Diversifying Staff Development
1 December 2006 Chris Mitchell
Businesses must recognise the practical diversity involved in training, says Chris Mitchell of In Situ Productions.
Training has long been recognised as a crucial requirement in staff development. Whether reading a book, attending a course or being professionally mentored, ongoing training is essential in ensuring both better motivation and improved work practices.
TIME TO TRAIN?
So why is it then that companies slash the training budget at the first sign of belt tightening or even neglect staff training to begin with? Cost, of course, is always an issue. How do you measure the ROI of training for a member of staff that isn't revenue generating?
There are also issues of time commitment; can staff afford to spend the time away from their desks travelling to and from training venues and then, of course, attending the training itself? It is an age-old problem, but one that companies are still struggling to deal with.
In technology terms, e-learning tried to address some of these problems, but in the early days the quality was not particularly high, and even now where it is high quality it does not always meet the needs of training.
One common complaint is the lack of the 'human element' in e-learning, but that's not to say it doesn't have its place in the learning mix. E-learning does bring interactive, high-quality content to the desktop and has all the advantages of being time efficient and allowing staff to learn at their own pace.
Web seminars have addressed more of these problems, including the lack of a 'human element' in e-learning, but should in no way be seen as a cure-all to staff training. No amount of technology will ever be able to replace the excitement of being taught by an entertaining and thoughtful trainer.
So what are web seminars? Often pre-recorded and available on-demand, they meet the time constraints of busy organisations but they can also be used live to gain valuable real-time feedback from staff around the world where audience size dictates that web conferencing is unsuitable.
The format generally involves streaming video or audio of the presenter, slides or flash animation running in conjunction with the presentation and other resources such as flash, interactive quizzes and surveys to the desktop through an internet browser.
Organisations can now use their own staff to deliver online training – an engineer can be trained by his recognised subject matter expert but in his own time and followed up by live Q&A sessions with staff internationally.
Corporate training staff are increasingly using this technology as a real enhancement in the mix of training requirements. Instructor-led training in the classroom will never be replaced, and nor should it be, but the use of web seminars has the advantage of freeing up staff from repeatedly delivering long presentations themselves as well as being able to reach geographically dispersed employees without the associated travel costs. Another important aspect is that they help to standardise the training delivery and ensure consistency, regardless of whether the trainer has the flu or is feeling stressed.
If the web seminar technology also uses its own content management system or can be incorporated into a learning management system (LMS), it can also provide an audit trail to show attendance as well as creating online testing for both prerequisite training requirements and proof of knowledge retention.
For training to be truly effective, it needs to have the right mix of technologies and methodologies to match the subject matter and delivery method. As part of the training needs analysis, learning tracks can be mapped to a career path with evaluation of staff to understand the most effective learning methods, whether it be classroom-based instructor-led training, conventional e-learning, video-based web seminars or even podcasts, which can be produced at the same time as recording the web seminar.
For example, a new member of staff may have an initial induction briefing from his line manager, followed by pre-recorded web seminar presentations on health and safety by the health and safety manager, company procedural training by the HR manager and so on. Then personal and skills development can follow a mix of classroom training, e-learning and on-demand web seminars with live interaction as necessary.
Access to refresher training is also important, and as well as on-demand access to your web seminars you can listen or watch it on your iPod. It may not be for everyone, but it is effective for certain members of staff and can be created at no extra cost to the initial recording of your web seminar. This then not only delivers the training module effectively but also empowers the member of staff to be in control of his own development.
Web seminars are not a panacea for all training problems but instead are an important addition to the mix. Online training can be though of in a similar way to internet sales - people continue to buy from people they trust despite the way that sales over the internet have become dehumanised.
Classroom training should never be replaced, but it is important to recognise that training requires a multifaceted approach that mixes different techniques and technologies.