WBT: One piece of the learning puzzle

While Web-based training is an efficient training tool, it's not always the best delivery method. Karen Cangero explains how to decide which method to use and how to combine WBT with instructor-led training to cover all your bases.

Depending on the subject matter and the audience, Web-based training (WBT) can be a fundamental part of your training plan. WBT is cheaper and faster than other training methods. Plus, it's fast and easy to update. Some situations, however, just don't lend themselves to WBT's hands-off, one-size-fits-all teaching style. This is where combining WBT, classroom training, computer-based training, and video can work best.
This look at how to incorporate WBT into an existing training program is the third in a four-part series of articles. In this series, we have also examined how WBT can be designed for a variety of learning styles and looked at the economics of WBT . Next week, the topic will be evaluating online learning programs.
The pros of learning on the Web
The convenience and prevalence of the Web make it an excellent vehicle for many types of training. Training large or small groups in new applications, programming, other technical subjects or soft skills lends itself perfectly to WBT.

Web-based training's cost-effectiveness and convenience are hard to beat. It's far easier to let employees learn at their own workstations and at their own pace than it is to pull them into a classroom. Offsite training takes more time, and travel costs become a factor. WBT materials remain available at the student's desk for later reference, extending the learning opportunities beyond the actual training session.

Web-based training is a great way to keep your training level state-of-the-art. An update is as simple as a download, and most WBT developers try to keep their material as current as possible. As more companies become WBT providers, increased competition should elevate quality levels while keeping costs down.

A winning combination
Some subjects and audiences require a more personal touch, however. In this case, combine training methods to maximize efficiency and effectiveness. Use WBT to help students write a resume and learn to search online job databases. Then, provide access to a career counselor or other trainer—through classroom sessions, video conferencing, etc.—to answer questions and to provide a personal touch. Some people flourish in self-paced, self-study environments. Others may need more help.

Web-based training, for all its convenience and economical benefits, is not a training panacea. Because it's a relatively new training technology, there is not much in the way of standards for WBT. Quality can vary widely from vendor to vendor. Many of today's Web-based curricula are still works in progress and may not be as stimulating or effective as you need them to be. Careful evaluation of both the product and the students is critical before implementing any new training program in order to determine how WBT can help accomplish training goals.

A growing trend
In the hundreds of articles, reports, and surveys done in the three years since WBT's debut, one trend seems clear: even WBT's most ardent supporters don't believe that WBT will ever—or should ever—replace more traditional training means. Rather, it will probably play an important supporting role in technology training.

Studies show the number of firms utilizing some form of WBT is growing steadily—even approaching a majority in the next few years. However, WBT's piece of the total training pie is estimated to remain small.

According to Framingham, MA-based International Data Corporation, WBT will increase its place in corporate budgets from 2 percent to 14 percent by 2001. Of course, part of this low figure reflects WBT's cost savings. Classroom training and other more traditional methods seem sure to form most of the corporate training puzzle. But, a puzzle needs all its pieces to be complete.

Striking a balance
Classroom or instructor-led training remains the most popular training option. The majority of vendor certifications are earned through classroom training offered by vendors such as Novell or Microsoft. Training an entire staff in a new application may be best suited to more traditional teaching methods—at least in the beginning.

"Very general courses need more interaction between teacher and student and are better suited to classroom settings," said Doug Upchurch, executive director at the Information Technology Training Association in Austin, TX.

However, today's IT workers deal with tight schedules and ever-approaching deadlines. A day or more out of the office—or at least away from the desk—isn't always feasible. Plus, training is expensive, perhaps prohibitively so when travel, lodging, and food costs are included. Combining traditional training methods with WBT can often create an ideal solution.
How have you combined Web-based training and instructor-led classes? Are there certain circumstances where this combination works best? Send us an e-mail with your experiences so we can share them with other TechRepublic readers.
An example of combining classroom and Web-based training would involve using classroom teaching for an overview course, then using WBT for more specific aspects of that application. This way, your staff is away from the desk, phones, colleagues, and other distractions for their first introduction to a new topic, but then can learn more as the need and opportunity arise. WBT's opportunities for individual tailoring let employees master new topics at their own pace, with minimal additional cost.

Don't forget to include other training media, such as computer-based training and video, into your staff's training regimen. Variety keeps interest levels high, ensures that students with different learning styles are taught effectively, and allows managers to choose from several options to meet training goals within their budgets.

Karen Cangero writes about training and career development for a variety of Web sites and publications. She has completed graduate work in education and counseling and has several years experience in post-secondary education.

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