Enough already with ILT

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I always found that there are two types of people in the training and L&D space. Those who embrace learning technology and those who do not.  Sure, the latter group may accept it, grudgingly, but deep down they cannot move off what has worked so well for them in the past.

The problem though is that Instructor-Led training doesn’t work, not from an adult learner standpoint, not from an attendee standpoint, not even from the standpoint of many folks who have utilized the power of e-learning (hence its extensive growth over traditional learning of ILT).

The funny thing about Data

When a learning system pushes the power of data with their brain-based research from experts in elite colleges, and experts on learning with the brain, folks rush to it, without question.  After all, it is data backed by research. 

When people hear about the research and data on mastery learning or day to day repetition of learning, they accept it without question, after all, it is based on research.

But when there are research and data to support the failings of Instructor-Led Training, many people ignore it. 


Let’s talk about the research

I often hear people say, well, there isn’t any data to support the idea that ILT is not effective or they will tell me, it works for us, so we use it quite a bit.

Here are two problems I see with that.

1. If it works so great for you, why are you using online learning as a core component of your L&D or training?  For those who use blended learning, online learning is usually more than 60% of the totality of the learning.  If I thought something was so fantastic (which I do with online learning), I wouldn’t embrace the other as part of anything.  No one who is loyal to a brand, product or even a sports team, would ever accept to use something different or support another team.

2. There is quite a bit of data showing that ILT is far lower in terms of retention than online learning.  

Retention Realities with ILT

Retention, something that is heavily harped on in e-learning, and rightfully so, but seems to disappear when people push ILT.  Why is that?   Perhaps it is because if someone sat and observed an ILT session, they would notice many in the audience not paying attention, looking at their phones, or staring into the sunset or working on their computers – you think they are taking notes? No, they are reading e-mail. And responding.

Those activity groups that some ILT folks use in their sessions, to keep people I think more awake, with always follow a dynamic, with one or two people providing responses, and at least one person rarely providing responses, unless they are egged on or receive the “what do you think, Annee?”

Then you have people who spend their whole time in an ILT session, thinking to themselves, “Don’t pick me, don’t pick me” – yeah, there is retention for you.

Let’s not forget about the time.  Everyone loves an ILT session that goes 60-70 minutes straight without a break.  Especially when data shows that most people start to tune out after 45 minutes.  The “you can use the bathroom whenever you want,” doesn’t always work for everyone, because of the fear of being noticed, when they standpoint to use the facilities.  No one likes to be stared at. 

Wait there is more.

As anyone in L&D and training can tell you, requiring employees to attend a seminar is not an easy task.  How many times, have you seen people grudgingly come into the room, some complaining about having to leave their work behind, or whatever? I saw it quite a bit. Even when the topic was relevant to their job role and/or onboarding.

Simon Says “ILT Retention Stinks”

There are multiple sources that say the retention rate for ILT is 58%. Wow, fantastic.  You are likely to have higher retention for the movie you saw, a month ago, or the horrific car wreck you drove by, three weeks prior.  If you were told of anything that was 58% you would not be impressed.  Who went around saying, “Hey, I got a 58, on this exam, or 58% of the time I remember to take out the garbage or 58% of the time, my employees remember my name.”  

Here is the E-Learning ROI you can quote

  • Organizations with actively engaged workforces have 2.6 times the earnings per share growth rate compared to their industry counterparts (https://bit.ly/325f9py)  This is extremely doable more so with effective e-learning, compared to ILT, if the e-learning is designed and developed to be interactive, engaging with real-life scenarios, speaking of which…

Factoid of the Past seeing the Future of Learning 

  • Edgar Dale found that lecture (ILT)’s retention rates were five percent, compared to practice by doing (75 percent) and learning in a real situation, 90 percent retention. (https://www.tenouk.com/learningretentionrate.html) I should add Dale died before the birth of e-learning, but both of those applications are quite doable in e-learning.  I always incorporated these latter two methods with my online learning courses. 


According to Dr. Will Thalheimer, e-learning tends to be slightly better and more effective than classroom training. (https://bit.ly/2OVN3aU)   It should be noted that according to Dr. Thalmeimer, this occurs “in the wild”, which he states is due to different learning factors. (https://bit.ly/2OVN3aU).  He notes that in classroom training there is less interactivity, more instruction, and less real-world practice, compared to e-learning.   (https://bit.ly/2OVN3aU)

We are Visual Learners

Regardless of your age bracket, the majority of people at least in the United States are visual learners, according to this thing called research.  65% in fact.  Granted there are plenty of folks who have multiple learning styles, especially training and L&D people who often have kinetic (hands-on) too. I’m a blend myself, with the majority being kinetic, followed by visual. 

Please, please tell me where that visual learning is happening with ILT?  Oh, you mean that PowerPoint that the presenter/trainer (yes, sadly) will often repeat to the audience, that they themselves can see on it?  Oh, you mean those employees who present,  with the back turned away from the audience for the majority of the time, I mean how you can read it yourself if you can’t see it?   Oh, how about those fine days when there was a projector with transparent slides that would go over it, and someone had written in green or black or red pen the information you needed.  Truly, inspiring. 

Visual is not PowerPoint, just as visual is not you looking at the ocean and thinking you would rather be there than in your office.  Sure, you would be imaging that your boss can’t swim, on the day they are berating you in an e-mail, but is that really visual learning or more of visual payback?

ILT is making a comeback

No, no it is not.  I mention this because I have seen huge fans of ILT push this narrative through LinkedIn by finding an article or something that supports it.  I saw one post that said that e-learning was ineffective and not living up to its possibilities.


Look bad e-learning is bad e-learning.  But you cannot blame the online learning experience on that, just as you shouldn’t blame a horrible instructor/teacher/presenter on the entire group of people who provide training to your employees or customers?  The reason the e-learning is bad, especially on the content side, is because it was designed poorly, which a chunk of it is – and this is correlated to the many people who do not or are not willing to explore effective instructional design, nor recognize that strong e-learning is based on design wrapped around real-life/world scenarios including interactive and engaging content.

Here is Reality when it comes to ILT

Go to any trade show in our space.  Remember the days when ATD (then known as ASTD) was all about ILT, consultants selling books and other items?  Remember the days, which wasn’t so long ago, that it was geared towards ILT approaches and solutions?  I do.  Now, where is it today? I hardly see any products for ILT, and when they are it is extremely small.   Why is that, if ILT is in a renaissance period?  

Where is the heavy ILT angle at World of Learning or LTUK or LTFrance or Learning Solutions or DevLearn or at the many other shows around the world?  I’d argue that ATD is so strong on e-learning, that their ATD TK show no longer is of use, because it was originally designed to be e-learning driven, to offset the heavy ILT focus of ASTD. 

CLOs in general love ILT.  Even if they are big tech fans themselves, talk to many CLOs and it seems that ILT is a must for them.  I get that they have a background in OD, just as an L&D person would have, but why the love for ILT?

I would love to ask them what is the last seminar they attended and then, ask them to write down five things they learned from the seminar.  Heck, even three.  For those who could (and I suspect it would be significantly small), re-visit them in six months and ask the same question.  Oh, and they can’t look at their notes.

How’s that retention working out for them?

If you are in HR, when was the last time you went to a seminar or a training event and could you right now without looking at any notes, name out loud to yourself, three takeaways?  What about those L&D execs?  I even found CEOs in e-learning, who attended a seminar/training session that was ILT that couldn’t recall even two takeaways that they “learned” supposedly in the session. 

Why WBT was created

I won’t go into the specifics here, but it was created because ILT wasn’t working.


  • The presenter drives the agenda.  If you are behind in jotting down the information or if you are on a computer learning something, i.e. technical training, the presenter won’t stop and wait for you to catch up.
  • With technical training, the sessions should be small 8 to 10 people and have multiple trainers walking around to help those who are behind.  Rarely, it happens.
  • Comprehension with ILT is low, after all, the presenter/trainer has to only X amount of time per topic to cover.   Who can learn, retain and comprehend something in such a short amount of time?
  • Synthesis the end goal of training and learning, never occurs.  It can’t because the way ILT is structured.   Synthesis can occur, and often does with online learning, because the way it is structured (non-linear, focus on what I want to know when I need to know it)
  • ILT is at a set time to attend.  It is not based on your working schedule, it is based on the time set by the instructor/presenter/trainer.  If you miss something, sorry, it is your fault you are late. 

A Brandon Hall report on e-learning found that online learning (in corporations) required 40 percent to 60 percent less employee time than a traditional classroom setting. (https://bit.ly/2Swbo9x)

  • ILT incurs a higher cost to attend. Travel is a cost.  Time away from work is a cost – where is the productivity happening exactly? 
  • ILT does not offer any time, anywhere to happen.  Oh, and if you can’t recall or did not take away all the information you needed for your upskilling, or onboarding or whatever, no worries, you can take another ILT session – if it is offered, and if it is, is located somewhere where you will have to take off part of your work and if it a paid ILT session, what budget is that coming out of again?

Education Says – well, uh, ILT isn’t working out so well 

  • A study conducted by Ithhake S+R found that online students take in information faster than those who attend only classroom-based learning
  • As a result of their e-learning solution, one public school in Michigan reported that failure rates have dropped by 33 percent

Bottom Line

ILT has been around since the first days of someone sitting in a classroom and listening to the teacher.  I recall that it appeared in the 1600s.  Name me one other form of learning, okay reading a book, but it wasn’t universal for the entire populace, that is older than that?

Now name me a reason that it should still be utilized when there is technology including e-learning that can match and even surpass it?  E-Learning has higher retention rates. Higher comprehension rates and higher synthesis rates.

So why hold onto the dream of ILT?

Because it isn’t a dream at all,

It’s a nightmare.

E-Learning 24/7