The world of work in an IT shop is a whirl of activity. There are fires to put out, fires that need fanning, and all of the routine things that simply need to get done—now.

Where do IT professionals find time to keep up with ever-evolving, ever-changing technologies? How can you train for tomorrow, much less for today? How do you hang on to your best employees who want to continue to grow professionally?

Perhaps it is time to look at the alternatives to standard out-of-house, instructor-led training and see where computer-based training, Web-based training or even a do-it-yourself training program might fit in.

CBT is the most flexible
Computer-based training (CBT) may seem an obvious choice in many circumstances where there is little or no opportunity to travel away from the workplace because of cost or staffing considerations.

There are plenty of CBT courses to choose from and training experts say that experienced workers can benefit from the training these courses provide.

However, as is pointed out in “Choosing the right CBT,” it is important to be picky in how that computer-based training is accomplished.

Using a computer for instruction, via a CD course for instance, is a solitary affair with limited opportunity for the student to ask questions, particularly regarding how the skills learned can be applied to their particular job.

“It’s hard for most people to work, much less learn, on their own,” said David Codrington, a technical content developer for an international training company and an expert on adult learning.

Some form of accountability from the student as they work through the course will improve their performance, Codrington advised.

Supplementing CBT with some form of interaction can improve the effects of the training.

WBT covers a lot of bases
“With Web-based training [WBT], you can at least have the option of adding e-mail or chat features to give learners an opportunity to receive feedback and clarification in a near real-time manner,” Codrington said.

Currently, there are more than 100 colleges affiliated with, a portal for online education, according to figures quoted in “Don’t let logistics impede your education: Get a degree online.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of colleges offering courses over the Internet has grown from 28 percent in 1995 to 60 percent in 1998. Computer sciences accounted for 40 percent of post-graduate courses offered online, management 30 percent, and health professions 24 percent.

An online education is a real plus for those in the disabled community, according to Tim N. Thompson, a computer information systems student at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, IN, who made the dean’s list last year.

“New adaptive devices allow even a quadriplegic like myself to interface with a computer,” Thompson said. “If more training was available on the ‘net via a work-as-you-go program, it would benefit those who are unable to attend a school as well as those companies that need people now to grow with the latest technologies and software.”

WBT for construction inspectors in the field has been a big help to Russell Wagner, a computer technician with the Florida Department of Transportation in West Palm Beach. He has had fewer panicked calls requesting help with finding lost files since inspectors started taking Web-based courses on the software they use on their computers.

Inspectors are scattered throughout the area and their time for training is often dependent on circumstances beyond their control, he said. With WBT, inspectors can get the training they need when they have the time to do it.

“The savings in computer repair alone probably paid for half of the classes,” Wagner wrote in an e-mail to TechRepublic. “I know I have more time to work on the network and setting up the field offices instead of wasting time fixing silly mistakes.”

Sometimes you just have to do it yourself
In addition to saving time, training sometimes is the deciding factor for employees who need to learn and grow in their jobs. If an employee’s current job doesn’t offer any training, the person will find a new job that offers more opportunities.

If the company you work at is large enough, there may be ways to offer training and benefit from the economies of scale.

Northrop Grumman found a way to team with the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Blueprint Technologies to offer object oriented programming to many of its employees. This program is described in “Designer training for your IT staff .”

Essentially, Northrop Grumman found a way to use training to retain employees and add an extra incentive in its recruitment efforts.

“No business has the time to send folks out a week or more (for training); we were willing to arrange our schedule around Northrop Grumman, and it’s made for a win-win situation for the both of us,” said Roger Hebden, vice president and founder of Blueprint Technologies.
What does your company do to find the time to keep employees trained on the latest and greatest software and hardware? Post a comment below or send us a note.