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Technology Meets Training: Alternatives to Classroom Learning

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Organisations are invariably trying hard to do as much as possible with the resources they have in hand. This involves trimming budgets and increasing productivity from existing personnel. While undoubtedly training still exists on the corporate agenda, training managers and HR professionals are being asked to find other efficiencies which outdo classroom training. This is being done because the cost and time linked with travelling to the training add to the overall cost and time of the training itself and there is the further opportunity cost of employees being away from their daily responsibilities — which in turn affects productivity.

This dependence on classroom training, combined with a reluctance to bring employees back into the classroom time and again because of the effect it has on productivity, has led to an imbalance in need of training over an employee’s career. Another issue with front-loading a lot of complex learning into induction programs that are classroom-based is that it becomes a task to ensure learning retention, especially if the training itself is not engaging or relevant to the employee’s job role.

Modifying the Training Mix
The solution for this is to modify the learning mix, so employees spend less time in the classroom without compromising on the desired learning outcomes. This process can start immediately after the employee joins the company; research proves that the time spent on induction programs can be lessened by as much as 50% by replacing classroom courses with alternate methods of learning wherever possible.

Changing the learning mix also enables the organisation to take a more proactive approach to continuing professional development. If learning can be provided at any time and in any place, it is easier to keep an employee’s knowledge base and critical skills up-to-date. A few alternatives to classroom training include mobile learning, e-learning, and live learning delivered via web conferencing. However, it is helpful to provide mentoring, ongoing supervision, and coaching for field-based employees in person or via social tools.

Training Outside the Classroom
There are some alternatives to classroom-based training, whether that is pre-training reading, e-learning, mobile learning, social learning or serious games. Today, the provision of customised technology-based learning interventions is much faster and cost-effective than it was a few years ago.

The e-learning industry has developed leaps and bounds to deliver much more engaging, innovative, and compelling learning interventions. Mobile learning and games are becoming mainstream ways of providing learning on pressing business issues — because ultimately they are both handy and efficient. Similarly, the use of technology to communicate, learn, and play is more accepted among the working population today than it was ever before — across all age groups and both sexes — so employees are more responsive to using technology-based learning.

However, technology-based training currently represents only about 15% of the total learning provision in most industries. Undoubtedly shifting from an approach that is predominantly classroom-based to a more blended one depicts an enormous change, but it is definitely the direction in which the industry as a whole will gravitate towards in the years ahead. The use of technology provides advantages that cannot be overlooked — greater learning retention, ease of use, faster distribution of information, the ability to validate and reinforce learning, convenience and a reduced impact on productivity. As influential industry leaders bring about change in their approach to organisational learning and attain a competitive advantage, others will follow suit.

Achieving a good return on investment in training, after all, is not just about imparting knowledge but is primarily concerned with behavioural change and delivering practical skills that get transformed into higher productivity, enhanced job skills, better customer service or operational competences. Organisations that wish to gain a competitive advantage in the market should evaluate their current training outline and figure out how they can optimise that blend to change the outcome.