• Online Training: No Panacea But Has Advantages

    Aug. 1, 2008
    It would be a nice tool to have, but I feel that being in book form, I can take my studies anywhere I go without having to worry if I will have power

    “It would be a nice tool to have, but I feel that being in book form, I can take my studies anywhere I go without having to worry if I will have power or a connection for my laptop.” “I prefer books to looking at a screen.” — two comments from more than 100 student-employee replies to a survey about online training conducted by the HARDI Home Study Institute.

    Of course, there were replies from other students who indicated a very positive reaction to online training. So what are the issues? You can boil it down to this — training objectives, course content and design.

    Instructional Design

    Good classroom trainers spend a great deal of time developing a lesson plan, what overheads to use and how to involve students in the learning process — even to the point of how to arrange room seating for the class to interact best. Writing training manuals is no different, and so too with online training.

    We've all fallen asleep in a classroom, stopped reading a training manual we couldn't understand and clicked the mouse when we've had our fill of a confusing Internet screen. The instructional designer must take advantage of any delivery method and be aware of shortcomings. In a nutshell, key rules for online learning — don't use too much text, use animated visuals carefully and involve the student — are all accomplished in 50 minutes or less.

    HARDI home study students also pointed out the need for hard-copy reference materials, that training at their workstation may not be ideal (many interruptions), and combinations of Internet, home study manuals and classroom sessions may be appropriate — again based on training objectives. (Specialists call this blended learning.)

    A Distributor Learning Network

    Mindful of these comments, what are the real deliverables that online learning can provide and how? The key is an open platform Learning Management Systems (LMS).

    First, a definition:

    LMS is a software package that enables the management and delivery of online content to learners. Most LMS's are Web-based to facilitate “anytime, any place, any pace” access to learning content and administration. Typically, an LMS allows for learner registration, delivery of learning activities and learner assessment in an online environment.

    That's an official definition. In more practical terms, an LMS software system would support an online HARDI member service that would:

    • Allow HARDI employees to take online training/learning sessions with examinations and instant grading.
    • Allow HARDI members to track their own employee training (obtained from any source) using the HARDI learning management system. (Many viewed this ability as a highly valued service for companies of any size.)
    • Allow access to participating manufacturers' training (a manufacturer can, however, restrict open access).
    • Allow HARDI members access to third-party training such as software training, OSHA training, soft skills, etc., as reviewed and approved by the Education Committee.

    This digital management of learning can open improved opportunities for distributors to prepare (in-house) online training on company operations or deliver information on new products instantly throughout the company — with employee performance tracked every step of the way! How about informing employees about new company policies and then testing their understanding of them?

    Generic materials such as “The Cost to Carry Inventory” and “How Employees Can Impact the Bottom Line” are already in development by the Education Committee. The Committee's latest home study course, “Wholesaling 101 for HVACR Distributor Personnel,” will have an online presence with instant grading. So, collectively through the Education Committee, members can contribute to the development of scores of online sessions with universal application.

    One supplier noted that a HARDI online system could provide a common format to learning sessions that helps students get going without first trying to unravel the different “looks” that they often confront from different sources of online training. A small point, perhaps, but the entire idea of effective training is to make the learning process hassle-free for the student.

    The HARDI Education Committee will demonstrate the new online Distributor Learning Network during its meeting as part of the Annual Fall Conference, Oct. 25?28, 2008, in Phoenix, AZ.

    James “Bud” Healy is director of education for HARDI. Contact him at 614/488-1835 or [email protected].