Can Online Coffee Education Replace Hands-On Training? Should It Even Aim To?
Part two of a two-part story. Read part one here.
By JON SHADEL
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
If anything’s clear, online training has become a buzz term in almost every industry, and specialty coffee is no different. The popularity of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and online university courses has raised a number of questions about how effectively students can pick up on skills at a distance. And this concern is especially relevant to the traditionally hands-on nature of coffee education.
In the 11 years since the American Barista and Coffee School (ABCS) was founded, the Portland, Ore.-based school has witnessed rapid growth in the specialty-coffee industry. Understanding this, its directors made sure the school’s educational resources evolved with the market’s expansion and consumers’ changing preferences. But in 2014, ABCS launched its first-ever online barista course to better meet the demands of baristas and café owners.
In the year since the launch of the Online Barista Training, ABCS has demonstrated the many benefits of online education, including the ability to reach café owners with tight pockets in far-flung corners of the world. But as you might suspect, ABCS has also faced a number of difficulties in translating hands-on education to distance learning, indicating that a number of fundamental challenges remain for online coffee educators.
A survey of online training for baristas reveals a lot of movement towards a more informed public. For example, a number of online classes have popped up for the home barista, many offered by small tutorial companies or published by specialty-coffee roasters. Even ChefSteps, a Seattle company that produces online cooking tutorials, has dipped a toe in the water by offering home barista training classes.
Classes for home baristas, however, dwell on more basic concepts: learning simple terminology, tips on purchasing coffee, and how-to guides for home equipment. The question is, how well can more complex and technical material for professionals can translate online.
Matt Milletto, ABCS’ vice president, says the challenge is real. œNothing will ever replace the benefit of live, hands-on training, of course, he says. However, ABCS has gone to great lengths to address the challenges of distance learning. Firstly, proper assessment ”quizzes throughout and a final exam ”helps address the issue of skills acquisition. Secondly, Milletto and his team upload fresh content on a regular basis so that training is continuous ”as the market demands it be.
Still, whether a café owner deems online training to be a success for a team will ultimately depend on expectations. And, as Milletto suggests, it would be better to view online coffee education as an accelerator rather than a replacement ”an educational aid to decrease the time needed for the hands-on training process. Milletto explains that the purpose of the Online Barista Training ”and the general goal for online coffee education ”should only be to supplement hands-on training. œHaving 24/7 access to videos for review is so important, he says, œas many employees may learn something once, but not have enough time to gain confidence.
œOnline training in general is a fairly new and quickly evolving industry, Milletto says, œUnderstanding our target market has been one of our priorities. For example, as the ABCS’ Online Barista Training helps reach untapped international markets, the school has focused on localizing content to be more specific to other languages. œThere is a lot of opportunity in other countries to provide a consistent and affordable training platform, he says.
Despite the challenges that remain for online coffee education, Milletto and his team are staying focused on what’s next. œAs the industry evolves, so does the way people receive training, he says, œand we are staying ahead of the curve to offer yet another great solution to the global market.
Jon Shadel is a Portland-based writer and lover of fine coffees. He writes for Oregon Business and Oregon Home magazines. He’s also the founder of Rusty Bike Media, a storytelling agency helping startups, lifestyle brands and nonprofits engage their target audience. With years of experience as a barista, he loves coffee culture and is often found furiously typing in a cozy cafe.