Given good design and research-based models of learning, which approach to training delivery, traditional classroom instruction or online virtual delivery, gives better results?

Unfortunately, research isn’t much help in answering that question. The answer is controversial. (NOTE: The linked article briefly mentions considering learning styles. Research has cast considerable doubt on whether learning styles such as “VAK” actually exist. Instead, scholars advocate resources and strategies based on evidence from cognitive and adult learning theory. I have no objection to the rest of the article.)

Ask a better question

In a way, asking which approach is better is the wrong question when making delivery decisions. The choice between classroom and virtual learning today is driven by factors such as cost, facilities, the location of the employees, the content of the instruction, and the nature of the outcomes or objectives. A better question is probably: “If the situation or desired business outcome drives our choice to online, how can we maximize the effectiveness of virtual learning?” How much better can we make virtual learning so that it is at least as effective as the best in-person instruction?

According to the results of learning audits conducted by a team at the NeuroLeadership Institute, as reported by David Rock, PhD in Psychology Today, the answer is “much better.” Dr. Rock says that “a smart virtual learning program was shown to be six times more likely to get people to take action than the usual way learning is delivered in person.”

How to create a smart virtual learning program

There are three paths to obtaining a smart virtual learning program, and they all come from one decision.

Buy or build?

If you want to expedite things, you can buy resources off-the-shelf to create a virtual curriculum. You can design elements of the program (or the entire program) ”from scratch” based on research findings and your own experience or advice from other designers. In either case, you will need to plan the details of your program execution.

Buy off-the-shelf or “pre-built” resources based on reviews

Why: Keep the cost of training down

Best for generic topics:

  • Soft skills and interpersonal communication
  • Leadership and management skills
  • Compliance training
  • Sales training and sales enablement
  • Customer service training

About review sites

Finding reviews on specific topics can be time-consuming since review sites tend to use very narrow keywords. A better approach may be to search for specific product names that you have seen in advertisements or online articles, and compare the individual reviews. Reliable review sites include and

Use authoring tools to design and build courses based on your specific business needs

Why? Precise matching to your organization, industry, or required skill and knowledge sets; easily create interactive or collaborative online training at scale.


Authoring Software selection


Microlearning, personalization, and other techniques: Use review sites to find specific software by category

Incorporate best practices into curriculum design to assure impact

There are so many of these possibilities that I am only going to suggest a few examples that never seem to show up in virtual learning designs. Experiment, be bold, try different ideas and find out what works. If the action in a course looks and sounds like a lecture (nobody talks except the facilitator), you need to add activity and variety.

  • Design learning to engage participants’ social networks: e.g., group chats, case studies, and scenarios
  • Build in active learning exercises: require participants to do things and think about what they are doing
  • Incorporate reflective practice in the design
  • Keep sessions less than 50 minutes long
  • Spread your virtual learning sessions out over several weeks
  • In Zoom classes, use small group breakouts for discussion
  • Plan for accessibility (accommodation) so that all participants have the same experience in the virtual course
  • Use different media types in combination. Add notes, hotspots, text links, infographics, video

If you need more inspiration, I recommend reading Chapter 8 in Designing Virtual Learning for Application and Impact for a list of 50 techniques that will involve participants and make your virtual curriculum as or more effective than in-person delivery!