The Role Subject Matter Plays in the Decision to Offer Online Training
Gaver, Julie, Berge, Zane L., Distance Learning
A plethora of factors influence an organization's decision to offer training online. Now, more than ever, companies must seek innovative ways to support three major business goals: expense reduction, revenue generation, and regulatory compliance (Biech, 2009). Online training addresses these goals by affording employees increased flexibility and opportunities for learning, coupled with lower administrative costs. But does the subject matter influence the decision to offer training online versus face-to-face? Little, if any research has been performed on this topic. Does subject matter matter? After conducting in-depth, personal interviews with five human resource and training professionals whose companies offer online learning, our conclusion is "yes." There are certain subjects that these professionals view as being less effective if offered in an online environment. However, as this paper will reveal, necessity often trumps reason, and subject matter often takes a back seat to the reality of the need for convenience. But at what cost? As technology continues to evolve, creativity and innovation continue to play a prominent role in meeting the training and development needs of today's learner.
THE ROLE SUBJECT MATTER PLAYS IN THE DECISION TO OFFER ONLINE TRAINING
This article reports research involving the e-learning activity at five organizations: an institution of higher learning, a federal government agency, a state government agency, an international financial services organization, and a community hospital. Our interest was in determining what factors influence their organizations' decision to offer online training, specifically the role subject matter played in that decision making process. Because of the subjective and qualitative nature of this topic, the chosen methodology was in-person interview. This method allowed information to be obtained at a deeper level than could have been obtained through survey method and provided additional flexibility during the research process. At the requests of the human resources and training professionals interviewed, the organizations' names have been withheld and individual names are fictional.
EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT TRAINING AT AN INSTITUTION OF HIGHER LEARNING
The first interview was conducted with the director of workforce development and international programs for one of the largest providers of online education. This organization serves approximately 40,000 students as well as provides training for 31,000 employees who receive continuing professional development. The university recently initiated a program designed to help other educational institutions create online learning programs. In addition to the online university, nine "ground schools" (campuses) are located primarily in the Midwest. For the purposes of this research, we chose to focus specifically on the 31,000 employees requiring professional training and development.
Approximately 70% of the training offered to employees is online and the remaining 30% is offered face-to-face or blended, with most of that 30% representing a blended format. Their learning management system is a hybrid version that allows them to verify employee training activity for compliance and human resource reporting.
A limited number of courses are offered face-to-face because the university has determined that certain subject matter is more effective in person. In general terms, they include courses that require critical thinking or increased skills application. The decision to begin with a course online followed by a face-to-face session happens on occasion. This is done on a case-by-case basis. The organization has no concrete rules governing what merits this decision to utilize a hybrid or blended approach.
His philosophy regarding employee development training is "education lends itself to an online offering. Concepts can be taught online. Reinforcing application of skills sets, however, require an interactive, face-to-face environment for practice and demonstration of skill sets mastery" (Anderson interview, 2009). …