The following considerations should be made when providing learning opportunities to the workforce: who is the employee, what do they need to know, where are their offices located, why is the company in business and what is the company’s bottom line? These questions directly affect the types of learning opportunities that are provided to the workforce. How employee learning experiences are delivered should also be influenced by the employees’ needs and the organization’s strategic objectives. When designing or selecting training programs, take into consideration how delivering the right instructional message in an appropriate instructional mode can contribute to the organization’s success.
The Classroom Experience
Perhaps the most traditional training delivery method is the classroom-based experience led by a facilitator. Advanced Technology Systems (ATS), located in Peoria, takes a traditional approach to leadership training for employees. ATS aligns its classroom-based leadership training with the company’s core competencies. Larry Ziegler, director of organizational development at ATS, offers day-long employee leadership training, which includes breakout sessions with significant participant interaction. “Because of the depth of the material presented, we find that face-to-face instruction is highly preferable to online classes,” says Ziegler. By providing training on-site and aligning with core competencies, ATS refines the focus of its training investment to target individual and organizational successes.
Some professionals may dread the thought of a day-long training session, fearing a passive download of information. But as Ziegler noted, participant interaction is key. Research indicates that lecture-only training may be the least effective approach, as compared to outcomes of more engaging training. To vary delivery, successful trainers may use small amounts of presentation among games, role play, group or team building activities. Experts suggest learning experiences should be structured in 20-minute segments, varying the instructional approach to keep learners motivated and attentive. Varying delivery methods also addresses the diverse needs of a group of learners with individuals who may prefer learning by hearing, seeing, doing or any combination of the three.
» Workforce Training: Methods & Modes
- Blended, online and classroom
- On-the-job training
- Mentoring, coaching
- Fully online
- Role play
- Team building
- Facilitator to learner
- Learner to learner in pairs or small groups
- Learners interacting in the “real world” and with experts
On-the-job training (OJT), coaching and mentoring cannot be overlooked as important modes of workplace learning. OJT training is sometimes the best or only method available when employees are being introduced to a new position or job function. OJT can range from an employee reading a manual to formalized apprenticeships to learn a new skill. Coaching or mentoring relationships may also be used to provide OJT. Coaches and mentors may provide trainees with a structured approach to training or a causal relationship for fostering professional growth. New employees may learn rapidly and assimilate quickly into a new work environment with the help of an assigned mentor. Powerful mentor-type relationships can also emerge naturally when new employees are partnered with experienced employees who role-model exceptional performance.
Advancements in technology have significantly affected how workplace learning experiences can be delivered. Early computer-based training positioned trainees at computer terminals to read and answer questions. Like delivering training through a lecture-only approach, however, learning solely by computer-based training may be a passive and undesirable experience for the learner. Yet sophisticated programming has allowed for modern computer-based training to include text, video, audio and in-depth feedback, making the experience more engaging.
And, of course, the Internet has created a multitude of opportunities for online training. “Asynchronous” online communication tools allow learners to engage in text-based conversations, continuing dialogue regardless of time zone or geographic location. Through discussion-based interaction in online classes, learners can be exposed to diversity of thought, experience and perspective from across the hall, across the nation or around the world. “Synchronous” online communication tools have also become popular for delivering training. Popularly known as “webinars,” desktop conferencing programs can provide a learner with access to an online presenter who delivers training via audio, video and even chat. Many webinar software programs allow for the training to be recorded as well. As a result, learners who could not participate in the live event can access and review a recording. The availability of webinars has had a positive effect on reducing costs of travel for employee training.
A Blended Approach
To accommodate the busy learner of today, a blended approach containing several training methods may prove to be the “best of all worlds.” As an example, a quick check of classifieds or online job postings finds evidence of the ongoing healthcare professional shortage. To uniquely address the shortage for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, Illinois Central College and its Professional Development Institute have developed a blended learning approach for licensed nurses who have not recently practiced in an acute care setting to return to the workforce with updated skills. This blended approach combines the accessibility of online learning with the rigor of periodic classroom-based skills checks and hospital-based clinical experiences. This course and its blending of self-study with competency assessment also maintains the integrity of the nurse’s professional training while leveraging the power of the Internet. Bloomington Registered Nurse Mary Edna Buchignani feels the blended approach achieves a great balance. Buchignani was able to move at her own pace through the online modules, allowing her to take care of family responsibilities and complete the course in a timely manner.
Who, what, where, why and how much are extremely pertinent to designing and delivering workplace training, but do not overlook, ”What do they want?” “What’s in it for our company?” and “How long is it going to take?” as you seek to design and deliver training programs with suitable learning environments, a variety of instructional strategies and meaningful interaction.
Patrice Hess is director of organizational learning at Illinois Central College. She oversees the Teaching and Learning Center, a professional development center for ICC faculty and staff. Ellen George is associate dean for corporate and community education, which includes the Professional Development Institute.