An increasing number of companies are choosing e-training to up-skill their employees. Some will purchase specialized software and do the training in-house, sometimes to complement conventional in-class training. Pundits say no official evaluation of the e-training market exists at this point as it is still its infancy. They also believe that, while it has its advantages – such as cost-effectiveness, better time management and easier access to some resources – it will not supplant traditional training entirely.
While online training is not considered to have the same degree of efficiency compared to that delivered by an instructor in class, “we have to be aware of the change in the paradigm of values and learning methods of the new generation which is shifting more and more towards online content and information,” Cosmin Bordea, country HR lead at Microsoft Romania, tells Business Review. “I do not think there are companies on the Romanian market that resort only to online training,” adds Adriana Boscanici, managing partner of Trainart and member of HR Club. She tells BR that there are no official figures or studies to reveal the value of the e-training market. However, what is certain is that there is an increasing demand for online training, both from companies who want this type of coaching for their employees and from individuals.
There are various reasons for this. The advantages are obvious. First of all, costs are lower – the materials are in electronic format and the trainer is not present “live” in the room. Moreover, the company or trainee saves on the costs of transportation, accommodation and food for participants. But there are other benefits to e-training, aside from the obvious financial imperative: time is allotted to this activity in a much more flexible way, depending on the hours that each trainee has available and their preferred method of learning (with longer or shorter breaks for thinking, for example). Moreover, a company avoids taking its employees “out of service” for a number of days, in order to allow them to attend classes, says Boscanici.
Personal comfort is also a criterion that can be taken into consideration. “You can take part, in the comfort of your own home, in a multitude of discussions on topics that interest you which were not available before because of the lack of time that was necessary to go from one side of the city to another at peak hours, or even to go from one region to another,” says Corina State, marketing manager at Tradeville, which organizes free web seminars, or “webinars”, on share transactions, futures contracts, Forex and financial global instruments on the Romanian and international stock exchanges. A “webinar” will take about two hours, followed by a Q&A session with participants.
The advantages of this kind of training are connected to the standard conveyance of information and aptitudes: there is consistency in the information as well as in the way that the information is transmitted. “Trainees have access to a trainer who would otherwise hardly be accessible at all the Microsoft locations over the world. Another key component is the rapidity of the delivery,” says Bordea.
Online training, especially if it is accompanied by a forum where trainees and trainers can interact and exchange ideas, is more useful because it can make up for the loss of human interaction in the training room by up to 50 percent, says Boscanici.
However, this can have a flipside, with the lack of face-to-face human interaction being the most substantial disadvantage. “In my opinion, man is still a social being – as Aristotle used to say – and needs this type of interaction. I do not know what will happen in the future, but over the next 50-100 years, people will feel this need,” says Boscanici.
She adds that in order to counteract this effect, online training should be combined with training in the classroom. “Only in this way I think can e-training be an effective solution that yields results. I do not think, or at least I hope, that traditional training will be replaced by e-training, because then a large part of what makes us human would disappear,” she says.
At the moment, online training is the most in demand in fields with a technical component, where the abilities that must be developed are highly specific and answer questions of the type “how to,” explains Boscanici. But this is not necessarily a rule: there is also demand for e-training in domains such as sales, negotiation and communication. “However, for the latter, I believe online training should be accompanied by a face-to-face meeting between trainees and trainer to practice certain abilities. You can learn a good deal online, you can assimilate a great deal of knowledge and even abilities, but abilities should be properly tested and this cannot be done through online training,” she explains.
Bordea agrees that e-training can help a company save on the rent of the location, transportation, and the cost of the instructor. “However, having such a varied range of training as Microsoft, which must answer more and more complex needs for competences from ever increasing number of employees, it is impossible to realize only in the on-site version. This is why, at Microsoft, we have both online and on-site training, in regional locations or even in the locations where our employees work,” says Bordea. Typically, a Microsoft employee will have at least 10 hours’ online training a year. “At Microsoft, all the training is accessible to employees and the cost is covered by the company,” he says. “I estimate there are over 80 training courses just for the on-boarding area of our employees. The total number of online training courses is over 720,” he adds.
When it comes to measuring the efficiency of e-training, Bordea says that in the end, it is the impact on the business which is the real evaluation criteria, but this impact is hard to pinpoint.
Some companies choose to conduct the e-training of their employees in-house by acquiring specialized software. “However, a complex e-training solution is acquired by a company only if the number of employees is in the thousands, and training needs are very high, so the investment in this customized platform is justified,” says Boscanici. This is why in general, companies resort to external e-training solutions, because it is more cost- effective for them.
For a purchased and customized e-learning platform, the costs surpass those of traditional training but the investment is recovered in time. For an outsourced e-training solution, depending on the respective software, prices can be far cheaper than for on-site training, especially if this e-training does not come with the latter. “However, it is important that we ask ourselves what we want to achieve with e-training each time, so that the decision is made based on certain facts and not just the money. Online training will never be able to supplant training in class 100 percent,” concludes Boscanici.