Can Online Learning be Cost-Effective?

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Doing more with less is a common goal in business today, and that leads to some creative alternatives to traditional business practices such as employee training. That’s what makes remote mining an increasingly popular choice among many corporations. The use of the self-paced e-learning experience has grown tremendously because of the increasing costs in job training and conferences, as well as the growing importance of “quality” time spent on the job.

Web-based training is an “effective use of technology in a learning objective environment,” says Vince Rowe, general manager of the Americas for KnowledgePool Inc., a consulting and training firm based in California.

Although it is an alternative to traditional training, online training covers many facets in the corporate structure, including clinical training (new clinical procedures and laws), administrative training (word processing programs, new procedures or practices regarding the support staff or other administrative personnel), human resources training (sexual harassment, appropriate use of e-mail), and compliance training.

Compliance training ensures that the employees are familiar with and comprehend the legalities of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – or any other accreditation organization that the corporation might adhere to, explains Dave Simon, president of WeComply Inc., a New York-based law firm that trains corporations in the legal aspects of HIPAA compliance.

“The most compelling argument in favor of Web-based training is that it is cost effective for a corporation to put a program online and have the employees take the training rather than ‘herding’ a large group in a conference or flying in a presenter,” he says.

Flexible Spending

The actual cost of remote training can range from $15 an hour per person to $50 an hour per person, whereas conferences requiring people to gather from all over the country (or even worldwide) could cost a company thousands of dollars.

“The corporation also sees a quicker return on their investment,” says Bellinda Minkener ofV4 Consulting, an Indiana-based consultancy that specializes in Healthcare.

Maintaining the consistency of the training message is an added benefit of the Web-based method.

“Web learning offers a consistent message on a consistent platform,” Minkener says. When an employee learns the material in an educational or conference setting, the message often is delivered with different ideas, perceptions or biases, depending on the instructor. When the program is delivered via a vehicle such as the Internet, it can be presented in the exact same way to an infinite number of trainees, which helps to increase consistency of the training message.

But like many other “disruptive” technologies – those that provide a significant departure from the status quo – Simon admits that there are some drawbacks as well. Que is the fact that many trainees never bother to finish the course completely. Because there is no direct personal interaction, finding new ways to keep the programs engaging and compelling often can be a challenge.

One of the most overlooked disadvantages of online training is the “inability to teach actual motor skills or soft skills, meaning facial expressions, tone of voice, et cetera,” Minkener says – a set of factors that Rowe refers to as the “human touch.”

Training Is Mandatory

However, the increasing liability corporations face make Web-based training a viable option. The tracking capabilities for online courses are almost limitless. Simon points out that many corporations are required to train their employees in certain areas, including sexual harassment, confidentiality and compliance of new laws and regulations. Therefore, the need for supervisors to be able to check on the course completion and have it documented that a person did in fact take the course is a necessity.

The majority of these online programs are password-protected and require the trainee to log into the program. This process documents the date and time the training was taken, whether or not the individual finished the program, and what they scored on the test following the training. Such concrete documentation provides some protection from liability by proving the company offered the training to the individuals, and it leaves an electronic paper trail as proof.

“This is still such a new way of thinking for many,” Simon says. “But with the slowing economy, the cost savings really are becoming an increasingly important issue.”

Minkener says that although the process of online training is not completely streamlined yet. she believes that it has unlimited possibilities. Its ability to provide training to large groups of people, and the flexibility it offers, make it an alternative whose acceptance is growing, she says.

“The number one [hindrance] to e-learning deployment is the lack of interactivity.”

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