The current trend, especially in larger organizations like Starbucks, is a move towards increasing the amount of digital training* employees receive. In fact, according to elearningindustry.com, on-line corporate training is expected by grow by 13% per year through 2017. Considering that currently 77% of US companies currently offer on-line training, this is significant.
After speaking to Jen, an employee who is experiencing this upsurge in digital training, I feel compelled to speak out on this trend.
First, let me lead by saying there are many benefits to using digital training, especially on-line videos that are pre-recorded. Obviously, there is a huge cost savings as once the training is recorded, additional costs are negligible. In addition, companies are assured that a consistent message is being received across time and extended training areas. Employees also benefit because they are able to learn at a time and location that is most convenient for them. Alternatively, one of the best uses I have seen is to have a real person facilitate a group conversation immediately after the employees watched the digital training.
However, I am concerned because as with many good things, they appear to be on a trend to becoming overused. I would hate to see any company move to 100% digital training. Let’s look at a few reasons why I make this assertion.
Jen shared that digital training is great for mechanical tasks like learning how to operate or clean equipment. She likes that she can back up and look at certain steps a second or third time. In addition, good videos provide a close up view that just isn’t possible during live trainings.
However, it’s “not so good for learning regulations. It’s just boring.” In this case, Jen felt that it would have been faster and more interesting to have simply read the regulation than to have painfully worked her way through the on-line training. Better yet would have been a live training where she could interact with the presenter and ask questions as needed.
To expand on this thought further, digital training is not ideal for teaching any of the soft skills. Can you imagine learning communication skills while sitting alone in your office? Perhaps this example is too extreme and obvious, but what makes teaching soft skills difficult in this environment is the lack of interaction and immediate feedback.
In general, most on-line training environments do not provide an opportunity for spontaneous interactions. In other words, participants frequently are unable to ask a question and receive an answer at the time the question arises. And for many learners, this is the best time to ask. Later, the question may not seem as important, or they may forget the context, or worse yet it may just be forgotten and never answered.
People also experience learning style issues. Now in all fairness, this can come into play in a live training as well as on-line. However, a good in person trainer can react and adjust to learner’s needs as the training progresses. A pre-recorded digital training cannot adapt to accommodate various learning styles.
I have left for last one of the softest and yet most important reason that on-line training should not become the training of choice in all situations: Interpersonal relationship building. One of the cool side effects of bringing a group of people together in one place are the relationships that result from close proximity and a common cause. The use of chat rooms or forums in digital training is meant to mimic this result; however, as anyone who has spent any time on Facebook knows, your 1,000’s of Facebook friends are not as close to you as the ones that you regularly meet in person.
Let me share with you that this is not sour grapes from someone who loves and makes a living from providing in person training. I have one client for whom I happily provide pre-recorded webinars. And I know from experience how challenging it is to engage participants with the material to the level required for their success. I am constantly working with this client to provide additional interaction and engagement opportunities.
I also would like to share some parting information about Jen. She is young: a millennial for whom many of these on-line trainings are aimed and created to please. And yet, she was so unhappy she performed an informal poll in her place of employment. The results? “Nine out of ten said that digital training is not the best.”
What trainings does your company provide that can and should be converted to a digital or on-line training? Just as importantly, where can live trainings be utilized to not only train required material but also create interpersonal relationships that will strengthen the workforce and company culture? And how can the two methods be combined to maximize the strengths of both approaches?
*Note: In this blog, I am defining digital training as a pre-recorded video, webinar, or other similar digital training. I am not including webinars or on-line group meetings that involve a live facilitator and the ability to interact with the presenter during the presentation, though these too suffer from some of the drawbacks included in my blog.
Statistics Source: https://elearningindustry.com/elearning-statistics-and-facts-for-2015