How Has Technology Changed Employee Training and Continuing Education?
Technology in business represents several opportunities—some of them cultural, and others satisfyingly measurable and profitable. The right technology in the right place can reduce human effort, but it also can sharpen your employees’ sense of emotional engagement. It’s a way to free up some of their daily bandwidth so they can focus on doing their jobs with distinction and thinking outside the box.
It begins with the hiring process, continues with employee onboarding and training, and follows through with a solid continuing education program. There are many ways you can use emerging technologies to improve and streamline training of all kinds, and plenty of ways to enjoy all the benefits.
Why Add Technology to the Mix?
To begin with, it’s not about replacing the human touch.
Your HR department, and your team leads, are always going to play a vital role in training new employees and developing existing ones. But scale becomes a concern. So does losing quality—and losing touch—as you attempt to maintain a single company culture, including a cohesive and focused training program across several locations or even the world, depending on how and where you do business.
It’s about bringing efficiency to that human touch—and, as we said above, engagement, too. Think about the logistical challenges, in companies with scores or hundreds of employees, of distributing training manuals, guidebooks, and culture documents by conventional—read: “made of paper”—means. It just makes good sense to pursue a solution that doesn’t have as huge a physical and environmental footprint.
So learning technology effectively solves three challenges.
It can help you sharpen and refine your employee development processes, and it can make your delivery of training and certification study and testing materials more efficient and less wasteful. Maybe most importantly, it helps you provide an engaging, memorable, and possibly even “gamified” training experience for team members. Gamifying compliance testing, for example, has yielded compelling results and helped cut costs—and potential liability.
Technology’s Role in Training and Developing New Employees
We’ve reached a point in the development of our trades and professions where even so-called “entry-level” jobs come with learning curves. That probably means packages of video content, guidebooks in printed or PDF form, and interactive tests and quizzes—some even required by law or optional clearances, depending on your industry—to help develop employees and pinpoint areas of weakness.
Technology is an obvious and welcome addition to training and learning protocols in a vast variety of industries.
Some of these opportunities are especially attractive for companies with many employees who telecommute, or who have a diverse geographical presence. Companies are becoming, on average, less centralized by the day—and have been for a while—with more remote employees than ever. It’s happening even in some unexpected fields, such as online pharmacies.
In cases like that, where a pharmacist might be performing some of the behind-the-counter due diligence from a home office, the importance of ongoing learning is especially keenly felt, since government regulations regularly, and rightly, change over time to protect consumers.
In any event, gathering a team from across a region or country means training a whole “class” of employees at a time. Distance learning techniques such as live teleconferencing and social dashboards mean employers can train even in several locations at once without losing anything in translation.
Technology’s Role in Ongoing Learning Opportunities
One of the best ways any company can show support for its employees is to invest in their development as professionals and human beings. With that in mind, workplace incentives and perks increasingly focus on tuition reimbursement. It’s easy for the modern employee to balance a part-time or even a full-time career with the workload of a few night classes.
Helping your team members clear the financial hurdle in higher learning can go a long way, and you don’t even have to lose them to a long commute or campus living. “Prestige” and trade schools alike now offer high-quality distance learning classes that perfectly mesh with the long-term development goals of companies large and small.
But there’s another option, too, and it concerns using technology to modernize your in-house training. This, too, is an engagement tactic. Most employees jump at the chance to learn something new or even operate a piece of equipment they currently don’t hold credentials for.
Consider the appeal of simulation-based training in three very different work environments:
- Material Handling and Warehousing: In material handling and warehousing, it’s common to train interested employees to operate heavy machinery, including order pickers and forklifts. Modern technology affords the opportunity to train employees in a realistic, no-risk environment. Doing so keeps all parties safe and lets your team gauge their interest and aptitude for new challenges in a non-threatening environment.
- Banking and High Finance: In the world of banking and high finance, even seasoned traders can benefit from convincing simulations that test one’s reflexes for buying and selling on a dime. The emergence of Bitcoin adds another interesting wrinkle and finds gamification entering the mix again to help prepare financial experts for this even more volatile form of currency.
- Medicine: In medicine, technologies such as augmented reality are making increasingly realistic medical simulations possible. There has been some protest about the value of such techniques, but many in the community maintain that even difficult medical and pharmacological concepts and methods can be learned through simulation.
Hands-on experience is vital in any field. But in many cases, we’re seeing technology make new skills and types of training more accessible than ever.
Technology Caters to All Fields and All Types of Learners
The message here is that technology is making high-value learning in the workplace not just possible, but also pleasant and more likely to be retained, for a wider variety of employees and types of learners. Not everybody takes in information the same way, but flexible platforms and immersion technologies such as augmented and virtual reality can break down barriers and help concepts stick.
It can help your employees “stick,” too. With your company taking engaging learning opportunities seriously, don’t be surprised when your teams have better emotional investments in your company.
Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance writer and STEM blogger. She regularly contributes to IMPO Magazine and Born2Invest. She also updates her own blog, Schooled By Science, every Tuesday and Thursday. Stay in touch by following her on Twitter or subscribing to her blog here.