Comparing Online to In-Person IT Training

Comparing Online to In-Person IT Training

July 22

“The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them.” – Zig Ziglar

Perhaps that’s no truer in IT given the ever changing technical landscape your IT staff is asked to navigate. Looking back even five years, it’s amazing how quickly mobile, cloud and security have changed, not to mention the exponential increases in data consumption and creation.

As a manager of technical operations at a large company, I was faced with making sure my team had the right mix of skills to handle the technical challenges our customers faced. I learned that hiring the right person for the job was important, but merely the first step. Much of my time was spent evaluating blind spots in our collective skills and either hiring or training to close the gap.

One example of this was when WIFI transitioned from a “nice to have” feature at conferences to “must have”. Before committing resources to an event, we’d make a site visit and test the facilities Wi-Fi capabilities. Unfortunately, very few hotels or conference centers had the required capacity for a large scale event with tens of thousands of attendees who expected internet. This meant we’d have to deploy our own Wi-Fi network by brings in all the networking gear and hiring out own ISP. Initially, I didn’t have a person on staff with the networking skills to manage a large-scale installation. My short-term fix was hire a person. But I know that would only get me so far, so I began researching training for my two most seasoned technicians.

Online IT Training

I looked at both online and in-person training options. The online training was attractive because it was the least disruptive. It was also less expensive and could be completed at whatever pace the employee could dedicate to it. The staffed as attracted to online training because they could do it alongside their job or in the evenings.

My experience with online training from a manager’s perspective is a positive one. The number of course options was fantastic, and the software and online simulations (specific to networking) were impressive. And because the courses were usually less expensive, I was able to sign up more staff members, often to the same online course.

I did run into a few challenges. It didn’t take long to realize that my most in demand employees were the busiest, which made scheduling time to study an ongoing problem. Pulling them off lucrative events wasn’t going to earn their loyalty, so I had to find another option. Also, some staff members preferred to learn in a traditional classroom setting. Over time I learned to qualify each training candidate to determine if online or in-person was the best option.

Over several years I found that online training was ideal for when I need to help a technician reach the next level. Maybe it was taking a couple of courses to complete her MCSE. Or a junior staff member just beginning his CCNA. If an employee is new to online courses it might be wise to sign up for a shorter class, and see how that goes before committing to a series of online certification courses.

In-Person IT Training

I know a lot people believe that in-person training is old fashioned, especially in IT. It’s easy to overlook this option when the online version gets so much attention. Also many technological advances have benefited online options more aggressively. But in-person training is still an excellent option for a number of reasons.

When I needed a Wi-Fi network expert, I didn’t have the month or two it takes to interview, hire and on-board a new employee. In reality, finding someone with a matching skill set could have taken much longer, and I didn’t have the luxury of waiting until I found that person. Instead, I offered to send two technicians to an in-person Wi-Fi networking bootcamp.

I don’t want to downplay the commitment required to pull this off. Not only was the training expensive, but I was asking two of my best employees to spend two weeks, during what is normally the slower time of the year, in a classroom. When I pitched the idea to my manager he wanted a guarantee that both employees would remain with the company for at least a year after the training was completed in exchange for the company covering all training, travel and accommodations. One of the two employees agreed to that arrangement.


In hindsight, I made the right decision in selecting the in-person training for my networking needs. This employee was appreciative for the training and over the next year became most valuable technician, which gave him the choice events. With his new skills, our company no longer had to hire outside networking contractors, and I was able to justify a substantial salary increase for my employee. He stayed with the company for another four years and was instrumental in training many employees to handle the ever-changing Wi-Fi standards.

Another training option that can augment in-person training is hiring the experts to come to your place of work to conduct the training. Bringing experts onsite can be expensive, but the cost-per-attendee was usually competitive when I was able to commit at least 10 technicians.

You have a lot of training resources at your fingertips today. That’s a good thing. But you still need to make sure to match your employees to the type of training that best suits their style.


Microsoft Learning – A good mix of online and in-person training resources.

Cisco – These are some of the most advanced courses offered in the industry.

CompTIA – A good place to start for both beginners and seasons IT professionals.

Switchup – A comprehensive listing of bootcamps with a focus on programming.