Mobile apps can be more effective training tools than traditional programs

Instead of having employees sit through seminars, some companies are finding ways to automate training with mobile apps

Image: iStock/milindri

The days of printed manuals and endless employee seminars are going the same way as the fax machine: most businesses have one, but they've almost completely replaced it with newer technology. As technology evolves and HR embraces automation, cloud-based programs, and other high-tech methods, training has moved to computer screens. And, for the most part, experts agree they've had quite a bit of success and opened up opportunities for workers, as long as they're integrated into in-person training and the company's goals.

SEE: How to automate the enterprise (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature)

"Successful programs are those that are aligned with organizational goals," said Joe Carella, Assistant Dean, Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. A lot of times, companies will put a module online or in a mobile app without tying it to goals or the behaviors the company wants employees to display. "If you tie the program to the behaviors you're expecting, you're likely to get good results."

Consider the case of Pep Boys: the nationwide auto parts and service chain turned to quick, three-minute mobile game sessions that employees could complete on their phones to educate employees about theft. Employees didn't have to do the training, but those that did collected points that could be redeemed for rewards. The program quickly proved its worth: employees adopted the training system, and losses at their 700+ stores dropped by $20 million in the first year alone, since employees now knew what to look for to prevent theft.

The rewards almost certainly helped incentivize employees to complete the training, according to Carella. Tangible rewards like gift cards and time off is important to younger employees, who strive for work-life balance, he said.

Leveraging simulation-based training

Some experts believe that automation can be even more successful than traditional training programs. "Technologies such as simulation-based learning are not only proven to be more effective in the short term, but long term retention is much higher as well," said Mike Scher, co-founder and CEO of Frontline Selling, in an email. "When on-demand technology-based training is used, the learning is ongoing and employees benefit from continual reinforcement."

Frontline Selling implemented an automated call simulator into its existing sales prospecting software. New representatives practice sales calls with automated, predictive responses. According to Scher, this enables the representatives to start achieving sales goals within days or weeks, instead of months of trial and error on the phone with prospects.

Practice makes perfect

"What makes any training successful is the post-training process where trainees practice new skills until they master them. This means there is a scheduled and monitored practice period with feedback," said Diane Crampton, founder, Tigers Success Series, in an email interview.

However, any kind of training, whether automated or in-person, needs to be reinforced. Crampton recommended a minimum 30 day period to make sure the new information sticks. "Post training procedures are frequently neglected in the workplace," she said.

Designing effective training programs

Pep Boys had it right when the company offered a mobile app with bite-size pieces to its employees, incorporating best practices championed by eLearning Industry. By focusing on who its employees are and their needs, they were able to create something that was relevant and consumable by employees who didn't have the time or perhaps the attention span to sit through a long, in-person training or who, like many employees, didn't read the posters in the back room. It was kept short and simple. The rewards incentivized the employees to use the app. The content delivery was user-friendly, which led to adoption and use of the program - and, in turn, results.

Additionally, what makes programs work is recognizing what can and can't be taught online, according to the University of Arizona's Carella. "Not everything can be taught in three minutes," he said, outlining the need for using mobile modules as reinforcement in some cases.

Ultimately, companies that implement these types of programs, whether via mobile apps or courses that can be accessed online, may see better results from their employee training than an orientation day seminar, if the program is properly designed. Care needs to be taken to make these programs user-friendly, consumable, and with content relevant to the employees' duties.

Also see

By Christine Parizo

Christine Parizo is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology who cut her teeth in B2B technology journalism in the days when a tablet was something you'd attach to a clipboard. She now puts her head in the cloud to analyze and write...