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RBJ article highlights CNB's Allyson Roote

November 19, 2012

Re-evaluate approach to training, reap benefits from technology

by Candace Walters

Sal Khan, a former hedge fund manager in his 30s with degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Harvard University, is revolutionizing education quite by accident.

Identified in Fortune magazine as Bill Gates’ favorite teacher, Khan has become a Web sensation by creating the first world-class virtual school where, he says, “anyone can learn anything.” The school consists of a digital treasure chest of 3,400 free mini-lectures and tutorials on math, science and a range of other subjects. Gates, who reportedly soaked up Khan’s videos with his son, gave Khan a shout-out during a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival a couple of years ago, telling the crowd of 2,000 he was impressed with how much Khan was able to accomplish with very little in the way of resources.

Education experts today estimate that more than 6 million students watch hundreds of thousands of educational videos each month on YouTube, learning about subjects like basic algebra, organic chemistry, finance and economics. With that sort of reach, it’s no surprise that online education is seeping into the corporate training world.

I recently spoke with Kristen Fyfe, senior manager of communications for the American Society of Training and Development, about this change. She told me businesses around the world today are re-evaluating their approach to training and experimenting with how it is delivered.

“Just as technology is transforming everything else in our lives, it’s also transforming the way that companies are training and developing their workforces,” Fyfe says. “We work in a fast-paced business environment. We need to step away from a completely traditional approach to learning and leverage emerging technology.”

The frequency of training programs also is changing. A recent Deloitte Shift Index study, which looks at the dynamics changing our world, found that the work skills acquired during college have an expected shelf life of about five years. The need for continuous training, along with advances in technology, is creating new possibilities for companies to deliver training in ways that are cost-effective.

“Companies must commit to the idea that mobile training is here to stay, as well as company intranet, Facebook-type platforms and microblogging,” Fyfe says. She notes a great opportunity for companies to employ these social tools for learning—and also to use them as educational tools for training clients and business partners.

Real-world examples
Fyfe points to two examples of how forward-thinking organizations are capitalizing on new training technologies:
-Canada’s Telus Communications Co. sends out its line crews with video cameras. When the crew members encounter a new-to-them repair, they take a quick video and upload it to the company’s intranet. Subject matter experts are on call to provide advice. Fyfe says this is a great example of crowdsourcing.
-The Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain uses employee-generated videos as a learning tool. Restaurant servers record video explanations of how they successfully solved challenging situations on the job and upload them to a secure employee portal. Other servers at different sites around the country can then watch the videos and use the information when they find themselves in similar predicaments.

Many companies in the Rochester region also are leveraging technology to their advantage. Currently celebrating its 125th anniversary, Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Co. is steeped in history and tradition. But Allyson Roote, the bank’s vice president of training, says CNB takes a thoroughly modern approach to training its 450 employees who work in 23 branch locations.

“To stay current, we need to incorporate technology,” says Roote, who adds that technology use at CNB has reduced training costs and travel time. Roote emphasizes that traditional classroom-style learning will always have a place in CNB’s training strategy.

“It’s important to understand your audience and the different adult learning styles,” she explains. “Not everyone is going to want to train online, so companies need to make training accessible for everyone.” When companies take a completely virtual approach, training can sometimes be lost in translation because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and inability to communicate through body language, she says.

Blended approach
Combining face-to-face learning with webinars, blogging, emails, forums, video, online learning and social media may be the best course of action, says Sara Cegelski, a Rochester-based training and development consultant.

“While everyone is getting into apps and online training, the classroom is certainly not obsolete,” she says.

Cegelski, who also is a college instructor, uses blended learning tactics in her courses. Her graduate students meet in the classroom only four times during a quarter; the rest of the instruction occurs online. UsiUsing the college’s course management system, students submit drafts and other assignments, participate in threaded discussion with their peers, and post segments of their upcoming projects for feedback. This way students use in-person classroom time more effectively.

“Just as we’ve seen that online learning has greatly increased in university settings, it’s also booming in corporate training,” Cegelski says. “Today’s employees want instant gratification, and these technologies truly put learning at your fingertips.”

Gamification, the use of games for HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGEMENT
Candace Walters hands-on training, is another rapidly expanding area in the field. Games inject enthusiasm to the learning process, motivating students and employees alike. CNB, for example, uses interactive games to motivate learners, improve retention and emphasize the importance of teamwork, Roote says.

Telus, the Canadian telecom, uses computer games to create a three-dimensional virtual world, with avatars who train line crews to do complex repairs, Fyfe says. From simple computer e-learning applications to incredibly complex Second Life-type technology, the accessibility of online gaming is a growing force in the corporate training world.

As Gates mentioned in his comments about Khan, “teaching many people in a leveraged way” is important. While traditional classroom learning will continue to play a role in the corporate world, the availability of Web-based tools and the growth of the millennial generation in the workplace are changing how businesses, large and small, train employees.

Candace Walters is president of HR Works Inc., a human resource consulting and outsourcing firm providing on-site HR management, affirmative action plans, HRIS self-service technology, benefits administration, training and employee handbooks to clients throughout the U.S.