The new normal is e-learning

Like it or not, the amount of classroom and hands-on training that most companies plan to do is decreasing or staying the same, not increasing.

While recent surveys found that the average company expects to spend 7 to 9 percent more on training in 2011 than in 2010, only about 2 percent expect to add training staff.1 That means that a larger percentage of training will be e-learning - either asynchronous or synchronous.

Asynchronous e-learning lets people learn at anytime with a self-paced course. Synchronous e-learning lets teachers conduct classes over the Internet.

Many adult learners, and especially technicians, have remained slow to embrace e-learning. Even in 2011, most learners still prefer live training courses.2

But with smaller training staffs and still-scarce dollars, most companies have not earmarked any additional funds for major product launches/changes or major process initiatives. This means – despite the wishes of many learners – more and more of a company’s base curricula will likely migrate to self-study or distance learning formats.

E-learning Shortcomings

When I’ve surveyed technicians about what they don’t like about a particular e-learning course, the responses tend to be:

“Too much page-turning.”

“Not engaging; didn’t hold my interest.”

“Not relevant to what I do.”

“Needed further information and it wasn’t available.”

If you’re saving money on trainers and travel, at least some of that savings should go toward updating and improving your basic e-learning courses to make them more engaging and interactive. The use of video over static pages is a good start, but forcing student interaction wherever possible is even better.

Moving some of your static e-learning to a synchronous distance learning format (Live Meeting, WebEx, GoTo Meeting, etc.) can help. At least there is a live instructor delivering the content who can answer questions and even steer the course toward the needs of a particular audience.

But this type of training also has limitations. Because the students are somewhere else, it is difficult for a trainer to see who is paying attention and who isn’t.

Unless the training is monitored by a manager, students can log in, walk away and return having missed critical content.

Follow Up

At the very least, synchronous e-learning should be followed up with a post-test, preferably one that requires the student to log in with an individual I.D. and password. Even better would be the addition of in-progress questions and quizzes to make sure all learners stick around and stay engaged.

There are ways to use the chat room features of most online meeting carriers to accomplish this, if you can’t afford more advanced technologies.

Another great addition, especially when training on new vehicle systems or vehicle maintenance and diagnosis, is to create hands-on follow-up activities for the students. These can be as simple as a checklist that requires a manager to observe and sign off on specific tasks, or as complicated as a full-blown diagnostic activity where a supervisor or foreman creates an easy-to-install fault on the vehicle.

The point is: while some of your training curriculum can be limited to technology-based delivery methods, you don’t need to let technology limit your training.

1 Harward, Doug. “Trends that Will Reshape the Training Industry.”, December 17, 2010.

2 Standridge, Gloria A. “Learning Style Preferences of Adult Students Enrolled in Career Technical Education Programs.” 2010.

Stephen Howe is employed as a field trainer by United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company, with approximately 600 locations in North America and an a rental fleet worth more than $3.5 billion. He is a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council - a global non-profit organization dedicated to sharing best practices and recognizing outstanding training in the automotive and heavy vehicle industries.