CompUSA: Too Many or Too Few Learning Dollars?
The table of contents description of the CompUSA case study (“Computerized Learning at CompUSA,” March 2007) tells us that CompUSA cut its training costs from $50 to $1 per unit. A few weeks later, CompUSA announced it is closing 126 (more than half) of its retail stores.
I wonder what connection CompUSA’s bean counters can make between the $1 per unit training and the inability to maintain their position in the retail market.
Jay Spitulnik, EdM, CPT
Lifespan Learning Institute
Although the article “Computerized Learning at CompUSA” (March 2007), mostly focuses on how efficient CompUSA has become at training its workforce using automated “modules,” little information is given on exactly how this has benefited the company. I propose that this is because this kind of training, while convenient and neat, poses no real benefit in the long run. CompUSA states that costs are down from around $50 a person to train to around $1 a person to train. Yet, can you tell me how many millions of dollars CompUSA spent for this kind of training to be set up? It is not necessary for managers to have the kind of control that the article describes, like being able to “track people’s sign-ins, the amount of time they’re on and which training programs they’ve taken, so you can keep up with their certifications and make sure they’re qualified to sell different product categories and groups.” How complicated can it be to learn the difference between differing models of Dell notebooks? It seems like the same kind of information could be disbursed using something as inexpensive as paper. So, why did CompUSA opt for an expensive, modern, computerized system? In this economic climate, it just seems like overkill. Meanwhile, it was just announced that CompUSA is closing half of its 225 stores. Perhaps the next leap in efficient and cost-cutting training will help shut down the rest of them.
Haig R. Larsen
The Life of Courses
Editor’s Note: In the January issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, we ran a letter regarding Jay Cross’ August 2006 column, “Courses Are Dead.” Jay offers his response to the letter below:
I was in error when I titled my column “Courses are Dead.” I lied to you and my readers here at Chief Learning Officer magazine. Last year, I told several thousand people the same lie. I think I owe you an explanation.
As you noted, face-to-face learning is incredibly effective. Learning from one another is great because it’s fun, it works and it’s a win-win. The bulk of adult learning occurs through personal encounters. We’re on the same page on this one. My life’s mission is to change the world by helping people learn to enjoy challenging work and lead fulfilling, happy lives. Let’s link arms and go for it.
Of course, courses are not dead.
“Courses are dead” is hyperbole. It shakes people out of complacency. As I wrote in my column, “The reason I say courses are dead is for shock value. It’s to jolt people into considering alternatives.”
All learning is part formal (courses, training) and part informal (talking with others, trying things out). Even though 80 percent of the way knowledge workers learn their jobs is informal, employers invest nearly all their training dollars on the formal side. It’s as if training managers were out to spend the most money where it will do the least good. It’s time to fix that. It needs attention.
Internet Time Group LLC
I enjoyed reading Peter McStravick’s article titled “Looking Forward: The Training Industry in 2007” in the January 2007 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine.
Two comments especially caught my interest:
My immediate question, though, is that because instructor-led training accounts for 40 percent of the delivery mix of training, according to the CLO Business Intelligence Board, and directors of training still see the value of classroom training, why are so many organizations leaning more toward e-learning and less toward classroom training?
I understand the budget is always a major concern. However, why aren’t executives more focused on the outcome versus the expense, plus the impact strategic improvements can have on their business from classroom training?
Granted, budget is a driving force today. Yet, per Peter’s comments I referenced earlier, so are business objectives and the retention of key employees. Don’t the potential value and the benefits of using audience-response technology in an instructor-led, classroom meeting tactfully align with the business objectives of senior executives?
By including classroom training (and audience-response technology) as a vital part of the blended learning process, I know employees progressively will be more loyal and productive to their organizations and subsequently help senior executives meet their strategic goals.
Peter’s article clearly underlines the importance and even superiority of classroom training today. I am always open to hearing new and creative approaches to better marketing audience-response technology. It’s a work in process.
Vistacom Information Systems Inc.
Editor’s Note: We asked Peter McStravick to respond:
As a former classroom instructor myself, I realize my response might oversimplify things here somewhat, but I believe CLOs typically opt for classroom-based training as a delivery method for one of two reasons: One, they believe it is the very best fit for the content they are trying to deliver, or two, they have no other choice.
The lean toward e-learning you describe, I think, primarily is coming from this second group. As pricing options for learning solutions become more affordable, this group is especially interested in adopting technologies from which they previously have been shut out because of a lack of budget or infrastructure. With the adoption of an e-learning solution, many companies now see themselves as finally being able to address their organization’s development needs in a much more efficient way than with the classroom model. E-learning’s ability to deliver unlimited 24x7x365 access to content is an invaluable benefit to today’s increasingly more mobile, time-shifting and global workforce, and training executives recognize this. Yes, there might be some sacrifice in terms of the level of interaction students enjoy, but an e-learning solution’s advantages in terms of reach and scalability usually make up for it.
What the C-suite also recognizes is there are benefits to employee development beyond improving organizational proficiency. In the midst of a talent shortage, executives recognize the strategic value training can provide in terms of positioning their company as an “employer of choice” and facilitating their recruiting and retention efforts. So, if an e-learning solution allows them to provide training to employee groups they previously weren’t able to reach, then there are further grounds for support.
This by no means suggests, however, the classroom experience is dead or dying. Although it might not be growing as fast as the e-learning market, IDC’s research shows classroom-based training still is growing and still accounts for the largest wedge of the training pie. There are many examples where the classroom environment is clearly the best choice for training (think executive development, presentation skills, even CPR training), and even in these scenarios, training professionals are adopting a blended model so that online resources can supplement the classroom experience.
The goal of all corporate training should be to develop and reinforce skills that drive results for the organization. A framework IDC has developed states that, to be effective, training must provide content that satisfies each of the five A’s, it must be available, accessible, appropriate, absorbed and applied.
An audience-response system is one example of a technology that supports the fourth A. Active learning theory suggests that by creating a more engaging and interactive learning experience for participants, which audience response system do, the likelihood that learners will retain (absorb) and recall information on the job increases significantly.
The goal for CLOs, therefore, regardless of modality, should be to deliver content that satisfies each of the five A’s in a cost-effective way that doesn’t sacrifice quality.
Peter C. McStravick
Senior Research Analyst, Learning Services
Not Worth Debating
As I read the article “Leadership: Nature vs. Nurture” in the February issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, I found myself wondering why you chose to discuss leadership development in such a superficial way. The authors, in posing this question, have done little more than set up a straw man to be easily knocked down.
I doubt anyone in corporate training would argue that leadership is an innate trait possessed by a chosen few who will succeed wherever they go. If this were true, why would they waste their time and energy developing leadership training programs to help their clients expand their skills?
Overall, the leadership development tips offered in this piece were useful, but I hope to see these suggestions offered in a more compelling manner in the future.
San Antonio, Texas