Alternatives to Face-to-Face Training: Online, VR, and more

April 28, 2020 - Sophie Thompson

In the last couple of months, many organisations have had to rethink their current training strategies and restructure them to ensure employees can develop their skills while working remotely.

There’s no doubt that Coronavirus will change the future of work, and will put a bigger expectation on employers to allow employees to work and train remotely and on their own terms, more frequently.

In this article, we discuss alternative methods to face-to-face training so that your employees can continue their professional development in a flexible, easy-to-access way.

E-learning and web-based training

A 2018 Training Industry Report showed that 25.6% of employee training hours were delivered online or computer-based technologies, with a significant increase in blended learning hours where instructor-led training is combined with web-based training).

One of the key benefits of e-learning is that they are easy to scale - once you’ve designed a high-quality learning curriculum, you know that anyone who enrols on that course is experiencing the same high-quality learning.

E-learning and web-based training

Employees can also have flexibility in terms of location of timing of when they do the training. With self-paced e-learning, learners can stop and start at their own pace, and organise their time accordingly. This suits those who prefer to take their time with learning, as well as those who prefer to move through a course more rapidly.

Common issues with online learning are low retention rates and it being hard to know whether trainees are truly engaged - they could be on their phone or watching Netflix in the background while a tutorial is playing. The best way to overcome this is to incorporate quizzes and interactive modules through digital experience and gamification, so that the learner is more engaged and you can quantify their engagement to an extent.

It’s important to be able to assess a trainee’s grasp of the material they’ve learned to know how effective a training method is, as well as that particular course.

One way of increasing retention of web-based material is to incorporate gamification, which makes it more fun, engaging and competitive for learners. For example, badges, rewards, or other tokens of achievement can really increase motivation and encourage a sense of competition with themselves and their colleagues.

Education gamification

Other examples include the use of ‘serious games’ such as medical simulations or language learning apps, which are designed more for ‘edutainment’.

Online training is a great alternative to face to face training when employees are working remotely. It’s already familiar to most learners, easy to scale, and quizzes help track retention of key learning topics.

Popular e-learning providers:

  • Pluralsight (technical skills)
  • Coursera
  • LinkedIn Learning (Lynda)
  • VirtualSpeech (soft skills)
  • Udacity (technical skills)
  • Skillsoft
  • Skillshare


Most employees don’t have much time during the working week to focus on personal development or upskilling. On top of that, it only takes five to ten seconds for a person to decide to stay engaged with a piece of content or to move on to the next task, or something else entirely.

As part of online learning, micro-learning is focused on short bursts of learning (usually 3-6 minutes) which are delivered through videos, quizzes, and games. Rather than focusing on multiple learning outcomes, it focuses on one key objective instead.

Employees can more easily embed micro-learning into their day as it takes up such a short amount of time. For the employer, this style of training can cut development costs through increasing knowledge retention and efficiency, and has been shown to increase engagement by 50%.

Interactive VR training

Virtual reality training (VR training) has proven highly effective in increasing learner engagement and retention. It can be used to train employees in high risk situations, where they can use a simulated environment to make as many mistakes as they want with no real-life consequences. VR is already being used to train doctors, nurses, pilots and construction workers for high-risk situations.

Training in VR

Impromptu training in VR with the VirtualSpeech app.

VR training can also be used to train soft skills, as learners can practice skills on-demand, receive feedback and track their progress all in VR. They can practice speaking at a trade show, press conference or giving feedback to an employee, whenever they want and as many times as they want. Crucially, managers can also track ROI with VR training in a quantitative way, which is otherwise difficult with communication-based training.

At VirtualSpeech, we provide soft skills training in VR. Our VR training is part of our e-learning courses, where employees learn key techniques online and practice what they’ve learnt in VR. VR provides learners with the opportunity to practice on demand and receive instant AI-powered feedback to assess their learning.

We also offer the VR component of courses as a standalone training tool, and can create entirely customised virtual learning scenarios. Each learner can easily track their progress within the VirtualSpeech app and monitor their improvements, with their progress score being shared with their manager also.

In addition, learners from all over the world can meet together in the same virtual room and receive training and feedback from other students.

Collaborative remote training in VR

Examples of training which can benefit from VR:

  • Performing a medical operation
  • Giving a presentation at a conference
  • Media training - being ambushed by journalists
  • Operating a crane of forklift truck
  • Flying a small aircraft
  • Interviewing a candidate for a job
  • Delivering a sales pitch to a client
  • Fire extinguisher training

Read more about the benefits of training in VR in our whitepaper.

Video training

75% of employees state they’re more likely to watch a video than they are to read emails or articles, which places video training as a huge opportunity for learning. A further 96% of businesses say video already helps them to train employees more efficiently, so if there was a time to increase your video training, it’s now. When we talk about video training, we don’t mean (yet another) Zoom call - there are plenty of styles of video that can be used for training.

Styles of video that can be used for training

Animation: Animation is a great way of explaining complex topics. ‘Explainer videos’ are an effective way of visualising a concept and helping to understand it, rather than simply reading about it.

Live action: This style of video is perfect for showing role-play scenarios such as how to deal with an angry customer. People learn best through experience and watching another person’s interaction with a customer can help employees retain information on how they should handle the situation too.

To-camera: This is when a narrator explains the information being covered in an interview-style format, speaking directly to the viewer. It gives the learner the feeling of being directly spoken to, and they are more likely to be engaged because of this.

Screen recorded: This method records actions as they are being taken on a computer, making it the most effective way of walking employees through how to use computer systems or processes.

It’s important to include subtitles in video training where possible to ensure accessibility.

One of the benefits of video training is it can be used remotely, it’s easier to digest than blocks of written text, and it’s easy for instructors to change the content if required.

How to choose the right training methods for your organisation

With so many alternatives to face-to-face training available, it’s important to choose the options which are best suited to your organisation, the purpose of the training and your specific learning objectives.

Often, a blended learning approach can be the most effective, combining the beneficial elements of more than one method of training. Below are 3 things to bear in mind when identifying which methods are most suitable for your training needs.

1. The purpose of the training program

What’s your objective of the training and what are the key learning outcomes? Some training methods are better than others depending on this. For example, a role play video or case study are more engaging and effective at showcasing ideal responses to difficult customers, than simply an article in web-based training.

Learning courses

When training higher management on delivering bad news to employees, a one-to-one video training session with an executive coach may be most effective. Then a combination of e-learning and VR training is more effective where experiential learning is a key part of the learner’s journey, such as with public speaking or sales pitches, for example.

2. Who you are designing the program for

Alongside the purpose of the training program, you need to consider who you’re designing the program for and if your chosen method of training is suited to them. Training is most engaging and effective when the target audience believes in the training program. For example, older employees might be more comfortable with traditional learning methods, whereas younger millennials and Gen Z might be more enthusiastic about cutting-edge learning technologies like VR training.

Senior employees may have less time for training so micro-learning for key outcomes could be the most convenient solution for them in some instances. In others, a blended solution such as instructor-led training and VR may be more suitable if they need to speak at press conferences, for example.

Some peoples’ jobs require frequent travel, and so they may be more suited to web-based training which is self-paced and flexible. Similarly, if a large number of employees require the same training, e-learning would be a fast way to deploy quality learning at scale.

3. Are there any constraints on the program?

Finally, you should consider if your chosen method of training has any constraints on it such as money or time. For example, if your budget is tightly restricted then leveraging knowledge from existing employees through mentoring, coaching and internal webinars can be more cost-effective than external sources.


In many cases, a blended learning approach is the most effective strategy as it combines the benefits of each method, and increases variety and engagement levels amongst employees.

A blended approach can help you cater for a variety of learning styles and as long as you choose options that fit your purpose, audience and budget, is likely to be effective in developing your employees’ skills in a way that works for both you and them.