Training in the Post-Terrorism Era: The Events of September 11th Changed Employee Attitudes and Priorities, and Vastly Accelerated the Popularity of All Forms of Learning Technology

By Caudron, Shari | Talent Development, February 2002 | Go to article overview

Training in the Post-Terrorism Era: The Events of September 11th Changed Employee Attitudes and Priorities, and Vastly Accelerated the Popularity of All Forms of Learning Technology


Caudron, Shari, Talent Development


On September 11, most Americans listened on their way to work as the horror unfolded of the worst terrorist attack ever to occur on U.S. soil. The assaults on the World Trade Center and Pentagon resulted in thousands of lost lives, the shutdown of air travel, and worldwide concern about more terrorist attacks, possible bioterrorism, personal safety, and emergency preparedness.

Almost immediately, thousands of emergency workers and countless corporate employees needed to be educated on topics they'd never thought much about: anthrax contamination, building evacuation, and anti-terrorism. The challenge wasn't only how to train people quickly to understand those new issues, but also how to address ongoing learning concerns--both of which were complicated by a widespread fear of air travel and a lack of ready cash due to economic uncertainty. For many organizations, the solution to the training dilemma lay in the increased use of technology.

As in-person conferences and seminars were cancelled in record number following the attacks, training delivered via technical means continued without disruption. More important, technology enabled many organizations to deliver post-9, 11 content immediately to employees who were scrambling to understand the new environment.

For example, firefighters and emergency workers along the east coast and elsewhere turned to secure satellite broadcasts delivered by Primedia Workplace Learning to obtain information on such topics as bioterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and first-responder emergency preparedness. Operating at a high state of alert, there wasn't time to assemble emergency workers in a classroom and teach them everything they needed to know.

Primedia's satellite broadcasts, which organizations subscribe to much like an individual subscribes to home cable, let emergency workers receive vital information 24 hours a day at their own places of business. The satellite-delivered content was in such demand that Primedia went to live broadcast in the days and weeks following 9.11.

"We had cops and firefighters as our reporters and producers," says Josh Klarin, Primedia's president and CEO. "They were talking about decontamination and things that were important for emergency workers to know about this kind of situation." Because of the reach and immediacy of satellite broadcasts, Primedia was able to deliver focused content instantly to a specific audience in a geographically dispersed area. Subscriptions to the company's fire, emergency, and law enforcement learning networks shot up 35 percent.

Similar increases were experienced by companies involved in all kinds of training technology, including e-learning, videoconferencing, CD-ROMs, and content-management systems. Overnight, or so it seemed, the pumpkin of technology was transformed into a gleaming chariot ready to deliver companies to new cost-effective heights of learning efficiency. Of course, technology-based training has been idling at the curb for a long time, and usage in all forms has been steadily accelerating. But the events of 9.11 may have demonstrated to naysayers once and for all how reliable, cost-effective, and efficient the right training technology can be. Consequently, when it comes to corporate learning, the post-9.11 world will indeed never be the same.

Broad changes

Before taking a closer look at the impact of 9.11 on the use of training technologies, let's make note of several broad effects on corporate training. The most immediate, as everyone knows, was the widespread cancellation of training events due to fear of air travel. The American Management Association, which offers more than 200 courses in management, project planning, and other topics, experienced an immediate 30 percent drop in enrollment.

According to a study of 225 ASTD members, however, most learning professionals--72 percent--have felt little or no change in their job responsibilities. …

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