The powers that be say your company should hop on the distance learning bandwagon. After a deep breath, thinking about how full your plate already is, you decide to evaluate products on the market. But wait! Before you reach for those buying guides, make sure you examine some of the internal issues that a move to distance learning will impact.

Will employees be open to training in this manner?
When computer-based training (CBT) was made available to our division, we surveyed remote employees to find out interest in distance learning. Our results were surprising: Many of the remote consultants weren’t open to the idea because:

  • There would not be an instructor available to answer their questions.
  • Many of the remote employees look forward to training in the corporate office since it also gives them an opportunity to network.

Other findings that surfaced:

  • Technical personnel, who responded positively, stated that they would be interested in taking beginner-level courses, but not advanced courses. They felt that hands-on classroom instruction would be the only effective method to properly learn more advanced material.
  • People who generally receive little training were more open to the idea of CBT and saw it as an opportunity to get training of any kind.

Determine current skill levels
Evaluate your employees’ present skill levels and determine the amount of interaction that will be required for training. The absence of a live instructor can affect some learners drastically, especially in the product-training arena. In the classroom we, as facilitators, can observe the learning process and usually pinpoint when a student is beginning to fall behind. With distance learning, this becomes much more difficult.
What are some of the pros and cons your company has faced implementing and using distance learning? Please post your comments at the end of this article.
Consider the costs
Distance learning won’t always save your company a ton of money. However, if your company is consistently paying for employees to travel to training sessions, distance learning can save you money.

If you are considering CBTs, don’t be too overwhelmed by the initial cost. Some training professionals decide to create programs in house once they see the cost, and after many headaches, find it would have been less expensive to outsource this task. Creating quality CBTs definitely takes a skilled team dedicated to this effort for it to be successful.

Conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Although most managers hate the big “C” word, it’s important to evaluate and report all the costs involved during the planning stage. Make sure to include the cost of a distance learning administrator, if one will be necessary. Effective administration of a distance-learning implementation may determine its success, yet it can be very hard to get approval for this expense if it’s requested too late in the game.

The bottom line
Before making your final decision, talk to people from other companies who have used the product you’re considering. You will be amazed at the amount of additional details this will uncover. This is especially useful in the area of live distance learning, where product reviews in the various training publications can be hard to find.

For the project to be victorious, it takes time and effort to determine exactly which products fit the needs of your organization. Don’t let the chance to wow your company’s executives be your main motivating factor.

Susanne E. Krivanek is a training coordinator/analyst for Systems & Computer Technology Corp. , Education Solutions Division, which specializes in the development of software product training and certification programs. She has a training background in brokerage software, office applications, and business entrepreneurship, and she speaks on maximizing training effectiveness.