"Over the last 10 years, [use of] electronically distributed training has climbed 20 percent," reports Rich Silton, president of Silton-Bookman Systems, of Cupertino, California, a record-keeping software producer for trainers at Fortune 1000 companies. "Some estimates indicate that before the year 2005, instructor-led training may drop to 50 percent, while electronic training will increase."
Adds Steve Wood, senior vice president of human resources and corporate affairs for Flagstar Inc., a Spartanburg, South Carolina holding company of six major restaurant chains: "More companies will invest in technology as a training vehicle because they can get better quality training, more consistent delivery and lower training costs. It's also the preferred delivery vehicle for recipients."
Consider the benefits of incorporating technology.
Using technology as a tool for instruction delivery allows trainers to train more people," Syracuse Language Systems' director of corporate markets, Pete Simmonds, suggests. "In traditional classrooms, there may be one instructor for 20 people. But with the Internet, the student audience potentially can be expanded so that the cost per employee goes down."
Simmonds says that to meet the rising demand for language training, his Syracuse, New York-based company created a series of self-study multimedia software programs that incorporate the Internet as a tool for interactivity. "Although self-study programs tend to be inexpensive and easy for people to do, the lack of structure makes it difficult for employees to maintain the self-discipline to complete the program," Simmonds points out. "One-on-one tutors tend to be more effective. But these programs aren't only more expensive, but also more difficult to schedule.... We combined the best features of self-instruction with teacher interaction through a combination of multimedia software and the Internet."
Some companies have devised unique in-house technological solutions. One noteworthy example is Silicon Graphics, a Mountain View, California-based producer of workstation servers, supercomputers and software. "We're doing as much distributed learning as possible and putting it on our intranet in a flexible, accessible way," says Drew Banks, manager of Technical Education and Distributed Learning for Silicon Graphics. Banks explains, "I want to make training as painless as possible, so when you click on something on the Web, you don't know whether you're being trained, just getting information or being entertained."
Another key benefit of technology is the ability to conduct training over long distances.
Technology is boosting the use of distance learning.
Distance learning is growing in demand. Companies find it too costly to maintain a full-time training staff to teach every necessary course. If you're looking for flexibility and the least amount of time lost from work, then distance learning is the most effective solution.
Many training professionals agree that distance learning is the best way for students to take courses while remaining on the job. Courses may be offered by mail (shipment of books and CD-ROMS) or via the Internet. Videoconferencing is another method.
Jean Barbazette, president of Seal Beach, California-based Training Clinic, is an advocate for videoconferencing. "It sounds expensive," she suggests. "But if you want to train people over several days, it's an easy way to do it.... You don't need to own a satellite; you can go to Kinko's and rent a room for a nominal fee." Some companies, like Arlington, Virginia-based Gannett Publishing, are now using company-owned satellite hookups to broadcast training sessions.
"A lot of our clients can't send employees out to train," says Betty Howell, director of Learning Dimensions, a Birmingham, Alabama-based distance-learning firm that provides independent-study programs. "The cost of training is very high, whether it's conducted in house, or through seminars. Also you can't be as in-depth in a one-day seminar as you can be in an independent-study program."
Employees complete work outside of classroom settings and enjoy the assistance of subject experts via phone or e-mail. "They can take an hour a day to do coursework at their desks. The benefit is the immediate application of what they learn to their jobs," says Howell. Also, since people learn at different rates, or may be slowed down by work or life pressures, there's an advantage to flexible scheduling.
Although Howell respects technology's potential, she doesn't see it replacing more conventional teaching. "I'm excited about its possibilities," she says, "and it makes learning accessible for people at distant sites. But I think a combination of methods is best."
Warning: Technology is constantly in transition.
John Faier, principal of OmniTech, suspects that many trainers are diving into technological solutions before they're fully developed. "Are they ready to take advantage of technology in a way that maximizes its potential? Or are they merely substituting new media for proven methods? It concerns me when organizations use the Web to distribute self-paced workbook study programs. People read 30 percent to 40 percent slower online. The Web is great at some things. But do trainers understand what they are?"
Trainers, according to Faier, still have much to do. "Our study indicates that 60 percent of learning professionals who aren't involved in the development of multimedia [training methods] today won't be able to make the transition to future multimedia development goals." So trainers should be thinking about how they're going to cultivate these skills.
Rich Wellins, senior vice president for Development Dimensions International in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, concludes, "Technology is in transition. That creates huge problems. Eight years ago, [employees] studied workbooks or went to class. Now there's no standard. Different companies want different solutions." It's the responsibility of trainers to find the best ones for their organizations-which they certainly can't do without being up-to-date themselves.
Workforce, June 1997, Vol. 76, No. 7, pp. 98-100.