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Training - online, on target?


Training - online, on target?Training - online versus face-to-face. Hardly a new topic, but, in our daily experience, one that is still "hot" and maybe getting more so with the current economic situation.

Some may regard this article as somewhat controversial, but it is intended to stimulate discussion and identify how best to benefit those undertaking training and their organisations.

Training is often one of the first things that is "cut" in times of economic crisis or stress. There is a wealth of literature on the fallacy of this approach and yet it continues as it is an "easy target".

If organisations do more than pay lip service to claims that their people are the most valuable asset (as many profess), then investment in that asset has to be a logical thing to do. Particularly if it is one that brings income, interacts with customers, delivers the product of service or helps the "machine" run smoothly in the "back office".

As Richard Branson says, "Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of clients."

The rapidly-developing online world is bringing so many positive benefits to all our lives, it is hardly possible to imagine what it would be like without them.

E-mail - we love and hate, but what would we do without it? The Internet itself - how often do we turn to a Search Engine to find the answer to a problem or to help us "remember" something? LinkedIn - how many of us now rely on it as a quick way to find out about someone - or just to find someone? It impinges on almost all areas of our lives - even not considering the Internet of Things!

Many organisations are also moving their training online. There are undoubtedly huge benefits to the organisation in doing this. It makes for a consistent delivery, saves a bundle on paying trainers and makes "stuff" available 24/7.

There are undoubtedly some very good uses for online training. One is for the delivery of fact-based information - which could be regarded as a step up from expecting people to read a document. Things like learning about a new process or rules, such as the new GDPR requirements.

Online training is good for people who are self-motivated, well organised and passionate about their learning. They will have the wherewithal to identify what they need, find the course, plan the required schedule and be sure that they complete it successfully.

How many people in organisations fall into that category? Who knows, but there are also the considerations of competing time pressures to add to the scheduling issue even for them - not to mention people who are less motivated. Having a balance in life is clearly critical for physical and mental wellbeing. With employees often under increasing time and performance pressure, they, like their organisations, are likely to "cut" the low-hanging fruit and not complete the courses, allowing some time for exercise, family and even rest! This life balance is becoming ever-more critical as we see stress and mental wellbeing as increasingly-vital organisational issues. And part of the duty of care of any decent organisation is to allow its people this balance and not to put extra stress and pressure on them.

An HR professional recently told us that, "We make the training available online - I can't understand why people aren't aware of it and don't do it".

What about benefits to the individual? What do people say - the front-line people who actually need and benefit from the training? We have had a lot of surprising comments from people we meet whilst delivering traditional training. Even the term "traditional" is used as a way of demeaning such human interactions and making them seem less relevant "today" and for so-called "millennials".

One senior manager in a large multinational commented, "Online training is a way for the company to abdicate responsibility and dump it on the staff". I'm sure that is not entirely true, but it raises an interesting question.

One thing that is common to most people, is that the human interaction is critical for certain personal development courses. Interaction with colleagues, interaction with the trainers and the ability to get instant answers, share issues, get feedback and for the course to be modified "on the fly" to meet the needs of each unique group are highly valued by participants and enable them to get the most out of the material and then to apply it.

So, some training is probably highly-suited to online delivery - the transfer of facts, information, policies and the like - but people tell us that the soft-skills "stuff" can really only be delivered effectively face-to-face if it is to have the maximum benefit to the participants and their organisation. For it to be an investment that can realise some return, rather than just "tick the box" saying that it has been delivered - or offered.

We would say this, wouldn't we? Well, no, we wouldn't actually!

We have been considering how best to deliver online courses ourselves for a while now. However, we are always faced with the arguments from the people on our courses who truly believe that the material we deliver cannot go online and have the same impact, benefit and effect. So, we are starting to look at a blended approach ... and we're still not sure - maybe for pre-course exercises, questionnaires and the like?

Is the extra cost of delivering personal development material like this face-to-face worthwhile?

Well, I guess it depends on how you regard your "people" - as assets to be supported, nurtured and developed to benefit the organisation - or if you see training as a cost.

To quote Zig Ziglar, "You don't build a business. You build people and people build the business".

What do you think?

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