly explain why Scouts typically outperform their non-Scout peers in a variety of disciplines and academic pursuits.

    This is also one of the reasons that emergency medical training so heavily emphasizes simulations and scenarios for students to reinforce and apply classroom-taught skills and concepts in actual simulated field situations that are based on real events, and then to receive constructive critiques by experienced evaluators and mentors.

    If there is a way in which technology can somehow be better integrated with traditional mentoring and face-to-face interactive involvement by students and teachers, via teleconference, webex, etc., this might ultimately be developed into the best solution for widespread and high quality interactive learning encompassing the best of both worlds. This would especially help in rural councils where limited availability of qualified instructors, large travel distances and small communities pose challenges for bringing face-to-face instruction to the students. However if a group can gather in someone’s home or at a Scout meeting and set up an internet webex teleconference to interactively participate in training conducted from the Council headquarters or other venues, it would serve as a low cost, widely available and possibly very effective answer to previous limitations not adquately met by simple on-line programmed training now being used for various courses.

    For many centuries, prior to the advent of present technology, story-telling served to convey the knowledge, skills, and history of cultures from one generation to the next, and was continued accurately and with high retention through the ages. With the enhancement of printing and illustration, communications were improved, better preserved, and accurately archived, eventually evolving into present day modern electronic technology. However this too should be used as a tool to enhance the availability and effectiveness of face-to-face learning methods and traditions, but should not be substituted exclusively for them. Scouting should perhaps take a leadership role in the development of such educational methods once again.

  7. Face to face training is the best way to receive training as one can ask questions regarding the topic of discussion at hand however; many leaders may not be able to meet at a scheduled date for training and having on-line sessions have become a necessity for those leaders wishing to provide quality programming for their Scouts.
    On-line training offers a backup for those that may hold multiple jobs as well as being a volunteer Scouter.

  8. Another District training chair here, and I agree completely with Michael (above). Troop Committee Challenge is best conducted with the committee, not individually. Some of the elements are kind of corny, and we rearrange the segments, but when delivered as a group, it emphasizes the team concept that a committee needs to understand and follow. It needs to have a few things added, like how the committee supports the Scoutmaster, and how adults interact with youth in a troop.

    As to online training, it is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it delivers information efficiently, widely and (usually) painlessly. A curse because it denies the student the opportunity to interact and learn from instructors and other students. Even though we have highly succinct guiding principles (the Oath and Law), the practice of Scouting is much more like a creative psychology seminar than a math course.

    Therefore, many classes – the nuts & bolts, hands-on ones – are best taught in person. Leader-specific courses fall into this category, as do outdoor skills courses. (The day that Outdoor Leader Skills goes online is the day I turn in my woggle.)

    Courses that mainly deliver history, information and policy, like Youth Protection, Weather Hazards, and Safety Afloat, are best delivered by some one-way method, like online. (For those without Internet access, maybe a printed study guide or DVD with a written quiz could substitute.) And I cheered when “This Is Scouting” went online – no longer do we put a room full of confused Cub Scout leaders to sleep for two hours while they waited to hear what they really came for.

  9. I have been in Scouting almost 35 years and have been trained and train in every aspect of Scouting. We offer both and I believe there are merits to both. As an example some parents prefer to watch the YP and the youth version at home. This provides them with the opportunity to talk right after the video.
    Having said all of that, when it comes right down to it the training programs are designed not only to convey information but to build relationships as well. I have taken both versions of Wood Badge and Sea Badge and in some instances I could have taught the sessions as well if not better than the instructor, I also discovered that the relationships I built will last a lifetime.
    One last thought. We are in a technology world and fighting that would like pushing a rope. We must strive to make both methods work for us. The old adage “If you can’t beat them, join them” comes to mind. People are going to do what they want to do.and no one can change that. We must meet them where they are and go from there. Use the training programs and provide recognition for both groups, Some say that they are not interested in recognition. I say that they will lie about other things too.

    “My opinion only but given in the Scouting Spirit,”

  10. Lets get a fact straight. Your training can be done anywhere in any way.

    All this “face-to-face” and “local information” I have seen mentioned ignore the MONTHLY face-to-face training you are supposed to be getting called Roundtable, where the people in your district should be giving you specialized info, trading local details, and becoming friends.

    I will go to the trainings I need to, especially for the new roll-outs, but I still maintain I do not need to be going back to courses for renewals and updates. It wastes the little time I have with my family (how many responders put in ten and a half weeks straight with camp staff already this year?) and my other job.

  11. I’m actually a big fan of how it’s set up right now. I think online training offers a consistent and convenient way to train and good for things that you would most likely just sit through a lecture about. In fact coincidentally tonight I went and listened to some of the Cub Scout training because we have some Webelos graduating in a few months and felt I should become more familiar with the Cub Scout program. Having them right there and available made it easy for me to listen to the training when it was convenient for me. That being said though I loved doing Outdoor Leadership and Scoutmaster training with a real class. I hope to do Woodbadge in the next year or two. I got to know many others in my district and asked questions that I had as a new scoutmaster. So I definitely think the BSA is in the right position to do both and get the benefits of both. Like a good tool these different teaching methods work well when it’s appropriate and done properly.

  12. Fred Lauckner // September 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm // Reply

    In my opinion, Face to Face is the best method because of the ability to provide feedback (both ways) but I am a HUGE fan of online training.

    I can knock out a training session over a couple of lunch hours. If I had to take a Saturday to complete the training, I would never get it done.

    I say a Leader trained by online training is better than a Leader with no training at all.

    • And along those same lines: A Leader who wants to learn and improve is better than a Leader who doesn’t care, regardless of which method of training they each used.

  13. Now that YPT is required before a volunteer app can be accepted, online training has become a vital tool. We can not schedule enough face-to-face classes to get new leaders trained in enough time to deliver the program to our youth in the Fall. While we do offer YPT training classes (and all the other requirements to become a Trained leader) in a classroom setting in our District, it would be impossible to achieve our District J2E goals if we did not rely on the online classes for the vast majority of our leaders.

  14. I just completed my Scoutmaster training this summer at our summer camp. They held a weeklong class for the leaders so that we had something to do during camp. In addition to that, they had all of the online classes as face to face sessions. Everyone who sat in on them had taken them previously online. We all got so much more out of them with the interaction of other attendees. I do agree that online training is convenient. However, the training is set up so that you can pretty much walk away and come back and still pass it. This is how most online training is everywhere. Yes, you get to say you took the class. But, there is no instructor making sure that you actually got anything out of it.

  15. For myself, I’m not a fan of online training. I just start up the online training, mute it, and start doing something else, checking in every few minutes to see if I need to click a button or answer a question to continue. Granted, I can only do this because I am familiar with what the training is covering. And I’m not a big fan of in-person training because I personally get nothing out of it and most of the time end up helping teach the training.

    For others, the interaction of face-to-face training adds a whole new layer of information when people are taking training for the first time. The trainer can answer questions and spend more time on where people are confused.

    While there are problems with online training, with people not really learning all of the information, the same thing can happen during in-person training, although probably not as common.

    • The advantage to someone that has already taken the training or has experience in the face to face class is the additional information that you can provide. Most instructors try to make sure that they cover the material that they have to. They also try to add extra stories or information. But, their main focus is covering the information and not leaving anything out. Someone with training or experience has the added ability to add their insight and not worry about forgetting to teach part of the class. Being and instructor is not as easy as everyone thinks. Being a quality instructor is even harder. Having the attitude “I will not learn anything” is the worst way to approach a class. When I teach classes, I always end up taking something away from my students. There is always a different way to approach something that you may not have even thought about.

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