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How to Select Learning That Fits Your Business

As job roles change and workers take on expanded responsibilities, it has become more important for companies to offer professional development to help their teams keep up. Almost half of HR managers interviewed for a 2010 OfficeTeam survey cited training and developing employees as their greatest staffing concern.

But what’s the best training program? It depends. No single option will work for every organization. Factors such as goals, budget, time constraints and employee motivation can vary significantly from company to company. Many firms find that a combination of approaches works best.

The following are the advantages and disadvantages of some current methods:


Education via the Internet is one of the most popular options the learning market has to offer. Technology-based delivery of instruction rose from 29.2 percent of training in 2010 to 38.5 percent in 2011, according to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). This includes webinars, videos and virtual chats.

Advantages: E-learning is a cost-effective way for employees to learn at their own pace when they have the time. Information can be easily stored and accessed again in the future, and progress is recorded. Some programs offer instructor access via individual webcam or videoconferencing.

Disadvantages: E-learning programs that don’t offer personal interaction are not ideal for certain training needs. For instance, employees who need to improve public speaking or negotiation skills won’t receive face-to-face instructor feedback or benefit from working with others in a classroom setting. E-learning also typically requires staff to be self-motivated to complete the program.

In-house classroom training

HR managers polled in a separate 2012 OfficeTeam survey said the most common type of training they offer are on-site workshops, or “brown-bag” lunch sessions led by an instructor. Many of these classes are no longer lecture-style, however. Instructors may use simulations and interactive exercises to give participants practical experience.

Employers can consider providing background information to read before the session so everyone is prepared, or establishing follow-up activities. When Health Care Service Corp. set up a four-week program to allow employees to explore various business topics in virtual meetings with company vice presidents, it supplemented the sessions with independent assignments and message board discussions. As a result, 60 days after completing the program 88 percent of participants said they had used the knowledge gained.

Advantages: Instructors who are hand-selected by the company can guide the discussion and customize the content to suit the audience’s specific needs. There are opportunities for teamwork and interaction among the group.

Disadvantages: Time and expense may be involved in coordinating the program, particularly if employees must travel to the training site. Also, not everyone thrives in a classroom setting.

Conferences and Public Seminars

Most professional groups offer access to educational programs at local and national meetings.

Advantages: Conferences and seminars provided by associations tend to be targeted to the membership. These programs also provide opportunities for employees to network and share ideas with other attendees. Fees may be reduced if an employer already belongs to the sponsoring group.

Disadvantages: Travel expenses may limit the number of people who can be sent to the training. If conferences are large, staff may not benefit from interaction with speakers or instructors.

Executive Education Seminars

ASTD’s 2012 “State of the Industry Report” found that many companies are making managerial and supervisory content the top focus of learning and delivery programs. Universities and business schools often provide seminars and workshops for executives.

Advantages: Employees have the opportunity to learn from and talk to highly educated faculty. Staff also may collaborate and interact with other business leaders attending the sessions.

Disadvantages: Some courses may require executives to be away from the office for several days. The price tag can also be hefty, once class fees, hotel and meals over several days are considered.


Mentoring involves pairing more experienced employees with staff who are new to the company or need to improve skills.

Advantages: Establishing a mentoring program is a low- to no-cost option, which makes it attractive to many companies. As mentees improve their value to the firm, mentors also gain new leadership abilities. Training can easily be customized to suit individual needs.

Disadvantages: Mentoring requires careful planning. If mentoring isn’t well-executed, and poor matches among participants are made, the program will fail. Time also must be spent promoting the program so people know it’s available and want to get involved.

The most important factor to consider when selecting a training option is whether employees will actually use the program. Supervisors need to consider what makes the most sense for their teams, taking into account individual learning styles and work demands.

Regardless of which training method is used, an analysis of the program’s success is vital. Did staff actually improve their knowledge or skills? One way to find out is if managers give employees opportunities to apply newly acquired expertise in their jobs and then observe any changes.

Finally, participants also should be polled about their opinions of the completed training. Was it relevant? Did it meet their expectations? Such initial impressions can be a valuable complement along with input received from supervisors. It can also help to keep professional development programs timely and useful.

Robert Hosking is executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing organization specializing in the temporary placement of administrative and office support professionals. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.