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PART FOUR: HIRING

E-learning brings new hires up to speed Add to ...

Over the past few weeks, we've been looking at online ways to find and lure new employees. Once an offer has been made and accepted, a desk and computer have been allocated, and everyone anxiously awaits the new hire’s arrival, the hard part is over.

Now all you have to do is bring them up to speed.

Training, whether it’s for new hires or seasoned veterans, is often one of the first things chopped when there’s a budget crunch.

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Yet, with today’s technology, companies can enable learning from the desktop at considerably lower cost than sending people offsite.

According to the American Society for Training and Development, that’s exactly what they’re doing. In 2009, 37 percent of all U.S. corporate training hours involved electronic technology, and Global Industry Analysts forecasts say that the global e-learning market will hit $107.3-billion (U.S.) by 2015.

There are, of course, many different flavours of e-learning, notes Kurt Tiltack, managing partner of Pathways Inc., a Toronto-based management consulting firm specializing in learning and development, and each has its place.

There’s the classic Web-based courseware we all think of when we hear the phrase, but instructor-led online training, webinars, sessions via Web meeting (using tools such as Cisco WebEx or Citrix GoToMeeting) and customized courseware also fall into the e-learning bucket.

Writer and educator Paul Lima adds to the list; he offers email-based “correspondence courses” to his clients, as well as hybrid classes, with online components supplementing classroom training.

But regardless of the delivery method, e-learning can save a business of any size both time and money.

It makes a lot of sense. Management guru Peter Drucker is said to have asked, “I wonder why a company pays to transport a 170-pound body 20 miles downtown when all it needs is the body’s three-pound brain.”

However, Mr. Tiltack says, wherever that brain is sitting, it needs to be engaged.

Sitting at a desk listening to a monologue or reading text just won’t cut it. “It’s not the way adults internalize information,” he says.

Mr. Lima agrees. “It’s kind of relentless,” he says, “like being back in university listening to a lecture.”

Instead, planning e-learning – or any other kind of training – should follow a set of best practices. And chief among them is to engage the student.

“The (online) experience, if done correctly, can be very powerful,” Mr. Tiltack says. “But the learner must be engaged. There should be an activity of some kind after every two or three slides.”

That activity can take one of many forms. It might be a mini-quiz, a drag-and -drop exercise or a case study. The important thing is that the student be required to do something, not just sit passively, without participation.

“You have to give students a change every 15 or 20 minutes,” Mr. Lima says. “People look forward the change of pace.”

Without that change, they tend to tune out.

That’s part of the challenge with e-learning.

In a classroom, the instructor can see eyes glazing over and students surreptitiously smuggling Blackberries under the table when the droning goes on too long. An e-learning designer has to anticipate the need for a switch to an activity.

Good e-learning should run no more than 20 to 30 minutes for each module. Mr. Tiltack recommends that courseware be as personalized to the customer as possible, so examples are meaningful to the student.

There is, of course, a cost to this but, he points out, once that customization is done, it can be reused as long as the information is still valid, at no extra charge.

“That’s value to small businesses without deep pockets,” he says. “The module stands on its own for a fair bit of time. And there’s no need to pay for a facility or an instructor.”

Many courses work fine out of the box; for example, Bill 168 training, in which people are taught what constitutes harassment in the workplace and what the law says about it, is probably general enough that a canned course is sufficient.

However, he adds, “a great e-learning designer understands how people learn. That’s what’s neat about e-learning – if you have a critical point to make, the audio can speak to it and the use can click on the slide for more information.”

The biggest mistake course developers make, he says, is not considering how people learn. They make modules too long, and think “interactive” means having the student click through animated slides.

“We learn by doing,” he points out. “If you want to hold the learners, they have to be engaged.”

That engagement can start even before a new hire walks in the door.

Mr. Tiltack says e-learning is an effective tool for onboarding, by introducing the new employee to a picture of the company culture, dress code and other critical information in a fun, interactive manner.

Getting that “you’re hired” call is exciting, and if the onboarding e-learning is done right, he says, “It gives a snapshot of the organization with appropriate punch to hold the new hire at the pinnacle of excitement.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Your Business website.

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