In-person training vs. online courses: can they co-exist?

The past two decades have brought new tools, formats, technologies and content to online learning.

A wide range of e-learning courses has flourished since the early 2000s: learning platforms and educational websites have multiplied, offering an ever-richer array of multimedia resources. Since around 2010, smartphones have offered even more possibilities, enabling people to take their learning on the go: while traveling, on public transport, in a waiting room, or at home. In 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns and restrictions, brought the range of available online education to the forefront of our consciousness.

As a result of this online renaissance, has in-person training become outdated? In this article, we take a look at the pros and cons of the principal learning methods.

In-person courses

For most of us, learning begins with lessons in a classroom with a teacher, where we are physically present (and supposedly attentive). This method is still the most widely used form of learning and absorbing new knowledge, current pandemic notwithstanding.

One of the undeniable advantages of face-to-face classes is the teacher’s physical presence, where their personality and the possibility of interacting with them counts for a lot. Anecdotes, jokes, cultural references, etc.; every teacher has their own style and personality. In a classroom, teachers are constantly adapting what they say and their daily activities based on the needs and reactions of students. By being appropriately responsive, a teacher can improve participants’ knowledge retention and keep them motivated.

In-person classes obviously require attendance –  they demand a fixed appointment, a specific date to note in our diary, and a person expecting us in a physical location, even if we decide not to go. This system of having a course at a set time naturally encourages regular attendance, and even has a motivating effect, because the learner knows that the course will take place for a specific amount of time and that they will be monitored over the long term. Furthermore, the physical infrastructure gives the course and a well-defined setting, thereby encouraging greater concentration.

Finally, there is the notion of interaction. If the group is not too large, it can be conducive to discussion, healthy competition and mutual assistance. Ongoing interaction with the teacher gives each learner the opportunity to broaden their knowledge and express their curiosity.

However, do in-person courses ensure better results in the long term? 

Traditional in-person group courses consist of top-down teaching, which often implies a lack of adaptation to each learner’s specific needs and weaknesses. In the case of large groups of students, there are two scenarios: either the learner’s level is higher than that of the class, in which case they are likely to be bored, or conversely, the class’s level is too high, the content is too dense to absorb, causing the student to become frustrated and unmotivated.

There is also the question of accessibility: attending a course at a fixed time and place requires a flexible timetable and geographical proximity to the course location. This is a recurring problem for many people, who have a busy schedule and/or live far away from a city center.

Finally, the issue of cost should not be neglected; beyond the cost of the training (which can be as much as €60 per hour for vocational training), trainees often incur additional travel expenses.


Over the last twenty years, online courses have evolved considerably, thanks in particular to more widespread Internet access and smartphones. In 2020, regardless of the date, time of day or location, and across a variety of devices, students can access an almost infinite knowledge base, and can learn at whatever pace they choose – provided they have a computer, smartphone and an internet connection! An e-learning solution can therefore be enough to acquire new knowledge, so long as it is well-used.

The key feature here is flexibility. With this learning method, companies and employees benefit: access to courses is by definition flexible and can take place directly in the workplace, free of any geographical constraints or travel costs. Most importantly, e-learning is a cost-effective learning solution that enables time spent on training to be optimized.

Beyond the practical aspects, it is the comprehensiveness of the available educational resources that is often highlighted. It would seem that in 2020, it seems that there is nothing we can’t learn online. E-learners have unlimited access to a vast catalog of online training and modules, free or paid, whatever the desired discipline or level. In this way, by doing away with travel and borders, reducing access costs and expanding educational content, e-learning promises to make training and the acquisition of knowledge more democratic.

And while the benefits of e-learning may seem obvious, its impact still remains limited.

One of the main drawbacks of e-learning is the difficulty of engaging learners, and staying focused and motivated alone in front of a computer or phone screen. The experience can quickly become lonely, challenging and difficult to maintain on a regular basis and over a substantial period of time.

Online training requires discipline and rigor. Adults and children both suffer from the same problems: our concentration is limited, we are faced with numerous distractions (mobile phones, social media, children, pets, etc.) and have busy schedules. To this effect, only 4% to 10% of students who sign up for a MOOC actually finish their training.

With so many digital educational resources at our disposal, it’s as if every one of us now has free, unlimited 24/7 access to a library just around the corner. Unfortunately, just because we have a library around the corner doesn’t guarantee that we will actually learn anything. We would need to go there on a regular basis, find the right books, read them and probably re-read them in order to learn, memorize and make progress. Clearly, having unlimited access to learning resources doesn’t indicate new knowledge will be acquired. We have to be organized, find time in our schedule, stay motivated and apply ourselves!

Blended Learning: a promising middle ground

Blended Learning combines self-directed learning (often online) and interaction with a coach or teacher (face-to-face or online). While it cannot perform miracles (it requires time and a reasonable budget, among other things), this method addresses the participation and motivation problems often associated with online learning.

Among the various styles of Blended Learning, there is the coaching model. This includes sessions during which the teacher or coach supervises the participants’ progress on a personalized basis throughout the training course. The flipped classroom concept requires the learner to absorb ideas and knowledge through a self-learning program before going to a physical training location, where they can see, discuss and interact with a teacher, coach and/or other students. The face-to-face sessions add extra value and make the most of the teacher’s presence, while also providing an opportunity for discussion and going into greater depth.

Flexibility, cost-effectiveness, personalized training, enhanced monitoring… learn about the many advantages of Blended Learning in our dedicated article!

Online and offline methods should not be seen as competing but rather as complementing one another. As for in-person learning, it is far from an outdated method, quite the opposite, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which has encouraged people to work from home whenever possible.

The Gymglish experience

Gymglish offers a self-learning formula designed to increase motivation and participation. We create short, fun and personalized content, dynamically created by our artificial intelligence daily system using adaptive learning technology. We do not ourselves offer any courses with teachers (face-to-face or online), but we supplement this “teaching gap” with the services of trusted partner teachers and language schools (including for example the network of Alliances Françaises and Instituts Français).

With the Gymglish & Teacher option, our partner schools can set up blended learning programs and combine their face-to-face, telephone, video, individual and group lessons with Gymglish distance-learning courses. In this way, their students can continue to study between classes. Teachers can also use our continuous assessment tools for material in their own training, such as strengths, weaknesses, needs, interests, requests, points for revision, etc.). This information is delivered to the teachers on a regular basis and our frequently updated pedagogical briefs enable teachers to personalize and make optimal use of time spent in class.

We aim to offer the best of both worlds, using the proven benefits of e-learning in terms of accessibility and customization, in combination with the teacher who brings a valuable human dimension and provides personalized support for the students.

More on our corporate training offers here

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