Combine options to develop the best training program

In a perfect world, you can select one training method and find success. In the real world, the solution to your training needs will require creative thinking. Here's how one consultant combined training options to craft an effective program.

Your company has decided to offer online training for its staff, and it’s your job to implement the program. Your first task is to research the available options and then choose the best route for your staff based on budget limitations and internal resources.

In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons involved with the three most common approaches to online training and look at ways to combine these techniques. The three typical online training methods allow you to:
  1. Create your own courseware.
  2. Outsource to a vendor.
  3. Select “best in kind” courses from a variety of providers.

Option 1: Create your own courseware
There are several applications available, including Course Builder by Macromedia, the company responsible for DreamWeaver. This is the most time-consuming option, since you would be responsible for both developing and delivering training. Your in-house trainers would develop course materials that complement the classroom software application you have chosen. Courses would be delivered via the company’s intranet/extranet server to employees logging on with secure passwords from the office or at home.

This is a good choice if you are training users on custom applications that were developed in-house. Another benefit would be that your materials could be based upon situations or documents relevant to your company or your industry. It gives you the most control over materials, and you can customize content in response to user requests.

Option 2: Outsource to a vendor
Some vendors will be willing to adapt their programs to the needs of your company or even to create customized programs for company-specific applications. For more standardized applications, the vendor would mix your staff with participants from outside your firm. This can be a plus, since users tend to learn from their peers and your staff would be exposed to experiences from other corporate cultures. You relinquish control, however, in exchange for not having to commit resources to develop courseware.

Option 3: Select “best in kind” courses from a variety of providers
Several education portals put course information at your fingertips. A recent TechRepublic report examined learning portals. At Trainseek’s site, you may search its database to locate available online courses by topic. Course descriptions, reviews, and registration are available at its Web site and, in some cases, you may preview a course.

Some firms allocate training dollars to departments and allow staff to select their own courses through portal sites. But you can save your users time and point them in the right direction by giving them information about specific programs. If you need end-user training on standard desktop applications, this option may be your best choice.

Combine two methods
You may find a combination of these approaches is useful. And, of course, your decisions will be influenced by your budget. But the more you need to influence the course content to produce a positive outcome, then you may need to consider designing the courseware yourself or selecting a vendor to customize training.

Although designing your own courseware is the most taxing on your resources, this option affords you the most control. This option also puts you into the training business. If that’s not where you want to be, you might consider a middle ground approach between options one and two. That is, to use in-house staff to create courses and deliver them over a vendor’s course Web site rather than using your company’s hardware and software.

Here’s how it might work: your trainers would upload course content to a Web site server, tailoring lectures, assignments, and forums to the classroom software that is available at that site, which is maintained by the vendor. Blackboard is a popular application service provider (ASP) that hosts a number of online programs on the Internet. Such companies provide software training and technical support for your instructors and your staff on their site. You would be responsible for the administrative details: enrolling your users, assigning them login names and passwords, and granting access privileges to your instructors.

A real life example
A training program I recently designed for a client required a mix of options. A single training solution would not meet the needs of the client, a non-profit organization with several regional offices across the United States. The offices share information over a wide area network (WAN), and the firm does not have an in-house training department. Here is more background information:
  • The organization had replaced its e-mail application, ccMail, with Novell’s Groupwise.
  • Desktop applications Microsoft Word 97 and Excel 97 had been upgraded to the 2000 versions.
  • Access 2000 was replacing DOS-based Q&A and Paradox for database operations.
  • Several new employees needed to learn their donation tracking application, Pledgemaker, which had been customized for their use.

For the Office 2000 programs, we allowed end users to select courses from a variety of providers. Each individual chose the appropriate level of proficiency, but each department set its own deadlines and circulated a list of skills that the staff should master, according to their job function.

Since the need for the Groupwise conversion was more immediate, we hired a trainer to work with small groups at the client. He tailored the training to practical, everyday uses, translating one program’s operations into the other and pointing out new features along the way. We re-purposed those training materials to create an online component for those employees who had missed the training sessions or needed more follow-up, available over their local area network (LAN).

Since Pledgemaker was in use across their WAN, staff at several locations needed training. The entire organization got the benefit of customized online training provided by the vendor, via the Internet.

In this scenario, we used three different training methods to accomplish our training goals. When you consider your training program, don’t rule out any options because a combination of training methods may provide the best solution.

Since being bitten by a Mac in 1986, Bob Abuhof has worked as an IT general practitioner, charting the mysteries of computer users and their machines. He has been a software trainer, network administrator, technical writer, and online educator.

Does the budget determine training more often than the needs of the end users? Which training methods have you tried in the past? Post a comment to this article or send us a letter.

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