As an IT manager, one of the most critical problems you face is the shortage of skilled IT staff. One way to address this problem is to provide a training program that will attract and keep top employees. To help you keep up with the latest training trends, we’ve gathered some training tips from OnlineLearning magazine, an outstanding resource for information about online learning. You can get great training tips like these, in-depth articles, and timely information about online training delivered directly to your e-mail inbox, everyday. All you need to do is sign up for the IT Trainer Digest TechMail and we’ll do the rest. Here is a sample of what you can expect.

IT or not IT
The day of online soft-skills training may have finally arrived. According to recent predictions from the research firm, International Data Corp. (IDC), non-IT e-learning’s share of the corporate training market will increase dramatically by 2003.

IDC defines non-IT training as lessons that cover nontechnical business and professional skills, including project management, sales and marketing, administration, purchasing, and continuing professional education. IT training, on the other hand, encompasses desktop applications training and IS/Technical training. Today, non-IT e-learning accounts for only 22 percent of revenues. By 2003, IDC says, it will generate more than half of the e-learning market’s value.

Why has it taken non-IT training so long to jump on the online bandwagon? “Many existing non-IT training courses weren’t designed with electronic delivery,” said Ellen Julian, director of IDC’s human resources and training research. That means they have to be reformatted for the Web, which takes time. However, that’s about to change. The next few years will see IT training vendors jumping into the non-IT training market, Julian predicts.

The future of chalkboards
Will e-learning replace classrooms and chalkboards? Some training HR folks think it will.

According to a survey by Drake Beam Morin’s (DBM) e-learning division, most people believe e-learning will be the norm in five years. “The need for just-in-time training is becoming a critical element to organizational success, given the combination of fierce global competition, a commitment to lifelong learning, advances in technology, and a shortage of skilled labor,” said Clint Everton, president of DBM Knowledge Communication. “It is not surprising that the corporate e-learning market is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the education industry.”

So what makes for good e-learning? Everton offers the following suggestions:

  • Ask yourself if the materials have specific learning goals that coincide with the company’s goals.
  • Make sure the software conforms to accepted adult learning procedures.
  • Don’t reproduce textbooks. No one likes to read a textbook, even if it is on a computer screen.
  • Let people learn by doing. Build simulations that relate to real life and grab the user’s attention.
  • Allow users to quit the program at any time, and return to the same spot later.
  • Make sure trainers can determine who took the tests, when they took it, and how they did. Trainers also should be able to analyze that data.
  • Make your training available on the Internet, on CD-ROM, and on the organization’s intranet.

Why teach from afar?
What motivates university instructors to teach distance-education courses? According to faculty members at the University of Nebraska, distance-learning courses give educators the chance to be creative and try new teaching techniques.

Researchers in the University surveyed 139 of their colleagues and asked them to rank a number of items as incentives or obstacles for teaching distance classes.

More than 80 percent said being able to offer innovative instruction and use new teaching techniques were key incentives. Around 75 percent said personal fulfillment was a prime incentive and 67 percent said access to place-bound students was a key reason to deliver courses online.

The biggest obstacles? Difficulty in using the technology and lack of time to refine courses. “It may mean there isn’t enough training available for those trying delivery via distance,” says Susan Fritz, an associate professor and coauthor of the study. “…It does take more time to teach each course via distance delivery. The interaction strategies are much different.”

The Trainer’s Manifesto
So what course of action should the embattled training group take? Should they dig in and fight intruders tooth and nail?

Here are strategies trainers can use to make themselves more valuable to the people at the top:

  • Outsource nonstrategic programs such as end-user training.
  • Set aside about 20 percent of your total budget for discretionary use. By freeing up some dollars, you can increase the time you spend putting together great training programs.
  • Understand your company’s two-year business plan. Constantly evaluate how learning programs can help achieve the organization’s goals.
  • Look into learning management systems.
  • Make your workforce e-learning compatible. Carefully manage students’ first venture into e-learning by providing them with as much help as they need.
  • Don’t take on the role of professional curmudgeon. Support new strategic e-learning initiatives as they emerge. The IT department’s historic approach of pointing out flaws in the company’s business strategy didn’t work, and they were labeled a speed bump. Proactively find and suggest partners, and earn your way onto the evaluating team.
  • Work harder at competitive analysis. Visit e-learning Web sites and interview their students to get the full story.
  • Develop custom e-learning capabilities. Licensing general courses will trap you in a deep back-end support role.
  • Eliminate teach-speak. Avoid terms like “design methodology” and “Level 2 evaluation.”
  • Consider merging with your company’s knowledge management group, if it has one. Develop a combined vision and organization, and then work on the processes and technology.

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