While online training has been around for about 20 years, its popularity in corporate North America is growing by leaps and bounds, thanks largely to new technologies that promote user engagement. These include:

Simulations: Though simulations were introduced as a traditional training method, development in software and computer technology has improved the learning and transfer that can result from simulators.

Avatars: Avatars are computer depictions of humans that are used as imaginary coaches, coworkers and customers in simulations. Typically, trainees can see the avatar, who appears throughout the training course.

The advantages of simulators are:

  • It eliminates the need to travel to a central training location
  • Meaningful and gets trainees involved in learning
  • Emotionally engaging, increasing employees’ willingness to practice, encourages retention, and improves their skills.
  • Provides a consistent message of what needs to be learned
  • Can safely put employees in situations that would be dangerous in the real world
  • Have been found to result in such positive outcomes as shorter training times and increased return on investment

The disadvantages of simulators are:

  • Limited use due to their development costs
  • Trainees may not be comfortable in learning situations that have no human contact

Interactive videos: They combine the advantages of video and computer-based learning (typically on CD-ROM) to teach technical procedures as well as interpersonal skills. Training material is presented one-on-one to trainees via monitors connected to keyboards; trainees interact with the program by using the keyboard or touching the monitor.

Advantages:

  • Employees can control what sections of the training program they view; they can skip around and can review material as needed. Immediate feedback is built into the system and the material is accessible at all times.

Disadvantages:

  • The development of the program and the equipment needed are expensive, but the cost should be offset by savings in the long run.
Teleconferencing: Refers to synchronous exchange of audio, video and/or text between two or more individuals or groups at two or more locations. Trainees attend training platforms in training facilities in which they can communicate with trainers (who are at another location) and other trainees using the telephone or personal computer.

The other type involves individualized, personal-computer-based training with trainees participating wherever they have access to a computer. This may utilize multimedia methods such as web-based training.

Groupware (i.e. electronic meeting software): A type of software that allows multiple users to track, share, and organize information and to work on the same project or document simultaneously (e.g. Lotus Notes).

Learning Management System: Can help companies understand the strengths and weaknesses of their employees, including where talent gaps exist. LMS can be linked to other human resource systems to identify learning opportunities for employees to strengthen their performance weaknesses.

To maximize its effectiveness, an LMS should be integrated with human resource systems. The interfaces between the systems will provide basic employee information such as business unit, geographic location, and job title. Information about which courses employees have completed should also be stored in the LMS.

Advantages of an LMS:

  • Centralize management of learning activities
  • Track regulatory compliance
  • Measure training usage
  • Measure employee performance

About 38 per cent of companies report integrating an LMS with human resource information systems. LMSs are also important for companies to be able to track the number of employees who have completed courses that they need to meet state, federal, or professional regulations (compliance training).

Just remember that a new technology training method should be used under the following conditions:

  • There are adequate resources to develop and use new technology
  • Trainees are geographically dispersed and travel costs to a single training site would be high
  • Trainees are comfortable using new technology, including personal computers and software, the web, and CD-ROMs.
  • Use of the new technology is part of the company’s business strategy and it is being used in other processes in the company
  • Employees would have a difficult time attending scheduled training programs
  • Current training methods allow only limited time for practice, feedback and assessment
  • Use of new technology fits into the organizational culture or business strategy
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