Denise Pirrotti Hummel

Trends in Employee Training: Online Global Learning Management

The training of employees is increasingly being taken over by online learning management systems. Five characteristics of these systems define best practices and lead to the best results.

by Denise Pirrotti Hummel, January 2013

As many know, the concept of learning management relates to the management of employee training. Traditionally, corporate training was administered live at a company’s headquarters or on-site at the employees’ location. In recent years, corporate training and the management of that training has evolved—the global trend is moving toward the use of a learning management system (LMS) online. A LMS is a software application or web-based technology that manages training or education. In the corporate world, it is intended to provide a way to create and deliver specialized content, monitor employee participation, and assess overall performance and completion of courses required by an employer for the professional development of employees in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Until recent years, it was not yet clear if online training would supersede live training as the preferred method of employers. After all, there is no substitute for the presence of a vibrant, well-informed educator to motivate, monitor, and assess a student participant. The economic downturn and fierce cost competition, however, has forced employers to seek out cost-effective solutions that also maximize an employee’s time-management flexibility.

As online technology becomes more and more sophisticated, we predict that live training will, in time, be relegated to the kind of training or professional development in which a motivational speaker and the advantages of human interaction are indispensable. For example, when a specific pain point or performance gap is identified, the use of a targeted executive coach becomes the more efficient “tool” toward closing that gap.

However, that doesn’t mean that corporations are satisfied with the current state of most LMSs. In 2005, LMSs represented a fragmented $500 million market, according to CLO Media. A Deloitte report from 2012 stated, “Few areas of the HR technology landscape are as established, fragmented and filled with customer dissatisfaction as the learning management systems (LMS) market.” According to a survey by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), the number of respondents who were very unsatisfied with an LMS purchase doubled; the number of those who were very satisfied decreased by 25 percent.

In short, an LMS is only as good as the learning design, technology, and methodology for delivery that governs it. In crafting our own LMS system, by piloting our program with clients throughout the world, we learned what our clients need and how to meet or exceed their expectations. Here are some of the critical factors we have found to define best practices in learning management systems:

Global: The system must be global enough in its content and delivery to accommodate the needs and expectations of international stakeholders. By that I mean that the interface must be that which the end user in a particular geography is used to seeing, so that the interaction between “man and machine” is seamless and does not interfere with the ability to absorb the content. The content must also be “regionalized” to resonate with the cultural expectations and norms of the end user in whatever part of the world it is being administered.

Consistent with up-to-date adult learning theory: The system must take into consideration cutting-edge adult learning theory, including providing information at appropriate intervals, pacing passive information acquisition with interactive learning, and providing repetition through interactive and visual modalities whenever possible.

Support portability and varied technical standards: The program, whenever possible, should be self-paced and tested in multiple formats, browsers, and devices. If the end-user can log in and log out from multiple computers or portable devices, this provides maximum flexibility for time management, particularly for executives who spend a fair amount of time travelling.

Support hybrid interaction: The program should provide the “human” element of interaction such as threaded discussions, video conferencing, internal corporate social media forums, or planned break-out sessions to confirm the usefulness of the knowledge and the effective application to the workplace. This way, continuous optimization of the content and the delivery mechanism can be established.

Agile: The system should have centralized and automated administration as well as self-guided services. It should be scalable, updatable in real time, and easily customized—including the ability to assemble and deliver learning content rapidly.

While we hope and expect that online learning platforms will never entirely eliminate the need for learned trainers to provide in-person guidance to critical professional development issues, we must be alert to a trend that has been established and use the platform when and if it is the best solution for the delivery of the content to the specific end user. We can then administer training in the form of coaching or round-table discussion to empower professionals when only face-to-face interaction will do.

Denise Pirrotti Hummel, J.D., is CEO of Universal Consensus (an Aon Hewitt Alliance), a cross-cultural management consulting and training firm.