Training any time anywhere

Contrast these two experiences — same situation, five years apart. It’s 1996 and a new salesperson is sent to a remote location for instructor-led training. The company pays travel and other expenses. During that time the salesperson: spends a week becoming familiar with the company’s products and sales techniques; develops a rapport with the instructor; meets new recruits from other divisions; and completes the compulsory evaluations that will be forwarded to management.

The next formal training will occur in a year. In the meantime, other training requirements are not being addressed because the new salesperson cannot spare time away from work. New product launches are often delayed and grouped so that training can have the maximum number of participants.

Flash forward to the year 2001 — same salesperson, new job. Sales training is delivered using a variety of media, blending self-paced e-learning with instructor-led virtual classes, online discussions and scheduled chats. Since location doesn’t matter because most of the training can be done over the Internet, the company saves travel and other expenses. Evaluation results are automatically recorded and reported in the learning management system integral to the e-learning system.

During this time, the salesperson makes friends with other new recruits via virtual classrooms, archived chats and discussions. Ongoing relationships are established with others doing the same job, and learners can continually exchange and pool knowledge and resources in an e-learning community, using chat rooms and discussion boards. A mentor is assigned for the “human” touch. Whenever a question arises — even from the road — the salesperson can return to the online community for assistance. Product knowledge is timely and up-to-date because the company simply directs the employee to the e-learning system for updates and training.

E-learning was originally embraced as an effective method for IT training. Now as more people become familiar and comfortable with the Internet, its usage has been expanded to include soft skills or business skills training. In fact, many managers have discovered that providing training over the Internet is the best solution for highly specialized business professionals with precious little time available for ongoing education.

When considering any training initiative, the first step a company should take is to conduct a needs assessment to establish whether or not training is needed at all. A company should first determine its business goals and then identify the learning and performance targets that can help to achieve those goals. This will support a tailored learning solution that meets the unique needs of each organization and its learners.

Once the needs assessment is in place, a company can then generate a learning strategy tailored to specific needs. To be effective, a company’s training should be targeted, appropriate, integrated and engaging. All of these qualities are inherent in e-learning. In fact, whenever there is a training need there is an appropriate role for e-learning.

Blending solutions
The most effective training will meet the needs of both the learners and the company. Perhaps some elements of your existing training are very effective and can coexist and complement your e-learning solutions. Indeed, a blended solution comprised of e-learning components and instructor-led training is becoming increasingly popular among businesses. To optimize intellectual capital, we often recommend a holistic training solution that offers a blend of instructional styles.

Companies that utilize e-learning for soft skills training most effectively are those that recognize the value of the hybridization that is occurring as e-learning and instructor-led training settle into a dynamic pattern of instructional cohabitation. This blend can reduce the time and travel costs associated with traditional classroom training, while enhancing training with the strengths of e-learning.

Choosing a vendor
A key issue in effective e-learning is selecting the “right” service partner. Here are some key things to keep in mind when looking for a provider. The service provider that enables your company to answer “yes” to the following questions is the one that can best support your e-learning efforts.

Ask these questions
•Does the service provider have both depth and breadth of proven world-class content from leading experts?

•Is the provider able to customize company-specific materials to appeal to various learning styles?

•Does the service provider have technical support to advise on technology-related issues and to ensure existing IT infrastructure meets the hardware, software and connectivity requirements of the e-learning system?

•Is the proposed training engaging, integrated, appropriate and targeted?

•Does it include case studies, workplace exercises, multiple online resources and performance support tools?

•Does the training include a focused learning approach that “coaches” the learner to completion?

•Will it offer a collaborative environment and will learners have access to knowledge pools?

•Will it enhance performance both for the employee and the company?

•Will it help meet desired performance levels?

Ted Purcell is executive vice-president of U.S.-based He can be reached at [email protected] or visit

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