While the goal of advanced technology applications is to help businesses become more streamlined and productive, training employees to use the new technologies can be an arduous undertaking. In most cases, a company’s management and employees have varying degrees of comfort and knowledge with computer systems and related applications. Just when employees understand ABC system, management decides to buy ABC 2.0 or add five new applications. Now what?
My company sells information management systems to automobile and truck dealers. Management at those dealerships is keenly aware that new technologies and enhanced automation help raise ROI across all of an organization’s departments. But there’s always the concern that employees won’t have the time, patience or interest to fully utilize new technology tools. If turnkey learning solutions aren’t readily available, the cost of retraining overshadows the benefits of the latest and greatest technology applications. This is of particular concern in high-traffic retail establishments where demanding customers make management wary of changing the status quo—and where employee turnover is a recurrent problem.
Blended Learning to the Rescue
In my opinion, the best way to ensure “bang for the buck” with system utilization is by implementing a blended learning program—a learning program that offers courses both via the Web and in a traditional classroom setting. Today, a strong learning management system (LMS) maintains a Web-based learning program at its core. This gives employees more choices of how and when to learn the new technologies.
Just a few years ago, technology training in many high-traffic retail establishments, like automotive dealerships, mostly involved variations on traditional classroom training. One instructor—working on her own schedule, at her own site and at her own pace—taught a group of 50 people how to use a system. As the “one and only” training tool, it sometimes failed those users who weren’t technologically savvy or who didn’t have the time for a four-day training session five states away. No matter how capable or committed these students were, they fell behind the demands of upgraded systems when they weren’t comfortable in the classroom setting.
Fast-forward to the present and enter “real” blended learning, with a Web-based LMS at the heart of the program—and traditional classroom learning as just one training alternative. With Internet-based training, each employee learns at his or her own pace in real time, regardless of location or time of day. If something’s not clear the first time around, the student can replay the learning as often as needed—or skip the stuff that’s already known. And since most advanced computer-based training (CBT) modules make it easy to update training materials, it’s relatively painless to upgrade from a program’s 2.0 version to its 5.0 version.
The LMS provider can leverage the Web to make courses or “live” instructors available online. The “live” instructor assists employees with a virtual walkthrough of system setups and addresses specific training issues, providing immediate feedback and individual recommendations. This helps the learner visualize and understand a new technology’s functions and challenges the learner to move forward and develop greater system utilization skills.
Blended learning has been a hit with our clients because it offers them choices in delivery methods. As recently as 2002, only 300 dealership employees a month received system and application training for our technology products. All of this training was conducted in a traditional classroom environment. Today, more than 3,000 dealership employees each month choose from our various blended training programs—a tenfold increase since the implementation of our company’s blended learning initiative just two years ago. In recent Forrester research, managers at those dealerships said they were 22 percent more satisfied with the technical training provided by our company since we implemented blended learning.
Customization Is King
Of course, in addition to an organized blended learning program that leverages the power of the Internet at its core and offers choices in learning, a blended learning program should also fit your specific business objectives. Even if your closest competitor runs the same business with the same new technology system, the LMS that works for their strategic business model and long-term goals may not work for yours.
Your blended learning system should help employees understand their individual strengths and weaknesses in utilizing your establishment’s new technologies. When an LMS is tailored to an organization’s specific methodologies and policies, it can offer an amazing ROI due to increased employee retention, maximized system utilization and more satisfied customers. Customization also helps your best employees understand how a new CRM tool or IP-phone will make their lives easier, solve a business challenge and help the company meet its strategic objectives.
One way to ensure that an LMS delivers results tailored to your organization’s needs is to purchase the learning program from the same provider that installed the technology applications and now manages those systems. This is especially true if the technology provider is partnered with an established training development team (inside or outside the company) that assists them in developing custom learning modules. By partnering with training development experts, our company develops a learning program for our clients that is specific to our applications—yet also implements the superior instructional design that training experts can best provide. And a technology partner that understands your business can help you choose the best courses for the employees throughout the various departments of your organization.
More Accountability for Performance
Sophisticated, customized blended learning systems also help management meet several important learning objectives. First, the LMS allows managers to track employee training and get a sense for who needs what help in exactly what areas. Some systems track learners through every part of a specific module, so it’s easy to see who has completed 100 percent, 70 percent or 20 percent of the training course on a new IP phone or Web-based CRM.
Second, employees maintain greater accountability for their work performance when a system knows the business objectives and tracks employees’ related learning activities. Management can better recognize and reward, which keeps employees eager to learn. The subsequent decline in employee turnover saves an organization even more money.
Third, a customized Web-based LMS that is worth its weight enables an organization’s employees to receive access to learning content that is available on another Web-based LMS. Organizations can customize e-learning programs to meet the specific methodologies and policies of a business, yet offer employees the opportunity to create individual training programs through shared learning content. This is the goal behind computer based training modules (CBTs) that are either compliant or in conformance with the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), a product of the U.S. government’s initiative in Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL). ADL was launched with the goal of providing access to high-quality training materials that are easily tailored to individual learner needs, real-time, 24×7.
SCORM’s objective is to make various LMS content understood across different Web-based learning systems. The best adaptive learning systems assemble content across various systems to immediately meet a learner’s individual needs. By making learning software accessible, interoperable, durable, reusable, adaptable and affordable, the user can interact with courses others have developed, providing an optimal blended-learning experience.
Finally, customization also helps management make sure the program they implement is evolutionary, user-friendly, doesn’t require a “techie” mentality and is tailored to the organization’s business and the learner’s roles. Management also can offer rewards, promotions or additional compensation as incentives to those employees who expeditiously and successfully tackle new technologies through blended learning solutions.
‘Is Blended Learning Working in My Business?’
Among the best gauges for measuring a learning program’s success with respect to information management systems is a marked increase in overall system utilization.
To receive a reliable measurement of how a learning system is working in your business, your LMS provider should offer a skills-assessment survey. These surveys examine every user of your system and identify gaps in system usage, then create that customized training road map for your business. This method of “trending” is a critical way organizations can develop future training standards based on what works and what doesn’t.
If employees do not complete the curriculum, fail the tests and do not use the organization’s technology solutions well, there might be a problem with the e-learning products or the learning road map. At that point, management should consider executing a new training agenda or working closely with the e-learning provider to better tailor the learning tools. A good provider will monitor the results of its customized programs from various clients’ experiences, and then generate information that pinpoints a general or specific program problem.
In my experience, customized blended learning driven by a Web-based LMS is the most cost-efficient learning tool for high-traffic retail establishments. It saves valuable time and serves as a strategic business program for innovative managers who constantly implement modern technology systems into their businesses.
Becky Hubble is the director of training and utilization services for ADP Dealer Services, the third largest business unit of Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP). For more than 30 years, ADP Dealer Services has been the premier provider of dealer management system solutions to the retail automotive and truck markets. In her role, Hubble establishes and launches training practices that bring learning closer to the automotive dealer client, and that empower their learner-employees to gain expertise and application utilization.
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