Self-Paced Training vs. Instructor-Led Training - Appsembler
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Self-Paced Training vs. Instructor-Led Training

Training has often been seen as a cost center, which isn’t surprising when you think about it. Training can be expensive and take a long time to show results, if the results are even measurable. Whether training is effective or not, what’s undeniable is that your support team will end up shouldering the burden of training programs that are ineffective at teaching learners the curriculum they need to succeed.

But could choosing the right learning environment and style hold the key to training success? This article looks at the advantages, disadvantages, and use cases of both instructor-led and self-paced training — and weighs which delivery method produces better learning outcomes. 

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What is Instructor-Led Training? 

Before 2020, many of us will have experienced instructor-led training. During these sessions, which could last several hours or several days, an instructor would teach a group of learners how to use a product in a live, in-person environment. Instructor-led training was already experiencing broader declines prior to the pandemic, but with offices closed and travel restricted, even more training has moved online.

Instructors typically use lectures, PowerPoints presentations, and product demos to deliver the training. This is often a passive style of learning where users are taught the information, rather than an interactive style where users get a more direct and hands-on experience. 

Instructor-Led Training Use Cases

While instructor-led training isn’t suitable for all companies or products, there are some situations where businesses might opt for this training style. 

Training for Non-Tech Savvy Students

If learners don’t have a high level of technical skills and need a lot of direct guidance, companies often consider instructor-led training. When an instructor is in the same classroom as users, they can help them set up their machines, download software, and directly troubleshoot problems that the learners are experiencing.

Highly-Complex Product Training

If your company’s software is particularly complex, you might choose to deliver instructor-led training. When providing training for highly complex products, instructor-led training gives instructors the ability to give immediate feedback on whether a learner understood a concept correctly, provide over-the-shoulder guidance, or even reset the learner’s system if that is needed.

Training on Sensitive Materials

There are also cases where companies that work in industries that deal with sensitive information — such as banking, healthcare, or government — might need instructor-led training to satisfy industry-specific privacy or secrecy requirements. In this case, instructors can more carefully control what is being shared during the training or ensure that learners aren’t walking away with photos or copies of sensitive data.

Learn how Itential grew training attendance 2x

Consultative Training

Finally, there are scenarios where the instructor needs to act as a hybrid between a consultant and a trainer. For example, some companies may need a combination of consulting and training — not just training. The instructor might need to facilitate a group discussion to understand or agree on internal business processes, and then provide the class with product training that reflects that business process. In cases such as this, a live, in-person consultant/instructor is more appropriate because of the back-and-forth and increased complexity of the desired learning outcome.

Advantages of Instructor-Led Training

When you deliver instructor-led training, you can ensure that everyone has completed the required modules at one time. When the training is finished, the learners should –– in theory –– have the knowledge they need to use your product. You don’t have to coax people to complete training or monitor who has completed which modules. And while an instructor-led course might take more time, in the end, it could actually accelerate the path to achieving team- or department-wide productivity objectives because all of the learners graduate at the same time (rather than a staggered schedule resulting from self-paced training). 

Some learners also prefer face-to-face training as they can ask questions and get immediate answers or feedback from the instructor or their peers. Instructor-led training can also facilitate collaboration as teams can share ideas or agree on processes during the instructor-led discussions.

Disadvantages of Instructor-Led Training

Scheduling instructor-led training can be a nightmare. You might decide to pick a date and time, but depending on the number of learners required to take the course, it won’t always be convenient for everyone. Inevitably, timezone conflicts, last-minute emergencies, vacations, and/or other conflicts will arise — resulting in partial attendance to the course. For required courses, this means scheduling make-up courses for the other attendees.

It’s also difficult to provide a personalized approach that takes into account how people learn new information. Often, instructor-led training involves showing people how to use your product rather than allowing them to learn by doing with curriculum and hands-on environments that fit the day-to-day needs of their roles. 

And in the unfortunate scenario that a user hasn’t learned how the product works by the end of the course, the only opportunity for them to get the information they need is via a mock-up session, asking your support team, or reading a manual.

Instructor-led training can also be expensive because you have to hire an instructor for an entire day and learners have to be away from their day-to-day roles for the entire duration of the course.

Finally, instructor-led training doesn’t scale as easily. Whether it’s from a limitation on the physical space that the course is being given, a limitation on the instructor’s time and focus (i.e. 1 instructor can only give proper attention to so many students), or conflicts arising from learner schedules — instructor-led training won’t scale as easily as self-paced training.

What is Self-Paced Training? 

Self-paced training has no fixed schedule i.e. users can take courses wherever they are and whenever suits their schedule. Learners don’t have to attend a specific training session with an instructor and can engage with courses in a way that suits their learning style or the specific needs of their day-to-day roles. For example, instead of sitting through an entire instructor-led course to hear the 30-minutes of content relevant to their role, a learner can attend the specific, 30-minute self-paced course they need to remove their knowledge gap.

Self-Paced Training Use Cases

Here are some common use cases for self-paced training:

Customer Training

When you’re training your customers, you need to provide training that will increase product adoption and help them get the most out of your product. Self-paced training not only helps customers fully understand how to use your product, but also reduces the number of requests to your support department. 

Remote Team Training

When you are training learners that are located across different locations and time zones, it’s almost impossible to find a time when all users will be able to attend. Self-paced training makes time difference irrelevant as users can learn whenever suits them. 

Highly-Complex Product Training

You might think that self-paced training is unfit for providing complex product training. This couldn’t be further from the truth. With advances in course interactivity and virtual training labs, more and more companies are offering complex product training through self-paced courses. The key is in a technology called virtual training labs, which are playgrounds where learners can practice what they’ve learned in a hands-on, learning environment. Many companies — like Redis Labs, Chef Software, and Dremio — have had tremendous success offering their product training in self-paced courses.

The Complete Guide to Virtual Software Training Labs


More and more workers are expecting the same kind of on-demand experience that they get from the other applications they use as consumers (such as Netflix). This means removing the “one-size-fits-all,” scheduled classroom agenda and replacing it with online training that they can easily access from wherever they want. And as consumer behavior transfers more and more to their professional expectations, workers will expect to have the flexibility to work through courses at their own pace or focus only on the specific courses they need to remove their knowledge gaps. 

Advantages of Self-Paced Training

Self-paced training suits a variety of learning styles and users can work their way through the material at a pace that makes more sense to them (which often proves to be the most effective). With this type of training, instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, you can create personalized learning experiences that are tailored around specific roles, product features, or career paths. 

As self-paced training is highly scalable –– once you’ve created the content, you can deliver it to as many users that register for the course –– helping to maximize your training budget. It’s also easy to monitor engagement and performance by tracking overall and individual metrics. 

Instructor-led training can seem outdated and old fashioned, especially to the generation of digital natives entering the workplace. It’s also arguably not as engaging as self-paced training where users can take quizzes, compete against coworkers in a leaderboard, and get hands-on virtual training labs where they can validate what they’ve learned in the course. 

Why You Should Consider Self-Paced Training

Instructor-led training sessions will only get you so far and Appsembler believes that, on balance, self-paced training delivers better results for the resources spent delivering them. It’s more cost effective, time efficient, and includes all of the engaging experiences (if not more) that instructor-led training can offer. Within self-paced training, users can also learn by doing while having the freedom to complete the training when it suits their schedules. And because learners have more control with self-paced training, they have the freedom to choose which courses matter most to them, improving and accelerating their path to their desired learning outcome.