Since its invention, the flight simulator has exemplified how technology can be
used to provide relevant and cost-effective training. In the 1990s, many companies have seized on this example and attempted to migrate and expand the concept into the private sector. The first organizations to plunge into these uncharted waters were members of an elite club: huge corporations with significant training budgets. Left out of the mix were a majority of other organizations that, for reasons of cost or complexity, chose instead to dabble in distance learning but with little strategy or purpose. Today, using technologies such as the Internet, corporate intranets, CD-ROMs, and videoconferencing, employees are able to learn from around the world—and at a
fraction of the time and cost. The benefits don’t end there, as many studies have shown that new learning technologies increase learner achievement, forcing even the most traditional organizations to take notice. Technology-based training (TBT) is no longer a choice, but a competitive necessity.
STUDYING BEST PRACTICES IN TECHNOLOGY-BASED TRAINING
The purpose of this multicompany benchmarking study was to discover and examine best practices in the area of technology-based training. Five organizations were chosen for their “best practices” in TBT, and their processes and practices form the heart of this report. Benchmarking best practices can be a tricky subject. For one, the term best practice is often misleading—APQC does not claim to have identified the five top organizations in the world that are currently using technologybased training. Instead, these organizations should be considered best practice because they have done the best with the tools they have to work with. Creating a technology-based training function cannot be simply a “cut-and-paste” job. The organizations involved in this benchmarking project, both those sponsoring the research and those participating as best-practice organizations, understand and emphasize that fact. Therefore, what may be considered best practice for one company may be a not-so-good idea for another. Organizations that will get the most out of this report do not look for the one golden bullet to cure all of their technology-based training ills. Instead, the insights gleaned through the project should be used as a starting point to get out of the box and truly understand the change management process. With more than 20 top-notch firms participating in this research project, there is certainly no dearth of ideas to consider. This is where benchmarking best practices will provide the greatest benefit to the user.
The Technology-Based Training consortium benchmarking study began on July
23, 1998, with an organizing meeting in which the APQC study team, the subject matter expert, and the sponsor companies agreed upon the following study scope:
Focus Area I: Strategies for Technology-Based Training
Creating a Strategy. For technology-based training initiatives to be successful, trainers must first understand organizational goals to determine where the learning function can have the greatest impact on business results. These same trainers must also be aware of their organization’s existing information technology (IT) strategy to make sure that new initiatives will be in line with ongoing efforts and cost-effective for all involved. Producing results in this world of increasing complexity is not easy. Leadingedge
organizations look at the business drivers of training, enabling training
departments to identify and tap new funding sources necessary for technology-based initiatives. The ultimate goal is usually a well-rounded combination of traditional classroom teaching and cutting-edge learning technologies that maximize the benefits of each method.
The Evolving Training Team. As technology-based training’s role increases in
reference to learning strategies, the skills required of trainers must evolve. Additional expertise is necessary to make sure that the technologies in use are easily updated, maintained, and user-friendly. To provide this expertise, training departments often must collaborate with information systems departments. Trainers must also consider vendors and the extent to which control of the design process should be turned over to outsiders.
Focus Area II: Design and Delivery
Understanding the Capabilities of Technology. Good technology-based training is customized, readily available, just-in-time, and gets the learner excited and involved in the process. Additionally, the material should be presented in a framework that makes sense for users with varied skill and knowledge levels—that’s why today’s trainer must be aware of the benefits of each delivery method and how it will affect the way material is presented. Best-practice companies use one or more of the following methods:
- electronic text,
- interactive TV,
- floppy disk,
- Electronic Performance Support Systems,
- virtual reality, and
- delivery methods for video.
Guidelines for Choosing Technologies. Top organizations often use a checklist
to help them decide whether learning technologies should be applied to a specific learning objective. While this study will not deal with the complexities of conducting a full needs assessment, it will examine the broad guidelines organizations use for selecting learning technologies.
Focus Area III: Implementing and Achieving Results
Understanding the Human Side of Change. Regardless of the investment in hardware, technology-based training efforts will not pay off unless employees understand how and why to use the technology. Not surprisingly, employees may balk at the thought of learning outside of a classroom and away from their peers. As a result, best-practice organizations not only design programs that promote interaction and networking but also properly communicate the benefits of these programs to both top management and end users to ensure buy-in and ample return on investment. Measuring Results. If not managed properly, budgets for learning technologies can quickly spiral out of control. Though assessing the impact of learning technologies is a tough task, innovative organizations have developed ways to gauge how programs have benefited users—and how they benefit the overall business and the bottom line.
Based on the study scope, APQC conducted its research on technology-based
training. Key findings derived from the study are organized into three sections:
Section 1: Strategies for Technology-Based Training
1. TBT efforts at best-practice organizations are new initiatives often developed and managed by a centralized group with dedicated funding.
2. Best-practice organizations take an “enterprise” perspective when implementing TBT solutions.
3. Best-practice organizations recognize how training benefits from advances in
workplace technologies and exploit the opportunities created.
4. Successful planning, deployment, and operation of TBT requires strong ties with the IT function.
5. Flexible development and delivery strategies enable best-practice organizations to scale up or down as needed.
6. Best-practice organizations have aggressively exploited third-party course providers with solutions that can be network deployed.
Section 2: Design and Delivery
7. Since TBT is often delivered to “non-captive” audiences, the best-employed
solutions are targeted to be highly job-relevant (as defined by the learner).
8. TBT is not the be-all, end-all for training needs. Best-practice organizations recognize this and value a mixture of face-to-face and TBT offerings.
9. Best-practice organizations have been most successful with asynchronous TBT
delivery and plan to do more in this format.
10. Best-practice organizations use simple technologies well.
Section 3: Implementing and Achieving Results
11. Best-practice organizations build communications and relationship management into the full life cycle (opportunity identification, rollout, and ongoing operations) of a TBT product or service.
12. Best-practice organizations have evolved their evaluation approaches to take advantage of the capabilities of the new technology environment.
Benchmarking is the process of identifying, understanding, and adapting
outstanding practices from organizations anywhere in the world to help an organization improve its performance. Companies participating in benchmarking activities report breakthrough improvements due to direct and indirect improvements in cost control, quality, cycle time, and profits. Recognized as first of a list of 10 leading benchmarking organizations’ models by the European Center for Total Quality Management in 1995, the consortium methodology, developed in 1993, serves as one of the premier methods for successful benchmarking in the world. The project team conducted the Technology- Based Training study using its established benchmarking
methodology, as described below.
Phase 1: Planning
Phase 2: Collecting
Phase 3: Analyzing and Reporting
Phase 4: Adapting
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- Sponsor and Partner Organizations
A listing of the sponsor organizations in this study, as well as the best-practice (“partner”) organizations that were benchmarked for their innovation and advancement in leveraging the use of technology in training.
- Executive Summary
A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the key findings discovered and the methodology used throughout the course of the study. The findings are explored in detail in following sections.
An introduction to the topic of technology-based training and the study’s findings from the subject matter expert.
- Key Findings
An in-depth look at the 12 key findings of this study. The findings are supported by quantitative data and qualitative examples of practices employed by the partner organizations.
- Partner Organization Profiles
Background information on the partner organizations, as well as their innovative practices in using technology in training.