The benefits of Web-based training (WBT)—convenience, ease of delivery, and flexibility, to name a few—can be impressive. But, the bottom line is always a factor. Does WBT really save money? If so, how much?

Depending on current training expenses and corporate needs, the financial impact of selecting a WBT program can be significant. Smart shopping is also important. Here are some tips to help you assess the value of your WBT programs.
This look at the economics of WBT is the second in a four-part series of articles. Last week, Karen Cangero examined how WBT can be designed for a variety of learning styles. Next week, the topic is how to incorporate WBT into an existing training program, and finally Karen will tell you how to evaluate online learning programs.
How much does WBT cost?
Costs can vary widely in the ever-growing WBT market. Many factors go into determining the cost of a particular product.

One big price-determining factor is level of participation. Make sure you have a good idea of how many students will take each course before starting your research. Generally speaking, bulk discounts apply. Most vendors will drop the per-student, per-course price as the size of the deal increases. The more students taking more courses, the lower the relative cost. Some vendors also offer related courses in bundles at discount prices—Java with HTML training, for example.

Another important factor is the kind of support needed for the WBT courses. Many vendors offer add-on administration features—usually for an extra price. Registration, testing, and score tracking can all be handled via your WBT program. Student support—via e-mail, chat room, or telephone mentoring—is also available.

When determining value, be sure to check out the quality of the content. Just because one vendor offers a 10-hour course at the same price as another vendor’s five-hour course, don’t assume that the longer course represents the better product. Carefully compare course outlines to determine which meets your needs better. If it doesn’t work for you, even free WBT is no bargain.

Comparison shop
Hidden costs lurk everywhere—and WBT is no exception. Check technical requirements and specifications. Your WBT program could require additional hardware, software, or plug-ins for streaming multimedia. Some WBT is too slow for dial-up connections and should be accessed through an intranet. If workstations and communications systems will need to be upgraded, be sure to factor this into the final costs.

Remember to shop around and negotiate. Several different vendors may market the same WBT content. Often, the only difference is the logos. Careful shopping may uncover minor discounts. Members of particular organizations may be eligible for some of them. Be sure to ask the vendor, “Is this the total amount I will have to pay?”

How much does WBT save?
Web-based training proponents stress cost-savings as one of its key advantages over traditional training platforms. WBT’s savings are multifaceted. One area of value is time. Rather than blocking out entire days for training that requires travel to a remote location, WBT allows training to take place in the office or at home, and at a student’s own pace. Time is money, and in saving potentially enormous blocks of time, WBT saves a great deal of money as well.

WBT also enables workers to train individually or in small groups, eliminating the need to hire or find temporary help when an entire department is absent for training. Even purchasing WBT can be extremely convenient and time-effective. Most of the research can be done online, eliminating the need for lengthy, long distance telephone calls or meetings.

Less money, more training
The actual cost savings from WBT can be modest or astounding, depending on how training dollars are currently spent. The courses themselves generally cost far less than the same course taught in a classroom setting. With WBT installed on a corporate Web server or intranet, corporations can provide a continuous stream of training material to workers at their desktops. WBT eliminates the substantial additional costs of travel, lodging, and meals for students.

“We are slowly moving more and more of our training budget to Web-based training programs,” said George Skahill, president of New York-based NTL Technologies. “It seems to work more smoothly overall. We have far less training time spent away from the office, students enjoy training more, and we’re seeing better results. The best part is, we’re spending less money and getting more training.”

Online learning is an easy way to provide essential training in a convenient setting—from home, the office, or practically anywhere. With increased demands on time and money, corporations seek methods for training their workforce without sacrificing time away from the office. For many IT enterprises, WBT fits the bill, and shrinks it, too.
Has WBT come through on its money-saving promises for your organization? Is it realistic to think employees will spend time at home for training? Tell us how WBT has worked for your company in terms of saving time and money.

Karen Cangero is the author of two books and numerous articles on the Internet and online issues. She has completed graduate work in education and counseling and has several years experience in public and private education.