While some argue that technology is no substitute for a good human instructor and that E-learning isn’t as powerful as classroom training, proponents counter that its cost and accessibility are hard to beat and that it is ideal for conveying fairly straightforward information and reaching large numbers of people quickly. Of course, its value depends largely on how it’s produced. Putting a classroom lecture online and calling it E-learning doesn’t advance the art of education much, but converting that lecture to an interactive learning session that employees can tackle when and where they need to just might. “The good financial training organization will blend various delivery strategies based upon the content that has to be delivered, the need for speed, and the location of the students,” says Rosenberg.
Kline agrees. General Mills delivers the first dozen or so modules in its new-hire orientation program online, she says, seeing that medium as ideal for material the company simply wants to communicate quickly. It then switches to a classroom environment for more-complex topics such as ethics and shareholder value. Those sessions include not just lectures and classroom discussions, but also situational exercises that require employee participation. Tod Christie, treasurer of $4 billion Sealed Air Corp., based in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, says his company has taken a similar multimethod approach. An off-the-shelf (but customizable) Web-based curriculum provides a foundation in good corporate-governance practices, while in-house seminars address career-development issues.
IBM is among those companies that hope to give employees access to the instruction they need, on demand, in the workplace. In an example of this on-demand vision, a finance employee reviewing contracts and transactions to assure appropriate revenue-recognition principles are applied could pull up an accounting rules Website, access a structured E-learning module for in-depth information, and link directly to internal experts or external authoritative Websites, all from his or her workstation.
Rosenberg says that sort of flexibility, while perhaps a luxury today, will soon be an imperative. “Learning financial skills cannot be relegated solely to the classroom,” he says. “There’s too much to know and the information changes too fast for people to be constantly called into class.”
The ultimate gauge of a training program’s effectiveness is whether it gets results, and to properly assess that, a company must do more than simply ask employees whether they liked a given program. “These days, you need objectives that are pushed up to a higher level — application and impact objectives,” says Jack Phillips, chairman of the ROI Institute Inc., a research, consulting, and benchmarking organization based in Birmingham, Alabama. “Application objectives show how you’ll use training on the job, and impact objectives say that when you do, this is what’s going to happen — greater productivity, faster cycle times, whatever. Without that kind of focus, people sometimes don’t apply what’s being learned. Training is not over until you do it right on the job and produce the results you expect.”
In short, decisions about training become easier as the metrics get harder.