TRAINING : Cyberstudy – the future?

As employers look at the real costs of taking staff out of their workplaces for courses, online training is becoming the new boom area for learning.
Canterbury business RedSeed says it now has some of New Zealand’s biggest companies on its books using its online training for salespeople, including Warehouse Stationery, the Royal New Zealand Navy and Hallensteins.
Managing director Anya Anderson says tough period for retail has seen the company land some important clients. “They realise that their marketing dollar is only of value if their sales staff knows how to convert that traffic into sales.”
Anderson, veteran sales trainer with more than 15 years’ experience, says she saw gap in the market for an online training business to overcome the geographical constraints of training large sales teams while also allowing them to measure the return on their investment.
Operations manager and director Glen Duffield says advantages to online learning also include the fact that it is instantaneous, that students can join course as soon as they start (for example, an induction course) – and generally lower costs.“There are expenses in sending people around the country to courses. And you lose salespeople off the floor.”
Duffield says online training is very flexible and can be done around the clock. But how do they make sure courses are completed? He says over typical three-month course there are many checks and balances. Online worksheets have to be filled in and managers have to engage the trainee in role-play practice and the sales techniques students will have seen in online videos.
The University of Auckland faculty of Business and Economics designed and built the world’s first online computer-supported learning system. “The use of the term ‘computer-supported learning’ was genuine objective to use technology to support learning, not to pretend that technology could teach students,” says associate professor of information systems Dr Don Sheridan.
“Even at its best, the content of online learning is only as good as its author and learning is successful because the technology embodies the best practices of excellent teachers.” He sees ‘blended learning’ as the future. For example, programme might begin by presenting material in an online format, then present the next set of content through live virtual classroom or in traditional classroom.
Kevin Gaunt, of the New Zealand Institute of Management, agrees there are benefits to online study. “It enables students to choose their own time and place for their learning experience. For example, busy mother can study at 9pm and manager who spends time away from home travelling can study in their hotel room.
“It fits very well with the needs of people today, as our lives are more fragmented than in the past.” He says the institute mainly uses face-to-face learning at present, but he believes that very shortly online learning will be as common as our use of emails.
But there are still real benefits to traditional face-to-face learning, he says. “It is generally more interesting than online learning as you get to interact with other people. There are also benefits from being able to learn from the experience of others and explore questions, which is true learning that can’t easily be done online.” Gaunt believes the future will see both methods of training: “We see both being prevalent, with the learner having significantly more choice over what they learn and when and where.”
Stuart Sinclair, joint managing director of business training company David Forman, says online learning is clearly form of learning that is increasingly accepted with more technically savvy workforce, but he believes face-to-face learning remains vital aspect of any learning that requires more than simply the imparting of information.
“Face-to-face learning is essential where discussion and interaction are key components of learning. Another hugely important consideration is that skilful facilitation can elicit self-discovery from participants. It is the most powerful form of learning, as it creates strong buy-in where students can say: ‘I figured it out for myself!’.”
David Forman currently uses minimal online learning methods, but Sinclair says the organisation is evaluating options on how it could incorporate online into its offerings.
Iain Fraser, group managing director of Project Plus, says online learning may be available 24/7 but that does not mean that it has any impact on skills development or retention. Face-to-face provides the “story-telling component that revolves around applicability in the workplace”.
He believes face-to-face, real-time learning will remain the most popular for professional development and in-depth learning. “Online will support this, however, via podcasts and other techniques for pushing supplementary information out.”

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