Learning & Development

Combining Classroom Training with On-the-Job Training

Broadly speaking, there are two primary forms of training used by most organizations. The first involves structured training during designated instruction periods by assigned, often full-time, instructors using some combination of lecture, assigned course material, and examination. This classroom-style training would not be unfamiliar to any high school or college student.training

The second type is a learn-by-doing, on-the-job approach, whereby a trainee learns his or her craft by shadowing an experienced coworker or manager.

Both of these methods have their pros and cons, but we propose that combining the two methods into a coordinated approach can yield results far greater than either in isolation.

Frequently referred to as “work-and-learn,” various models combining classroom training and on-the-job training have been used for years in academic settings, but they can also fill a useful role in the workplace.

Here are some of the benefits to taking this approach:

Feedback Loop

Integrating classroom training with on-the-job methods like job shadowing and mentoring can create a feedback loop for iterative improvements. The trainer and the manager can collaboratively discuss areas for improvement as the trainee progresses through both a new job role and training coursework.

Newly learned material can be applied on the job quickly, and questions arising from the job role can be discussed during the next training session.


The feedback loop involves coordination between trainer and manager. That coordination also helps ensure that training is relevant to the necessary work.

As new challenges or opportunities emerge, the manager has the opportunity to discuss those with the trainer and incorporate them into the training material.

Similarly, as the trainer becomes aware of new knowledge, skills, or practices, he or she has the opportunity to discuss the potential relevance to the job role with the manager.

Greater Engagement

One reason classroom training often fails to stick is a lack of engagement. This is often the result of failing to create the connection between what is being learned and how it applies to real life. Students crave training that is applicable to their real-world needs, so a combination of classroom and on-the-job training provides that in real time.

Combining classroom training with on-the-job training puts together the best elements of both methods while allowing them to complement each other in an iterative feedback loop.

While the underlying concept of a work-and-learn model is to combine classroom and on-the-job training, there are a variety of formats that can and have been utilized. Although there is some overlap between some of these, they still have enough disparities to where they can treated separately.


Apprenticeships are perhaps the quintessential work-and-learn programs and combine job-specific technical training with structured on-the-job training from a designated mentor. These can be further broken down into pre-apprenticeships and registered apprenticeships.

Clinical Training/Practicum

Clinical trainings and practicums can be thought of as specialized forms of apprenticeships. These occur most frequently in human services careers, such as those in the medical industry. This form of apprenticeship offers the value of actually “being in the job” while learning.

Cooperative Education/Co-Op

Cooperative education involves current students—typically either high school or those enrolled in higher education—spending part of their time in the classroom and part in professional employment in a field related to their course of study. This can be a great way to provide them with insights into the type of work they enjoy and what they don’t.


An internship places a student in a professional work situation for a limited period of time in conjunction with ongoing academic training. Internships can be paid or unpaid (although, for-profit organizations are wise to pay student interns) and can sometimes lead to permanent employment.


An externship is similar to an internship but is typically shorter and more intensive—from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.


This term has emerged as older workers are deciding to return to the workplace after finding retirement was less rewarding than they had imagined. Returnships offer these retirees—or other employees—the opportunity to return to the workplace both to pick up new skills and to provide training and mentorship to others.

Hands-On Training

Hands-on-training can take a number of forms, but it essentially involves putting classroom learning to practical use by applying that learning to real-world tasks.

Industry Tour

Industry tours are short tours—typically a day or less—that give a high-level overview of a company’s operations. These tours can be a good way to learn best practices and glean new insights and ideas based on how other companies operate.


Mentorships team an experienced employee with a less experienced protégé. These can fall along a wide spectrum of formality levels within organizations.

On-the-Job Training (OJT)

OJT refers to paid training conducted at work provided to a company’s current or incoming employees. This typically involves work with a senior employee or mentor.

Job Shadowing

Job shadowing involves a student following a current employee through his or her day-to-day activities. It typically involves more watching and less doing than on-the-job training or internships/externships.

Work-and-learn models are effective because they provide an opportunity to apply what has been learned in real time and demonstrate the relevance and applicability of classroom learning. And because there are many available models, most organizations should be able to find one that fits their needs.