Someone asked me the other day whether I had ever taken an online training class and what was my impression and experience of having done so.  If ever there was a loaded question for me, that one gets top billing.  My initial response and emotional reaction to that question was that I had taken many online courses over the last several years and honestly could not recall learning much of anything as a result.  I found them rote, dry, boring, and emotionally draining—save for perhaps the test at the end of the course whereupon a passing score I received an equally boring looking certification of completion with my name attached—which I filed away in a desk drawer never likely to surface until retirement.

While it’s true that online classes have become quite popular in this hurried world of ours and purportedly offer the uber-busy among us the flexibility to learn something on our own schedule, I will concede that certain subjects lend themselves better to online.  For example, in a past work life, all employees had to complete ethics training on an annual basis. For the essentially ethical among us, this was rather easy to comprehend and there wasn’t much new information or learning to be had—it was essentially a CYA for the organization rather than a tangible benefit to the employee.  At least that’s the way most employees seemed to perceive it, given that ethics violations continued to regularly occur. By contrast, this same organization offered Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) training as a live class.  The experiential nature of that class would have never made the case for D&I if that had been an online course.  Clearly the decision, in that case, was to transform a culture rather than check the box on a form.

As a musician and one who has attended many live concerts over the years, I have always felt that the live performance has the potential to be far superior to the recorded version where all sorts of studio tricks, fixes, and patches can be applied to craft something from flawless to something quite unreal.  Witness the debacle and eventual expose of the Grammy Award-winning early 1990s “singing” duo Milli Vanilli who sold millions of records before being discovered that they never had sung a word on any of their recordings and were forced to relinquish their Grammy. The thrill of a live concert far surpasses that of listening to recorded music and especially for those of us musically inclined that like to sit as close to the stage as possible to learn how the performers are playing certain chords or act when they are performing. That’s a huge learning experience alone.

When I reflect upon the many live training classes I have experienced throughout my career, I can almost picture them, the instructor, and the students as if they happened yesterday.  I recall many comments made by both students and instructors that stay with me to this day.  I recall attending a class in business-writing back in 1987 where two key learnings offered by the tall instructor wearing a bowtie were (1) spill the beans and (2) go on a which-hunt, the former meaning to state your objective immediately and the latter concerning the often misuse of the words which versus that.   I carried those two business-writing ideas (and many more) with me from that point onward and for my entire career.  I attribute that permanent learning of mine to the tall instructor with the bowtie who led that class and introduced these writing concepts in a fun and entertaining way and for providing an environment that allowed us to even question those ideas and grammatical usage to our ultimate satisfaction.  I would never have had that kind of recall and permanency of learning on such a topic had this been a self-paced online class.  My learning here was both interactive and memorable—two key learning elements.

Now let’s take this to the current state of learning around the Customer Experience discipline.  It would be safe to say that advances in technology in and around learning have facilitated a lot more capability for successful online learning.  Again, we live in a fast-paced environment and are always looking for effective ways to build our credentials while working.  Whether we choose to learn something like the fundamentals of CX through either self-paced online courses or in-class is a matter of personal preference. Other aspects of our busy work and family life often come into play and priorities must be made.  There’s also the question of cost and length of time—do I need to learn this subject quickly such as “within my first 100 days on the job” or is this part of my longer-term career development objective.

The way education is delivered tends to be a significant factor within the learning experience.  Online classes must keep the learner engaged and collaboration tools need to be used to compensate for the interactions that would normally have occurred within a live classroom.  Too often communication with online is one-way and it’s hard to duplicate the power of collaboration and face-to-face interactions that are so essential in a classroom environment.  There’s also the issue of self-discipline when it comes to online learning.  The inherent flexibility of online learning can often drag the learning experience much further out than originally intended.

When I first began my CX journey back in 2004, I was in that state of needing to learn a brand-new discipline where the learning options were few and far between—books, webinars, meetings, vendor conferences, and some short 1-day vendor presentations on the topic. What I desperately needed and wanted was a course that would take me through the basics of what I was going to need to do over the course of the next several years to be successful in my new CX role.  That didn’t exist back then.  However, in 2011, I discovered the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) to which I joined up and volunteered for everything imaginable.  Although this wasn’t a course, this was essentially the next best thing to the live learning experience that I had wanted and ever since then, I have been a serial volunteer for the CXPA and participant in many of their live events.  I continue my involvement as a leader in the local CXPA Boston network.

With 10 years of CX experience behind me and lots of collaboration among my peers, I sat for and earned the CCXP Certification Exam offered by the CXPA—a testament to those experienced CX practitioners to prove their proficiency within the CX discipline.  Today, armed with my certification and with over 15 years of hands-on experience in CX, through my own consulting practice I have developed and offer a live classroom training and certification program on the basic elements of CX that would have been the ideal curriculum for me back in 2004.  As a classroom instructor along with a business partner, we view this live training second to none when it comes to online learning.  All the advantages you’d expect from a live training course are present—collaboration, fun exercises, videos, work-groups, presentations, exchanging of CX community-centric thoughts and ideas, and games to build toward the finale—passing a post-course exam and earning a certification known as CX-PRO.  There’s even a CX-PRO LinkedIn group created exclusively for those that have earned the CX-PRO certification.  The learning and collaborative spirit extend well beyond the classroom.

As instructors and facilitators within this kind of live a learning environment, we often come away learning as much as our participants.  Some participants are new to CX and some have several years of CX experience behind them.  To those passionate about CX, the total learning experience in this forum can be exponential.  While both online and in-class methods to develop and increase one’s CX knowledge are available today, we feel that the in-class educational experience leverages and maximize the potential and learning outcomes in the short-term such that they can be applied almost immediately to the success of the CX practitioner.

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