Training the Untrainable (The E-learning vs Face-to-face Dilemma)

I have been thinking a lot recently about the delivery of some of our more challenging training and professional development programs, particularly given that almost everyone these days seems to be an e-learning evangelist of some description (just Kidding) and our large and quite dispersed, regional and remote workforce.

I am not talking here about the delivery of Workplace Health and Safety compliance training, or basic computer skills, or even management and communications skills, I am talking about the hard edge training programs we run;

  • Suicide Prevention and Awareness
  • Domestic Violence awareness and intervention
  • Mental Health and Depression and
  • Psychological First Aid

to name a spectrum of them.  These are programs where there is a strong chance that at least some of the people who are attending the training will have been effected by theses kinds of trauma in one way or another, and often significant issues and reactions arise during the training.  This means that all of these programs are run on a face to face basis usually with 2 facilitators in the room, so that issues can be dealt with, without compromising the integrity of the training.

So the dilemma is, is it possible and also is it ethical and safe to utilise new technologies (e-learning) to training people in these skills, when we know that there is a certain proportion of people who are going to have adverse reactions to the materials for one reason or another.

My questions then are relatively simple does anyone know of any instances where these sorts of programs have been delivered through e-learning options successfully and how where the issues related to participant reactions handled in this environment.

About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

4 Responses to Training the Untrainable (The E-learning vs Face-to-face Dilemma)

  1. Pingback: Training the Untrainable (The E-learning vs Face-to-face Dilemma) | World of Online Learning |

  2. Yogesh Wagh says:

    Paul- I do not have reactions from the learners specifically for these kind of training but we have worked with agencies to create e-learning for similar programs. If you are intrested then I can show you some of our work.

  3. Jill says:

    This is such a difficult quandary and I feel your conflict!
    While I understand the pressure to try to deliver subjects like this in a cheaper way, the issue here is more about cost effectiveness,not cheapness. You have already identified that sometimes issues addressed in these sessions can resonate on a personal level with participants, and need to be managed.How would this type of support be offered to people accessing this learning electronically? I suppose you could have a helpline that people could call to talk things through if affected, but sometimes only the personal touch will suffice.
    When I am delivering Mental Health First Aid I want to be sure that the participants themselves are “safe” while considering the subject matter but also that the people they will be supporting will be “safe” too. This links in with the emotional intelligence of the participants, and their deep rooted attitudes to the subject matter. Have they “engaged” with it on a personal level? Will they truly be empathetic with someone in difficulties? I really am not sure how E.I. or attitude can be taught or assessed by electronic means- I don’t think they can. Not reliably anyway.
    When delivering softer subjects that I have been asked to do via e-learning, I use the electronic learning as an introduction, then follow up with a workshop to ensure the participants have the skills to generalize that learning into their workplace. This helps me to assess their personal response to the subject matter and whether they can reliably support others. This is probably not as cheap as doing it purely by e- leaning but I consider it increases cost effectiveness as we develop staff who then have usable skills rather than those who have sat in front of a screen without actually engaging with the subject matter, or having had their personal response assessed.
    I think sole reliance on e-learning in issues around mental wellbeing and suicide is just dangerous and no amount of financial saving is worth that!

    • pauldrasmussen says:


      I think the idea of using e-learning materials as pre and post course materials is solid one and aids with both attendess being more comfortable when the in the classroom environment as well as with learning transfer once the course is over. I guess for me it is not about cost effectiveness as such but more around time and location constraints. We have more than 17,000 staff across 450 locations throughout QLD, with a high proportions of individual workers or workers in rural and remote areas. Getting this kind os training which they definately need to them, in a way that is effective and efficent is really difficult and limits the amount of training we can actually manage to undertake with them, lessening their skills and effectiveness I think.

      We have toyed with the idea of using instructor led video conference style training, but the issue then is access to technologies that will allow that to be effective and we still have the issue of, that is if something goes wrong there may not be anyone there who can assit the person in crisis.

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