Training Employees? Online or In-Person. Both Can Work

Kathy-chill-Citrix-online-Citrix.jpgGuest Post By Kathy Chill, Citrix Online VP of Business Development and Product Marketing.
Kathy Chill is vice president, business development and product marketing for Citrix Online, a division of Citrix Systems, Inc. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies and partnerships for all of Citrix Online’s on-demand access and collaboration solutions. Previously, Chill led marketing and business development for a leading telecommunications infrastructure development firm specializing in building wireless communications networks and critical communications facilities. In this role, she was responsible for the development and management of relationships with premier communications providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Qwest. Chill earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch University.
It might seem surprising, but face-to-face engagement is not always the most effective method of employee training. It’s common to hear that in-person-only training programs have a difficult time getting the best return on investment due to the high costs and time commitment that are usually involved. Low attendance and content retention have also been flagged as limitations of traditional classroom sessions.
For example, a survey of decision makers and training managers of businesses with 100 to 1,000 employees, conducted by Kelton Research for Citrix Online, found that when traditional corporate training programs underachieve, logistical obstacles such as employee availability, time constraints and staffing are mostly to blame. Respondents cited frequent business travel and remote working as key reasons for low participation in training. In-person training remains effective when all participants are able to be in the same room, but that is not always the reality for many companies, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. Respondents also felt that remote access from any location and simpler technology tools were key things that would make training more effective.

It makes sense, therefore, to consider a “blended training” approach – using both traditional classroom and online training – when putting a training program together.

Why Make the Change to Blended Learning?

Integrating online training into an in-person-only training program not only provides a more dynamic, collaborative learning experience, but also saves time and reduces costs by eliminating logistical planning, travel and venue expenses. With the shift to more dispersed business operations and flexible work styles, employees are now more spread out than ever. A blended learning approach enables companies to reach remote employees and trainers from the other side of the country – or even around the world – as well as those just 20 miles away. The most significant advantage is the ability to train more people faster while increasing the effectiveness of the training.
Trainers using traditional methods may have concerns about retaining participation and engagement in an online environment. How can you be interactive when you’re not face to face? How do you know if virtual attendees are paying attention? Ten years ago, it would have been difficult to make a case for online training, but now advancements in technology are driving its adoption, making it a viable option for companies of all sizes. Online training services now have features that can increase engagement levels and make it easy to monitor and manage trainees.

Today’s online training services may include:

  • Storage and organization of training materials for fast and simple distribution before, during and after a session.
  • Tests that gauge audience skill levels upfront and content retention afterwards.
  • Polls that can be used throughout a session to keep attendees alert and participating.
  • Screen-sharing tools that enable the trainer to show anything on their computer desktops to trainees – so they can see presentations and demos in real time.
  • Drawing and annotation tools that highlight material, direct attention and turn the trainer’s shared computer screen into an engaging virtual whiteboard.
  • Chat, “raised hands” and audio capabilities that help ensure trainees contribute, participate and interact with the trainer and their peers.
  • Remote keyboard and mouse control that can be given to trainees to encourage “hands-on” interaction.
  • Attentiveness indicators that show whether trainees are spending time on a different application during the training. For instance, if the attentiveness indicator shows that some of the audience is starting to stray, it’s your cue to give a poll or pop quiz to grab their attention.
  • Session recording that captures all of the visual and audio of each session for later review and for attendees who may have been late and missed a portion of the training.

How to Implement a Blended Training Experience

There is no single perfect formula for how to blend in-person and online training. Blended programs vary depending on such factors as the type of content, audience size, needs of trainees, trainer preferences and goals of the organization. However, there are some key considerations and tips that every trainer and company should keep in mind.

Choosing the right training method for your course content:

  • Determine which content to move online and which to keep for in-person training. Any material that can be shared or presented via a computer is appropriate for online training, while content for small group work, role playing or advanced discussion may be suited for a traditional classroom setting.
  • In-person training can be optimal for longer sessions, like a one-day, six-hour course. In contrast, online content can be delivered in smaller increments spread over a longer period of time. In some cases, the same six-hour in-person session can be delivered as four 90-minute virtual sessions.

Using online training for the first time:

  • Repurpose or adapt previous content used for in-person training for online, but be sure to modify accordingly. This may mean developing a different agenda and flow, or adding new interactive activities for the virtual setting.
  • Avoid text-intensive presentations and use more visuals. Spreading content out over more slides keeps the session moving and trainees engaged.
  • Incorporate social media tools to extend the conversation both directly with trainees and among the trainees themselves. For instance, trainers can use a blog or Twitter to provide pre-training content, such as relevant articles, and a forum after the training session to share additional insight and encourage feedback.
  • Utilize the online registration process to determine your audience’s preferences. What days/times do they prefer to meet and for how long? What are their content needs so that you can tailor your material and delivery methods?

The Bottom Line

As blended training gains momentum among companies, it’s easy to see the advantages. Combining traditional and online training enables trainers to tap a variety of resources to target content for a range of audiences. Technology advances have made online training an effective way to reach a greater number of trainees, faster and within budget. As a younger generation fills the workforce, a blended approach will also help trainers adapt to different work styles and learning needs.