Online course or classroom-based training – which is better?

We live in a digital world, so it’s no surprise that there are now several online course versions of classroom-based courses. But are they really a substitute for the real thing? There are, of course, advantages for both types of learning depending what you’re wanting to get out of it.

online courseShould I take an online Food Safety or HACCP course?

An online course allows you to train in your own time and at your own pace. Its modular nature means that you can fit training around a busy production schedule. There is no definitive timescale for completing the course and, as long as you have a WiFi signal, you can study practically anywhere.

From a budgetary point-of-view, online courses are more cost-effective. Plus you don’t have any travel or accommodation costs on top of course fees.

Why advanced level food industry courses are better face-to-face

The flexibility and modular format of an online course might seem attractive in the first instance. Indeed, in many cases, the content of both types of courses are the same. However, there is no substitute for experience.

When you attend a Verner Wheelock Level 3 or 4 Food safety or HACCP course, you have access to a trainer who has hands-on food industry experience. You can ask questions relevant to your own particular business and receive instant answers. You will participate in group discussions and exercises, all of which are invaluable in helping you to understand the subject and how it relates to your day-to-day operations. You will also interact with delegates from different types of companies to further build your experience.

What our delegates say about an online course v classroom-based learning

We asked a couple of our delegates who took advanced level courses with us if they’d have preferred to take the course online. Both achieved Distinctions in their exams and have won Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards for their achievements.

Tina Sayers with her HACCP Award
Tina Sayers of PAS Grantham

Tina Sayers, a Technical Account Manager at potato processors PAS Grantham told us: “I don’t think there’s any comparison. Classroom courses enable group discussion, question and answer sessions, real-world examples from both the lecturer and course attendees – and all of this helps to build understanding from the participants.”

“There’s a place for online training, but I don’t think it’s ideal for complex subjects such as HACCP and although you can ask questions of understanding at the end of an online course, as an employer, are you left feeling confident that your attendee understood the content?”

She adds “From a personal point of view, I retain information from a classroom course, but have a hard time remembering anything I’ve learned from online training.”

Kathryn Broadburn, Technical Manager at F Smales, has attended several face-to-face courses at Verner Wheelock and agrees with Tina. “I think at Level 4 you need to be completing classroom-based training – especially with reference to HACCP. Just looking back at my files I have so many extra notes with more detailed explanations and examples that make it much easier to revise. Plus, I feel they give me a greater understanding of the subject.”

“It was also very advantageous to have the ability to have group discussions. We had a lot of these when completing examples during the course and as we went through the homework. At times it made me see where I had misunderstood the question being asked. There was also the chance to ask questions whenever we needed to. Asking questions also helped the tutor to gauge how much we were understanding- and at times spend longer on sections which required extra teaching – you just don’t get that with an online course.”

Is the course relevant?

Another good reason for attending a face-to-face, rather than a face-to-screen course concerns course content. It’s our experience that, since there is no real interaction between the course provider and the trainee, online courses tend to be updated less often.

Our course tutors are regularly reacting to hot topics within the food industry and including them in the course materials. It’s our aim to ensure that the information we provide is as up-to-date as possible, so that it’s as relevant as possible to our delegates.

Have you considered an in-house course?

If cost is an issue, one way to make your budget stretch further is an in-house course. Our trainers will deliver HACCP, Food Safety and Auditing courses at your own premises – or any of our other courses such as TACCP & VACCP, Root Cause Analysis, Managing Food Allergens and Legal Labelling. We can train up to 15 people and tailor the course to suit the needs of your business. Courses can range from Level 2 HACCP to Level 4 Food Safety or Lead Auditor.

Make sure the training is reputable

Whichever type of training you decide to embark on, make sure that it meets your needs. Consider the following:

  • If you opt for online training, does the provider also offer offline courses so has an established reputation?
  • Has the course content been written to meet nationally recognised standards?
  • Does the company offering the training specialise in providing food industry training?
  • Does the course lead to a nationally recognised QCF/RQF qualification, regulated by Ofqual, and provided by an industry-wide awarding body such as RSPH or HABC? A regulated qualification might cost you a little bit more initially, but you know that the course meets National Occupational Standards and follows a standard syllabus.
  • Does the online course cater for staff for whom English is not their first language? i.e. is a translation or voiceover available in the required language?

A word from our MD

Alison Wheelock of Verner Wheelock
Managing Director, Alison Wheelock

Verner Wheelock has been providing training courses to the food industry since 1990. Alison Wheelock, our Managing Director says. “We do offer online versions of our lower level food safety courses, but when it comes to Level 3 and Level 4 HACCP and Level 4 Food Safety we have made a conscious decision to keep the training within the classroom. We find that delegates have a much better learning experience and perform better in examinations when they do all their training in the company of others under the tutelage of an experienced trainer.”

“With online courses, you don’t get the interaction or group exercises or the opportunity to get instant answers to your questions. They’re much more generic – and because there’s no particular timescale for completion – some people don’t complete the training at all. I would always recommend attending a face-to-face course if at all possible.”

See our latest training calendar here

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