Classroom Training vs Digital Learning: A Cost Comparison

When it comes to your workplace learning and development strategy, it’s safe to say there’s no one ‘right’ way. However, there are definitely better ways of doing things.

In-person classroom learning used to be the gold standard, with only 15% of businesses offering online learning courses pre-pandemic. The 2020 transition towards remote working was accompanied by an explosion in online learning, with 50% of businesses now offering online options.

The big question — along with whether or not we’ll keep working and learning in our pyjamas — is if digital learning is here to stay? And should we (as L&D professionals) embrace this shift or continue to pine for the days of in-person classroom training?

Both classroom training and digital learning have valuable roles to play in the future of L&D. Although the past may have seen 80% of your learning budget sunk into in-person training, the future is likely reversed. In-person training will become more focused on specific projects like induction or senior leadership training. Think about the classroom like going to the cinema, and digital learning like watching Netflix.

Costs are just one part of the equation. However, they are a good starting point for understanding some of the business, learner and pedagogical benefits of digital training — and why we should view this shift positively even as we return to the office.

At Video Arts, we deliver bespoke and off-the-shelf digital learning material, and an LXP called Video Arts Play. But the first 40 years of our 50-year existence was focused on creating DVDs and videos to help classroom training. Our material still provides great collateral for in-person learning (or digital classroom sessions over Zoom), but we’ve evolved to match the needs of the time.

We want to use our experience embracing digital learning to help you understand the pros and cons of each. That starts with demystifying pricing to lay out how much a digital learning programme should (and can) cost — along with the ROI you can expect. Getting this right is critical to your learning and development strategy, getting your employees buzzed about learning, and taking the future of learning to infinity and beyond. Let’s get started!

Suggested reading: If you already have a burgeoning digital learning programme and simply need to get more out of your solution, check out our eBook — So, You Need a More Effective Learning Platform? — for details on what matters most to the success of your learners.

The cost of classroom training

Classroom training should be thought about on a per-day rate. On average, that comes out to about £2,000 a day, a number that varies depending on the topic and skills. According to the Association for Talent Development, the average cost of training an employee is $1,252 (or around £908). Of course this varies based on the material and topic, so let’s keep looking at some averages:

  • Communication skills — £637 per-course (£31 per-learner)*
  • Leadership Development — £1,467 per-course (£73 per-learner)*
  • Finance — £1,731 per-course (£87 per-learner)*
  • IT — £1,584 per-course (£79 per-learner)*

*All per-learner figures are calculated based on an average class size of 20 people.

These costs can climb even higher depending on the number of people being taught. This number is also limited as a professional can only teach so many people in person, so organisations may have to pay for more courses, depending on the size of the business. Then there are hidden costs. For example, the amount of time and money it takes to go to-and-from the classroom, along with classroom materials and lesson planning.

The ROI of classroom training

The problem with classroom training is that it’s one-off and one-size-fits-all. There are some cost savings delivered at scale — for example, once you’ve developed the training material it continues to provide long-term value. But that course still needs to be overseen and delivered by a trainer who has a limited capacity for learners in each session, and must be paid for their time.

There are benefits to classroom training, namely:

  • The value of in-person communication.
  • The ability for talented trainers to accommodate the specific needs and deliver engaging sessions.
  • The ability of trainers to assess the progress of learners in real time.

But classrooms also force learners into a box — both literally (they need to come and sit in a room at a time that might not be convenient) and figuratively insomuch as they have to learn in a “cookie-cutter” manner — at the same rate (and cover the same topics) as the rest of the class. Let’s leave the utensils in the kitchen!

What happens when new staff are hired? These training sessions need to happen regularly, meaning organisations must pay again and again, meaning there is much lower ROI in classroom training — especially for classrooms that aren’t very big!

For all of these reasons and more, digital learning seems like a good option for providing more flexible access to standardised learning material that’s able to scale more effectively and efficiently over time. But is that really the case?

The cost of digital learning

Digital learning requires organisations to pay for two things:

  1. A platform: Whether that’s a Learning Experience Platform (LXP) or Learning Management System (LMS) — check out our eBook if you need a crash course on the differences — a learning platform is essential to providing digital and remote access to your learning material.
  2. The content: After all, an empty bookshelf needs books! Without high-quality content, your learning platform won’t be of much use at all.

If looking into these costs you are likely to start seeing numbers in the tens-of-thousands of pounds — numbers that might make you start thinking, oh-bejesus, let’s just stick with our classrooms. But it’s important to step back and think about how these figures will add up over time, and how digital investments can improve scalability and reduce long-term per-head costs — even if it means a little more upfront.

For example, £10k over 12-months is £833 per-month — that’s less than running one monthly classroom training event, and literally an unlimited number of people could potentially watch (and gain value) from learning videos and courses. (Not to mention the fact that they could watch that video and do that learning at any time it’s convenient to them). This is why it’s important to dig into the specifics, and it’s why we want to use our own pricing structure to put things in perspective.

The Video Arts’ pricing model

Our cost structure at Video Arts has two main variables, something that’s pretty common across different providers:

  • Variable 1: How many users you have: The only way to make our pricing fair is to charge organisations based on users. That way we can provide affordable access for both small and large businesses.
  • Variable 2: How you want us to deliver content: We provide on-demand access to video files, SCORM compliant videos and courses, or all of it together bundled with our own LXP called Video Arts Play. Videos on their own are the least expensive, E-Learning courses cost a little more, and the platform costs a little more (all proportional to the number of users.)

So, what does this actually look like, and what kind of numbers are we talking about? The best way to think about this is in regards to price-per-learner, particularly when comparing digital learning to classroom environments. So, to put this in context, let’s look at a medium-sized engagement for a business with about 500 learners.

  • On-demand video: £16 per-learner/per-year (for 500 learners)
  • SCORM content: £18 per-learner/per-year (for 500 learners)
  • Video Arts Play: £24 per-learner/per-year (for 500 learners)

For a larger business it will be a bit less. For a smaller business it will be a bit more — you get a price break for scale. But everyone will be looking at an average cost per-learner/per-year in the same relative bracket. Fundamentally, this provides far more cost-effective training than in-person classes are even close to approaching. Even one class per year could cost in excess of £100 per learner depending on the size of the training event.

Although one training session might be more impactful than a single digital learning course, it doesn’t hold a candle against the impact of year-round digital learning across a whole range of subjects. And all of that digital learning material provides added value as classroom collateral — particularly in the new context of online Zoom lessons.

How our prices stack up against the average

To a large degree, our pricing aligns with the industry on the whole. One might question why you even need to consider other learning providers — humbly speaking, we provide the best content, the most engaging content and a fantastic learning platform. But… if we must brag, we actually fall in the lower end of the industry on price. (Although, even within that context our more expensive competition is still more cost-effective than in-person training).

The reason for our general affordability is pretty simple, and it comes back to another unrepresentative component of our pricing system. We don’t sell single videos or single courses, we sell access to the entire Video Arts library and ecosystem. The reason that we do this is simplicity and price transparency. We understand your training budget is tricky to get and keep, let alone during a pandemic! We pride ourselves on flexibility, a one-off cost that gives you access to all new award-winning content we film year on year.

Note: All of the price points and variables discussed here are in reference to the 400+ learning videos and 100+ courses contained within our content library. However, we do also offer bespoke services, and can write and produce custom content on-demand. (This can be even more fun… get in touch if you want to learn more).

A long term investment in quality learning experiences

Classroom training still has an important role in modern learning and development — in fact, the two work better as one than separately — it seems like the Spice Girls were on to something! But digital material creates new opportunities for learning that classroom training can’t match, and the ability to teach at scale in a more cost-effective way is only part of that benefit. Additional benefits delivered by digital learning include:

  1. On-demand learning: The ability for learners to access material at their own pace and at the right time for them increases engagement and improves retention.
  2. Microlearning opportunities: The use of video allows for the creation of short (2-5 minute) self-contained learning opportunities that improve on-demand engagement and are proven to be effective.
  3. Quality and consistency: The ability to focus on creating one great piece of content means that everyone brings their A-game to teaching a lesson — because it’s a video… and it’s the same every time. This allows for higher-quality content and greater quality control.
  4. Classroom enabling: Digital learning material can provide collateral to improve the effectiveness of classroom training. Certain lessons can be done online, videos shared in class, and classroom time focused on the things that really need a human touch. Video lessons are particularly great support material for digital teaching sessions over zoom. Fundamentally, digital learning is classroom enablement, not a complete replacement.
  5. Quantifiability: By virtue of digital learning being digital, it leaves a breadcrumb trail that you can follow, much like Hansel and Gretel, to the data-filled candy house of insight. That way you can see what people are learning, what they like, what needs more attention and how to improve outcomes for learners. It also makes reporting engagement levels a whole lot easier.

The last year has shown that you don’t need to be physically ‘there’ to help your employees grow and succeed — they are far more independent than your lockdown houseplant that sits miserably on the windowsill. Fosway found that learning experience platforms and learning management systems were most successful in supporting organisations during the pandemic — providing the groundwork for a digital future.

We are definitely biased, but the numbers don’t lie — Video Arts is the best L&D investment you could possibly make in 2021 and beyond. We look to constantly improve our content library — so there’s no chance of content getting stale. We have a whole new series on mental health and working from home about to air. And with the way our access works, you get access to new material from day one, at no additional cost.

We pride ourselves on creating engaging and humorous content (and it helps that we can get some famous and funny people to be part of it too!). What’s more, with Video Arts Play, you can track learner usage and gamify the learning process, improving engagement and retention. Being able to measure how effective your L&D strategy is with Video Arts is just another bonus of our offerings.

It’s essential that businesses invest in digital learning now, so that they can reap the benefits of the content on offer today, as well as the content that will be added in the future. If you want to learn more about our pricing or what we offer, get in touch today.

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