Training online, simply put, is – Training provided anytime, anywhere in the world and just when it is needed.
Computer Based Training (CBT) became popular with the emergence of software as an industry. IT training needed computers, as a learning aid, to help learners acquire expertise through application. The computer was a supplement to learning and did not, however, replace the traditional classroom instruction.
For a long time, learning on the machines was purely for technical areas related only to computer technology. As the CBT gained focus, more advantages were discovered in learning on the computers. Use of software packages to facilitate learning helped self directed skills development. The term `self paced learning’ was evolved as learning electronically does not require a batch of participants, like in a class room, who will need to go through the same concepts and exercises at the same time. The modules, the jargon for chapters in e-learning, are accessed and learnt at a time that is convenient to the participant. A full time instructor was not required; machines freed, though not necessarily replaced the instructor. Subject Matter Experts (SME) did not have to become itinerant trainers to deliver sessions in different locations. Training material gets standardized thereby minimizing the variants of training styles. Help screens are included in the program to provide guidelines and additional information for learners who are not very tech savvy. CBT also uses multi media to make the learning enriched with audio clips, animation and graphics and interactive videos.
The need for training, and for training across levels, services and functions, is gaining focus in the realm of HR intent. Skill development is pivotal to retention. The recent down trend resulting in several organizations flattening and downsizing, has in a way coerced companies to plan proactively and build competencies if they are to hold on to their best and brightest.
With the world of industry entering global markets, virtual teams in organizations constantly form and function across countries. Content based training, with the objective of imparting knowledge are relatively more `e-friendly’. The coursematerial is hosted on the intranet, or even the internet in some instances. Assignments aimed to assess recall and register abilities are administered where measurement is simple and straight. Companies anchor most process and product training in the online method. A one time effort of creating material, evolving assignments and structuring measurement of learning effectiveness, goes a long way in terms of the reach it has within the organization. One standard module with measured learning objectives addresses the organization’s knowledge gap in a swift, simple and stable environment which is not constrained by the human limitations of one trainer, one location, one group, one date and time. In the traditional class room methodology, on the other hand, it is one program replicated several times over thereby giving in to the variations of training style in addition to learning happening in a staggered manner, and the likelihood of the tempo of training slowing down. By the time the last of the sessions happens in a location, training would have become a mere perfunctory exercise, done for the sake of MIS reports.
Stephen Covey’s 7th habit, `sharpen the saw’, promotes learning from previous experience. Sharing experiences helps other employees cope with the corporate challenges as well as changes and visibly move to higher levels of competencies. Covey recommends organizations to create a culture where every learner becomes a trainer and every trainer also experiences learning. This way, the organization not only provides individual knowledge but also creates institutional knowledge; this ensures that the organization, irrespective of people exiting, establishes knowledge and has the ownership of the collective expertise and intellectual property. This effort can be captured comprehensively with online training programs.
Online training aids meeting of specific learning objectives. Hitherto, developmental initiatives comprised rolling out a number of courses which were generic and in a broad manner addressed random learning needs. As a group, the learners went through a skill building experience. However, in this method, individual and specific needs were not given importance. The evolving virtual training methods create scope for asking more pointed questions to find out what job knowledge and skills the learner needs to acquire and perform at the workplace. Stand alone modules are developed to address each learning need and only the learners who lack these competencies go through the training session.
Having established the advantages of online training, we now need to explore the different methodologies that can be adopted in the virtual space.
Learning online is distance learning. For a long time, several western countries have used video conferencing; VC not only aids remote training, but also helps in bringing the learning environment to as close to the flexibility and spontaniety as that of a traditional classroom. This method is highly interactive, very economical and can address a number of trainees at the same time. Global companies having far flung operations, benefit largely from this technology. And, as discussed before, this method ensures consistency of content and instruction apart from cutting down travel bills.
Satellite broadcasts are also used to deliver product training. Satellite training rooms promote an interactive learning method and can teach to a class of several thousand of learners, something a brick and mortar classroom can never achieve. Companies which find use for this method, but cannot afford the infrastructure hire third party satellite communications agencies to anchor their training modules.
Simulation is a training approach that is simple but yet effective. This calls for programs that replicate tasks away from the job site. The range is wide – from fundamental mock exercise to computerized simulation of a complete work environment. This is relevant for functional training where retail counters, automobiles, operating rooms and so on are created online to help learners use the place without causing damage to any of the aspects. Simulations are even used for management skills development. As a high tech training platform for leaders and managers, this method assesses the problem-solving and decision making skills of the participants. Business games are also conducted as part of a simulation exercise.
An extension of simulation is the virtual reality training. Again a computer based approach, this method permits learners to gain perspectives that are not possible in a real time training program. For instance, a heavy machine tool can be turned over and viewed to help learn the tool thoroughly. This kind of manipulation is otherwise impractical and impossible.
The most popular methodology elearning, which is in effect, an umbrella term that comprises all computer based methods, is widely used in the new economy. Enough and more has been said about the versatality of online instructional training and yet this can never be over stressed. Online training with its features of simultaneous delivery in different languages anytime and in any part of the world is vivid and appealing due to the care that is taken while creating the modules. Keeping in mind the universal need of addressing large groups anywhere, the content is comprehensive and professionally created by a team of instructional designers and graphic artists. Instructional Designers or ID experts as they are better known can visualize the content format as it appears online and can put together the appropriate session structure, flow and even pitch the level of training to cater to the existing knowledge and skills of the trainees.
Although industries and markets differ in the corporate world, it has been proved that almost 74% of training needs are the same. Sales and customer service, marketing skills, induction programs, cross cultural training, workplace etiquette, communication and presentation skills are indicative common denominator online training modules used by corporates functioning across the globe.
A spin off from online training gaining importance is the emergence of several elearning companies. These companies create training content using domain experts and ID specialists which are sold as off the shelf modules. Elearning companies also develop customized and exclusive training material for a higher fee for their clients. However, the immense use for these modules and the huge target group that they are delivered for, off set the cost incurred as payment to the elearning vendor.
The features, advantages and benefits of online training are tangible. However, the adage `taking the horse to the water’ is never more applicable in any other aspect than here. Classroom training offers a controlled environment where trainees are mentally prepared to sit through a learning experience. The trainer, for his/her part ensures that the learners have some pertinent takeaways from training. Recall, recap and review methods after every session help reinforce the learning aspects. On the other hand, online training calls for personal commitment from the learner. The organization or the boss can provide support for development but cannot in anyway develop the employee. The onus of enhancing competencies is with the learner alone.
Taking complete responsibility for one’s own development is the most important aspect of online training. The success and return on investment in training lies purely in the hands and mind of the learner. A positive approach to learning coupled with a passion for performance has to be inculcated and evolved as an organizational culture before an employee is launched on the path to learning and developing in the cyber space.
Aditya Narayan Mishra
President – Staffing