CIO, Opinion

How to Make Enterprise Software Training More Efficient

Whether its for the IT department or for HR, employee training is essential in the modern workplace. At one time, flying employees to expensive, instructor-led training was the norm. In recent years, however, budgetary concerns have driven many organizations either to adopt video-based training as an alternative to instructor-led training, or to abandon training altogether, leaving employees to fend for themselves.

Is Training Still Relevant?

One of the main reasons why employee training fell somewhat out of fashion for a while was because of the cost. Not only is there the cost of the course and possible travel expenses to consider, there’s also a time commitment involved. The hours that an employee spends in a training class are essentially hours of lost productivity. These and other factors caused some organizations to question whether employee training was a waste of resources.

Today, many organizations are beginning to realize that if they abandon employee training, they do so at their own peril. In fact, employee training is beginning to see a resurgence. Organizations are increasingly learning from the mistakes of the past and realizing that employee training doesn’t have to be boring, expensive, and ineffective.

Those organizations that are fully embracing employee training are finding that it can have a surprisingly high ROI. The key to achieving this ROI is to keep the training relevant and to deliver the training in a way that’s conducive to learning. This will help employees to retain the information over the long term, better enabling them to apply what they’ve learned.

Why Employee Training Is Important

There are numerous benefits to providing employees with relevant training. Training may, for instance, help employees feel more engaged and better equipped to do their jobs. This can lead to higher overall job satisfaction.

Likewise, providing employees with regular training may help to reduce employee turnover (which can also help to reduce recruitment costs). An employee who frequently receives skills training may be less likely to view their current position as a dead-end job, thereby making them less likely to leave the company.

Employee training can also help an organization to operate more efficiently. An employee who’s been properly trained on how to complete a particular task probably isn’t going to waste time trying to figure out how to perform that task.

Similarly, if an employee hasn’t received adequate training on the task at hand, then they may seek out another employee who can explain the process. At that point, the employee’s lack of training isn’t just negatively impacting their own productivity, but also someone else’s.

Depending on what it is that the employee is trying to figure out, they might not choose to seek help from a coworker. Instead, the employee may opt to open a help desk ticket. While it’s true that this approach doesn’t distract a coworker from doing their job, the employee’s approach might actually be worse for the company’s bottom line.

The idea that an untrained or undertrained employee might cost their employer money in the form of lost productivity or calls to the help desk can actually be thought of as a best-case situation. In these instances, the employee wants to do their job correctly and is actively seeking help. However, the outcome can be far different if the untrained employee is too embarrassed to ask for help.

If rather than seeking help, an untrained employee attempts to figure out for themselves how to perform a certain task, then there’s a good chance that the employee will end up doing the task incorrectly. This may go on for hours, or possibly even for years. Given enough time, the employee could potentially undo work that other employees had initially done correctly. At some point, they might even end up teaching a newly hired employee the wrong way to do the job, thereby compounding the problem.

Depending on the employee’s role within the company, the employee’s mistake can have devastating consequences. If the employee works in the IT department, for example, a simple misconfiguration could potentially create a major security vulnerability. An employee who works in the HR department and performs a procedure incorrectly might unknowingly be violating federal law, potentially subjecting the organization to massive fines.

When the employee’s mistake is eventually discovered, it will have to be corrected. Most likely this will involve a painstaking, time-consuming, and expensive manual process. Depending on how long the employee has been doing their job incorrectly, the company might never fully recover.

In a situation like this, it would have been far less expensive for the organization to provide training to the employee up front than to undo the damage that the employee unknowingly caused.

The Case Against Video-Based Training

Video-based training has rapidly gained popularity in recent years because it’s convenient and usually far less expensive than live, instructor-led training. Even so, video-based training isn’t perfect. Depending on the platform, for example, it may be difficult or impossible for employees to ask questions if there’s something that they don’t understand.

The larger problem with video-based training, however, is that it tends to be ineffective. Although it’s possible to learn about a subject from video-based training, doing so typically requires the content to be watched several times. The human brain is notorious for its inability to fully digest the contents of a video.

One of the reasons for this is our short attention spans. Most adults only have an attention span of about 20 minutes.

Of course retention, or lack thereof, also plays a role in the relative ineffectiveness of video-based training. Studies have shown that within an hour, people forget half of what was taught, and more than 70% of the information is forgotten by the next day.

What may be worse than the inability to remember the material presented in a video course is remembering that material incorrectly. Studies have shown that visual memory tends to be highly inaccurate. In fact, 75% of 235 confirmed wrongful convictions were the result of eyewitnesses remembering things incorrectly.

The National Training Laboratory in Betel, Maine, conducted a study which found that long-term retention improves dramatically when a student is actively involved in the training process, as opposed to receiving the information passively. Those in the study who received audio/visual-based training retained about 20% of the material over the long term. Conversely, those who were able to practice what they had been taught (listed in the study as Practice by Doing) had long-term retention rates of about 75%. Clearly, participatory teaching methods are far more effective than passive learning.

This is why virtual training labs where students actively learn new skills are a better training tool than simple video-based training. In a virtual lab environment, students actually work through various exercises in an environment that mimics the one that they will eventually be using to do their jobs. The end result is that the student is better prepared because they have actually gained relevant experience, as opposed to just watching a video that may or may not cover the skills that are the most important to the student’s job.

Conclusion

Although employee training was once regarded as a non-essential cost that could be cut in the name of a healthier bottom line, organizations have begun to realize that employee training is an investment that can ultimately make the organization more profitable.

While it’s difficult to ignore stories of organizations that have spent millions of dollars on training with little appreciable return on their investment, it’s important to understand that some training methods have a far better track record than others.

Video-based training can be economical, but it’s far too easy for an employee to simply tune out. Even if the employee pays attention to the video courseware, they probably won’t retain very much of the information.

This lack of retention can be a huge problem. Humans by their very nature tend to be resistant to change. If an employee cannot remember the specifics of what they were recently taught, then they may simply abandon the teachings and go back to doing their job the same way that they did it in the past.

The best way to avoid ineffective training and to realize the maximum ROI for your training budget is to choose a training platform that helps the employee to remain engaged. An employee will be far more likely to learn the training material if they’re able to actively perform related tasks through the training platform.