Choosing The Best Method For Employee Tech Training

Generals don't send troops into battle without training. Similarly, it is perilous for enterprises to roll out new applications without teaching employees how to use them.
Posted September 20, 2002

David Haskin

Generals don't send troops into battle without training. Similarly, it is perilous for enterprises to roll out new applications without teaching employees how to use them.

"Our people wouldn't be using our applications without training," said Ann Sullivan, senior vice president and CIO of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.

As Sullivan explained in a recent Datamation article, when she was hired in 1996, the organization had spent $11 million on key enterprise applications that weren't being used. She said it took the creation of a comprehensive training program to spur adoption by end users.

There are three widely used ways to teach employees about your enterprise's technology traditional classroom instruction, Web and CD-ROM-based training and instruction via on-line conferencing services such as WebEx.

Each method has advantages and disadvantages, according to Elliott Masie, president of Masie Center, a learning and technology think tank in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He noted that choosing the right type of training is essential to successfully deploying technology, but making the right choice is more complex than you might think.

Pros and Cons

The first two factors to consider, according to Masie, are cost and suitability for individual employees.

"Classroom training is familiar -- we've all had 12 to 17 years of it," Masie said. "It's structured and discreet in that, for these two or three days, the employee isn't working but is in the classroom."

Because of those characteristics, Masie said, classroom training doesn't require much motivation beyond showing up and paying attention. However, there are several downsides to classroom training, he said.

Specifically, it typically is the most expensive method both in terms of dollar outlay and because the enterprise loses productivity of the employee while he or she is away.

Web-based training, which is widely available for off-the-shelf applications, solves those problems. Providers of Web-based training include SmartForce ( and HungryMinds University (

"The value of Web training is that it can be done anytime, anyplace," Masie said. "The student can drop in and out according to available time. They can skip stuff they know and take something twice if they were confused. Also, the student can stop, read and think -- they control the forward rate of progress." Another benefit is that Web-based training often is significantly less expensive than classroom training.

On the downside, however, is that the student is responsible for his or her own progress, Masie said. That means Web-based training works best for highly motivated employees.

"Another problem is that, if the student gets confused, there may be nobody to talk to. In a classroom, students can raise their hands," Masie said.

Some Web-based training vendors solve that problem by making instructors available via live chat sessions. However, those instructors may not be available when the student needs them.

The third type of training is so-called live or synchronous training, which uses on-line conferencing services such as WebEx that combine voice, chat, whiteboarding and application sharing. Masie called this type of training a "hybrid" of classroom and Web-based instruction.

"The student can participate from anywhere, but it's scheduled, so he or she can tell colleagues not to bother them," Masie said. He notes that, like the classroom, there can be interaction among students and teachers.

The downside, he said is that "there's a chance that students are checking their e-mail and eating lunch during the class. And it's slower -- the dumbest person in the class often controls the speed."

As a result, synchronous training is best for relatively isolated situations, such as training a specific group of employees about a small part of an application, Masie said.

Costs vary widely for each type of training, Masie said. Classroom training typically starts at about $150 per day per student, he said. Web-based training starts at roughly $50 per student for the equivalent of one day of classroom training, he said. However, that doesn't include options such as online question-and-answer sessions via chat.

Synchronous training can be least expensive because, most often, in-house IT personnel or the company that sold the applications typically organize it. As a result, pricing to the enterprise often reflects only the cost of the conferencing service, he said.

What's It For?

Another crucial consideration is the specific applications that require the training, Masie noted. While online training is widely available for common applications such as Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes, it often isn't available for customized enterprise applications.

Particularly if enterprise applications represent a dramatic shift in how a business operates, the classroom often is the best solution, Masie notes. Then, students can feed off each other's energy and the trainer can control the progress of the lessons, he said.

That certainly was the case at Maimonides, which was switching to complex enterprise software in 1996. Sullivan said one her first acts was to hire a training director. Now, virtually every employee receives classroom training.

She said the organization, which has 4,600 employees, has an annual training budget of about $460,000, which includes the cost of course development and 3.5 full-time equivalent trainers.

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