Online training has shed the clunky, ineffective and painful process that was the norm just a few years ago. Technology, bandwidth, user familiarity and lower costs have converged to make today’s online training an integral part of any credible employee development program.

Savvy contractors are aggressively integrating online learning into their training curriculum that goes far beyond the usual compliance programs in safety and other mandatory subjects. Previously hard-to-teach subjects, such as supervisory skills, are finding a new home online. The payoff is having better trained employees while maintaining production because they aren’t pulled offsite for a few hours to complete training. While online training doesn’t replace face-to-face training in most cases, it can reduce and augment it.

When deciding what platform makes the most sense, think of it like building a house. The spectrum runs from self-performing the work all the way to hiring a custom builder to take care of everything. In the middle of the spectrum, the homeowner can serve as the general contractor and procure and oversee trades, or hire a builder. The same range of options and tradeoffs is true for online training. The buyer must balance quality and utility of the product versus cost and efficiency.

While it may sound good to buy do-it-yourself software for $99 per month, the harsh reality of being responsible for all the design, production and development sets in quickly. At the high end, it can cost $25,000 to license a system and then several thousand dollars an hour to integrate customized content into a cutting-edge interactive presentation. Providers go through a similar cost-benefit analysis when recommending a particular online system; their assessment of how the system will impact employees is something buyers should ask about.

Technology is rarely about the software or programming. It’s about the return on investment and what the technology enables a business to do. This is not an IT, HR or finance decision; it is a company-wide decision based on the needs of the organization.
Keep the following in mind when considering adopting an online training solution.
  • Full-motion video. Is the instructor talking to the user directly with integrated visuals? Steer clear of online learning with mind-numbing voice-over-PowerPoint presentations or bad recordings of live presentations.
  • Interactive questions. Does the platform engage students with questions or is it a one-way monologue? 
  • Progress quizzes. One of the best features of a quality online learning program is the ability to quiz the student in real time to assess progress. 
  • Content structured for online learning. The way people consume data and information in the virtual world is quite different than the real world, yet some online trainers have not updated the structure of
their programs.
  • Tracking mechanisms. Does the system allow users and managers to measure and monitor progress in a learning management system?
  • Language subtitles. Make sure training is available to students who are not fluent in English. Subtitles in non-English languages are the logical answer, but many programs do not offer
this option. 
  • User control. The ideal platform lets users choose how they want to interact with it administratively.
Twenty-first century employees are ready for online training. From older workers who use iPads so they can share family photos to younger employees who are digital natives, most are familiar with technology that didn’t exist a few years ago. The cost advantage gained from effective implementation of a blended employee development curriculum is compelling: Train more people for less money while maintaining production. Finally, new technology is creating real value in employee learning.

Wally Adamchik is president of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting, Raleigh, N.C. For more information, email or visit