The Pros (And Cons) Of Small ILT Classes
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How The Class Size Of ILT Courses Impacts Your Training

Every year, colleges across the globe are rated by organizations like QS and U.S. News. Those colleges ranked in the top 10 are dreamt about by starry-eyed undergrads and their eager parents. What's the one criterion consistently used to determine these rankings? Student-to-faculty ratio. The lower the ratio, the higher the college is likely to rank.

Now, college education goes way back to the academic heydays of Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Harvard was established in the mid-1600s! So, it wouldn’t be completely crazy to assume that college rankings still value small classroom sizes and low student-to-instructor ratios for a reason. Still, does it translate to training in the workplace?

In the context of Instructor-Led Training (ILT) courses, class size has everything to do with classroom-based training sessions and online webinars or workshops. In other words, any training that involves live interaction between an instructor and employees (the learners).

The impact of class size on teaching and learning can have both positive and negative outcomes for ILT courses. But let’s start with the good news, shall we? Enter, the advantages of small class sizes.

The Benefits Of Smaller Class Sizes In Physical And Online ILT Courses

Despite the many innovative technologies allowing modern-day employees to learn on their own terms, instructors still hold a firm spot in the training industry. And there’s a good reason for this. ILT training provides opportunities for learners to engage with a Subject Matter Expert and other learners. And class size has a major impact on these engagements. Here’s how:

Higher Quality Instructor-Learner Interactions

“Please keep your questions until the end of the class”.

A line you would’ve heard before if you’ve ever attended a large class session. Because when classes are crowded, instructors aren’t able to answer swarms of questions and finish their lesson before the time runs out. So, rather than engaging with questions in the context in which they arose, learners must write them down and save them for later.

The first problem with this is that many learners never get their questions answered at all. The second is that, even when they do, the question is no longer being asked in the context in which it arose in the first place. So, learners must struggle to rewind their minds to the part of the lesson where the question was relevant.

The result of all this is that the quality of interaction between instructors and learners is low when classes are big. What’s more, large ILT classes leave little room for active learning. You know, where learners are actually involved in the learning process, and able to think and reflect on the content being covered. Instead, learners in large classes are expected to passively consume information being presented by the instructor.

More Opportunities For Peer-To-Peer Learning

Many ILT courses focus on the expertise of the instructor. Because they’re the person with specialized education and training in the subject matter, right? What gets overlooked, though, is the value of the various experiences, perspectives, and questions of learners attending the class. Yes, learners can be teachers, too.

Research has found that peer interaction improves learner performance [1], and is recommended for in-class active learning exercises. In other words, the more opportunities learners get to engage with each other, the better their understanding of a new concept will be. For example, one learner might ask a question that leads to new questions from other learners. Or, the shared experience of one learner might lead to a discussion with a less experienced learner.

But there’s a catch. Peer learning is more likely to happen when classes are small. Why? Because large classes, whether physical or virtual, can be intimidating and (ironically) isolating. How?

Well, a large class makes it difficult for learners to form meaningful connections with others in their class. Learners start to feel like ‘just a number’ and become too shy to ask questions in front of so many people that they don’t really know. Just one more negative impact of large class size on teaching and learning in ILT courses.

Personalized And Engaging Course Design And Delivery

So, class size impacts teaching and learning, but does it impact the Instructional Design of ILT courses, too? Absolutely. Because smaller classes allow Instructional Designers more freedom to create personalized courses, especially ones that combine online and offline training.

For example, a video assignment can be incorporated into a course when the instructor is expected to provide meaningful feedback to all 15 learners in her class. If her class includes 50 students, though, feedback will either become impossible, or generic. And, of course, everyone knows that personalized feedback is a crucial element of any learning experience.

Small class sizes also make it easier for instructors to identify inactive or disengaged learners on the course. When one or two learners in a class of 20 are repeatedly absent from class, or quiet during discussions, instructors can reach out to them to encourage participation and remove any obstacles that are holding them back.

The Disadvantages Of Small Physical And ILT Classroom Sizes

At this stage, it might be hard to believe, but Instructor-Led Online Training can also benefit from large classes. Or, rather, classes that are too small can have disadvantages, too. Here are a few to be aware of:

Reaches Fewer Employees In The Same Amount Of Time

This might be stating the obvious, but delivering training across many small classes, each with their own instructor, takes time and resources. In fact, it’s a rather inefficient way of delivering instructor-led online courses.

You’ll be looking at more administration, more live sessions, and if some classes take place in physical classrooms, more venues and logistical planning. This is probably not what you had in mind when you first considered a blended learning approach to employee training, is it?

Too Few Perspectives And Personalities Limit Learning

Small classes bring learners together, make them feel connected, and offer opportunities for them to interact and learn from each other. And yet, there can be too much of a good thing. You see, classes that are too small and too cohesive can suffer from something called 'groupthink'.

Groupthink happens when closely-knit groups make poor decisions and fail to question each other because they value first and foremost the harmony of the group. Similarly, in small classes where learners have formed strong bonds, or where personalities and perspectives are too similar, there might not be enough debate and questioning to lead to deep learning.

Conclusion

There’s no single right answer or golden rule for the number of learners that should be allocated to a class. But, whether you’ve jumped on the eLearning bandwagon or not, the class sizes in your ILT training need to be carefully considered. So, start asking yourself whether your classes are too big. Or, perhaps a little too small.

References:

[1] Is Peer Interaction Necessary for Optimal Active Learning?

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