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Feature: Effective IT Training

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Ayaz Rathore, Director of Communications at R-Com Consulting Limited looks at how IT training methods are changing and questions which is the most effective way to learn.


In the past technical education has focused on one-size fits all. Major software companies have chosen to develop instructor-led courses in a single country that are then translated into other languages. Student guides have been written and ‘tested’ with the idea that they will ‘fit’ the training needs of thousands of users throughout the world. In my opinion, this is a very rigid approach that has been surprisingly successful.

Perhaps the reason for the success is the fact that the student guides were based on instructor-led classroom training. After all we do like to have interaction with our ‘instructor’ to be able to ask questions outside the scope of the pre-defined course material. We also like to ask questions based on our own organisation’s unique IT Infrastructure and learn how best to utilise our new-found knowledge in the workplace.

Modular
However, as systems are becoming more complex, training has adopted a more modular approach too. Training methods are changing and software companies are moving from classroom training to support-based learning, utilising a combination of different tools such as demonstrations, tutorials, mentoring, on the job training, reference materials etc.

But is this the most effective way to learn? Are organisations really considering alternative training methods for the right reasons or are they just trying to save money?

Budget
Budgets have been squeezed more and more in the last few years. IT managers struggle to capture funding that will improve the skills of the IT workforce, as well the company’s end users. Finance directors would rather save money than spend on an often unquantifiable commodity such as IT training. If IT managers fail to justify spending and finance directors fail to listen, IT managers look for alternative training methods. With this scenario in mind, I suspect that budget cuts have created an increased interest in e-learning from both a cost- and time-saving perspective.

<E-Learning
The question is, are alternative training methods such as e-learning the way forward? Let’s look at the figures. The European Training Trends report for 2003 aimed to show a ‘statistically valid picture of current training methods employed by leading European enterprises.’

The report found that:
* 67% of European organisations are either using or actively searching for an e-learning solution.
* 74.2% of companies already using e-learning stated that they reduced training costs significantly through e-learning.
* More than 40% of organisations already using e-learning solutions said that it has improved productivity, customer satisfaction and competitiveness.
* More than 50% of these organisations expect to be able to correlate learning and business results.

This survey implies that companies who have invested in e-learning have not been disappointed as the expected results have been met in most cases.

In the current climate, organisations are extremely cautious about how they invest - or if they invest at all. Solutions need to support key business initiatives and offer a quick return on investment. This makes good reading for anybody that owns or manages an e-learning company. However, e-learning has not become the multimillion pound industry that people expected, and there is no way of really measuring how effective it is.

Effective
Businesses are beginning to focus more than ever on the cost and practical aspect of e-learning but how do you effectively measure the success of an e-learning course?

Organisations should re-consider how best to invest in their employees and question whether alternative training methods are as effective as taking an employee out of their working environment, where they can focus to learn new skills.

While everyone jumped on the e-learning craze in the late 1990’s, in reality, the industry was a little immature. It has however led to a new training method which has evolved from a combination of instructor-led courses and e-learning and this may just take training to the next level.

Blended
The current trend involves for blended learning programmes, designed to integrate
e-learning with traditional training methods to increase overall effectiveness, is a natural evolution of e-learning into an integrated programme of multiple methods, and is effectively replacing e-learning. It sounds simple, mixing e-learning with other types of training delivery – but the key to the success of this learning process is to identify the correct business issue and then apply the ‘correct blend’ of delivery options to solve the business issue in an optimum way.

The simple cost equation for blended learning is the trade off between development cost and delivery cost. For web-based training, for example, high development costs can be offset by low delivery costs if the audience is large. For classroom training, lower development costs and higher delivery costs are justified when the audience is small.

To make blended learning more powerful, there are many media and technologies that act as delivery options including: classroom training, web-based training, webinars, CD-Rom courses, books, job aids, conference calls etc. The important fact to bear in mind is that blended learning does not discount any particular method of training. It is a fusion of several different technologies that can involve human interaction and e-learning.

I believe that organisations should not charge into e-learning just to save cost, nor should they avoid instructor-led training to save money and time away from the workplace. Instead, they should identify which combination of tools will allow their employee to learn new skills most effectively.

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