Posted on October 7, 2008. Filed under: White Papers | Tags: , , , , |





Dr Michael A Kearsley



My own research with professional firms suggested that personal skills training was often neglected or even ignored. The average was less than two days a year, with many senior people receiving little or no training for long periods. The main reasons were those of time and cost.


To overcome these difficulties, many firms have been attracted to the concept of distance learning where trainees undertake their studies in their own homes or offices and at their own times. The first attraction is that staff are not absent from the workplace for a prolonged period of time. Additional to the loss of fees that this may entail, is the additional cost of travel and accommodation. Where external courses are essential, the training organisations have found themselves increasingly pressured by firms to reduce the length of training courses.


Unfortunately, this pressure has not pleased the training organisations (who often feel a decline in quality and commitment) – nor has it pleased the participants (who feel that they are being given a cheap option).


One of the difficulties with training courses, especially those that might run over a prolonged period of time, is their variability. It is difficult to maintain consistency when numbers of tutors may be involved, each using their own materials.


There is a further difficulty that only limited numbers of participants can be accommodated comfortably. Participants are also required to learn in a group interactive setting. Professionals, however, are often independent workers and many do not like group centered, prescriptive training courses; particularly where role playing and group presentation may be involved. Furthermore, many professionals are sceptical of personal development training and therefore avoid it.


Technical training, however, has often been seen in a different light. It is seen as practical, indeed essential, largely unchanging, and directly applicable. Nevertheless, as well as formal courses and on the job instructions, much technical training is also conducted via distance learning through a comprehensive system of manuals and texts.


Computer Based Training


Over time, there have been many efforts to move distance learning into the electronic age. The earliest attempts were via computer disks and later through CDs. This approach is best described as “computer based training”. It was good in so far as there was a consistency of message and of presentation, and hundreds if not thousands of participants could study in their own time and at their own pace. There were, however, a number of downsides.


The first was that not everyone had access to a personal computer. These were often expensive, bulky and slow. Early disks held a limited amount of information and could be easily damaged. The material was often simple text with limited diagrams, no graphics and no colour. Training courses were often programmed in such a way that it was impossible to move freely in them. The participants had to follow the flow of the course and could find themselves literally stopped at certain points because they had failed to provide exactly the right answer. With this method, there was no check on learning, no check on attitude to learning, no control of cheating and no relief from the boredom factor. Worse than this, the material was so difficult and expensive to prepare that it frequently went out of date or was lacking in up to the minute case studies and examples. The training was often limited, therefore, to lower level, repetitive tasks.


Essentially, what was missing, was the tutor who added their knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm to the training materials.


Today, computer based training can incorporate pictures, videos, and full colour interactive material. PCs are cheaper to purchase and provide a very fast and powerful tool. But the medium of the CD means that the participant is still limited to the content of the disk. There are, however, massive changes underway – it is the subject of this paper – the predicted revolution known as


Web Based Training


Web Based Training This concept is still very much in its infancy but it may come to revolutionise the entire training industry – not just for personal skills but for all aspects of learning and development.


My personal area of interest is in business development and so a case study from that area might be appropriate. The case study is WinWin Selling – a web based sales training offering created by Pat Weymes, an internationally recognised sales trainer and author based in Dublin. The package is currently being evaluated by a major commercial organisation. The basic approach is that participants conduct their training online through their own Internet connection. After registering, the participant is addressed personally and all messages and communications are transmitted through the personal email system.


The participant is provided with high quality, highly interactive material, which requires the submitting of exercises and comments. Each participant group will have a facilitator or tutor who is online. After submitting exercises, there is an automatic process of return but also the opportunity for the facilitator to add comments and suggest alternative approaches. The participant can contact the facilitator at any time during the program. Responses will often be in minutes.


Materials for the course can be modified and changed very quickly. Case studies and examples can be taken from the participants’ own work area. Areas of learning which are not relevant to the participants can be omitted whereas areas, which are particularly relevant, can be included. The entire program can thus be personalised to the group. There is little limitation on the numbers of people within a group and, unlike the classroom situation; every participant can have their questions or concerns answered personally.


The material is not only up to date it is also colourful and attractive and because the participant has the whole course online at any moment, they are able to move to any areas they wish. The facilitator can monitor the areas the student is accessing and determine whether there have been periods of inactivity. The speed of modern computer and modem systems is such that the programs run quickly, almost seamlessly.


Contributions from participants and from any others can be stored in a library and easily accessed. For example, a participant may have submitted their ideas with regard to the format and content of a successful proposal; they may then compare this with the contribution of all others who have ever taken the program.


Built into the program is the idea of the coffee room. This is a forum where participants may chat together asking questions, seeking clarification or simply presenting their views and approaches. An organisation may set up the coffee room so that past participants can contribute and potentially, others from management.


Currently the program provides details of further areas of research, which participants might like to access. A participant may be presented with the work of say Mehrabian, in the area of Influencing Skills, and be linked automatically to the Mehrabian website where complete descriptions and texts can be found..

Although currently the program does not provide sound or video, one can see that these will quickly become standard. This would allow participants to see and hear actual presentations, and perhaps observe colleagues in simulated client discussions (or even real client meetings).


The PC based camera is already available and people have been having telephone conversations through the Internet for some considerable time. In short, all the technology is here to make web based training a truly interactive experience. Better still, the online tutor or facilitator brings the final element from the classroom situation.


Even more importantly, the individual contribution and performance of every participant can be monitored. Participants must take part and must contribute in order to move through the program – they cannot remain passive and idle as may be the case with classroom training. They cannot rely on other people to dominate the conversation, thus letting them off the hook. They cannot wait for others to make contributions and then simply agree with has been proposed.

Individuals are tested and evaluated at various stages throughout the program and in the case of WinWin Selling, they are required to take a final test of all the material that has been covered. This requires opinion and thought. There is no pass or fail – rather, the tutor may suggest that they review certain sections again before resubmitting the exercise. There is no reason why these final exercises could not be linked to real issues or some real research, which would be of benefit to the organisation.


In short, the process can become as exciting and meaningful as the organisation wants it to be.


The Way Ahead


Having come this far, you might like to consider what else could possibly be developed. Without a doubt, new technology will mean even quicker response and faster links. The numbers and sophistication of these links grows enormously each day. Links to sites throughout the world, with full sound and colour, will become increasingly commonplace. Materials, once created, can be archived for all time. For example, one could have access to all presentations, role-plays, activities, tests and training records to the individual for entire groups throughout extended time.


Camera systems will link us immediately with whomever we wish. As monitor sizes improve, it will be possible to have very large split screen, multiple image monitors. Voice recognition systems will ensure that participants control all programs simply through voice commands. My present word processing package suggests that some things may be ungrammatical or may be misspelled. A step beyond this is for the system to suggest (probably verbally) that our writing style sounds rather negative or that certain phrases could be reinterpreted in a different way.

A final exciting step is when all PCs have access online to all archived public material – all libraries, all films and television programs and so on.


Final Thoughts


If the picture I am presenting comes into being; it will raise many interesting questions – What will happen to all the management development colleges? What will happen to all of the stand up trainers? What effect will it have on business travel and business accommodation? Will people still buy training books? What even of schools and universities and their teachers and lecturers?


The truth is, I don’t know. My purpose in writing this article was to present to you a trend which I see developing. I have presented one case study – you may find others. I would be interested if you do – as a long time antagonist of computer based training, I have found myself stimulated and excited by the prospect of Web based training. Are you?

About WinWin Selling


WinWin Selling® was set up in 1998 to provide quality sales training through the Internet. WWS rapidly achieved a world-wide reputation for delivering the highest standards of mentored online sales and customer care training.


We are a global team of professionals dedicated to providing the highest standards of mentored online learning to our international clients. We pride ourselves on being the first e-learning company to bring personalised coaching from subject matter experts to students across the globe.


We are currently building new courses to cope with the ever-increasing demand for our own special brand of soft skills learning through the Internet.




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