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Veteran Trainer Explores the List of Pros and Cons of e-Learning

Tara Furiani is an internationally experienced corporate training executive with over 12 years of comprehensive experiences with expertise in facilitation, trainer development, hospitality writing & reviewing, needs assessments, succession planning, blended learning, and instructional design. She’s an energetic champion of employee development and corporate communications; exceptionally savvy with LMS systems, e-learning, Internet and intranet communication platforms.

She is currently the Director of Training & Marketing for the Sterling Group, based in South Bend, IN. She began her career with a multi-family housing company in 1998, quickly advancing in both her company and the industry. In 2006, Tara was hand selected to join the Dale Carnegie organization to represent the organization to its most prestigious corporate clients throughout the world. Tara also offers her training and employee coaching services on a freelance basis and has had the opportunity to work in a variety of industries. Check her out at www.tarafuriani.com.

Q. So let’s get started, what are you responsibilities at The Sterling Group?

I lead both the training & marketing departments for the 300+ associates in 14 states, at the Sterling Group.

For training, I’m responsible for developing, implementing & facilitating the entire Sterling University course catalog; including classroom, self paced e-learning & virtual classrooms (webinars). Our course offerings include sales, leadership, customer service, on-boarding, Sterling culture & history, behavioral models, maintenance and marketing. Additionally, I was responsible for selecting our Learning Management System (Cultivate by 11Eleven Development).

For marketing, I’m responsible for overseeing the ABC program (which is a benchmarking report that monitors community performance), collateral creation (including brochures, signage, flyers, and various ads), press releases, social media, advertising, individual community websites, site events and corporate outreach.

Q. What are the advantages of e-learning and virtual classrooms?

The advantages of e-learning and virtual classrooms are abundant… for learners, facilitators and the company itself. Providing you have the ability to develop quality content and are fortunate enough to have top-notch facilitators on board, e-learning & virtual classrooms can provide the same experiences that live classrooms do: interaction, engagement, and an increased knowledge base for learners.

E-learning & virtual classrooms allow facilitators to escape from traveling to train, loads of prep work (hauling and/or buying hospitality items, prize, décor/room setup items, facilitator tools: tripod, flipcharts, projectors, laptop) and the long days in the classroom.

The obvious benefits a company would enjoy by using e-learning and virtual classrooms are pretty substantial… cost and time! Travel costs include air, hotel, rental car, and food, while time loss accounts for both training and traveling to training.

The lesser thought of benefits include: ● the ability to offer a wider range of courses in a shorter amount of time (via self paced e-learning & short instructor led webinars), ● the opportunity to offer cutting edge learning solutions for your associates development, ● the instant access that’s available for learners should they want a refresher or to advance their skill-set and ● the ability for learners to take charge of their professional education.

When you utilize a great LMS, like ours, the learners can see at a glance, what’s required, overdue or upcoming. They can also schedule reminders for themselves so they can space out their elective courses, but still stay on track with their personal goals. It’s very empowering for associates to be able to take charge of their development.

Q. E-learning definitely has a lot of pros, on the opposite side….are there any disadvantages?

There are certainly some disadvantages to e-learning… but I find that the pros outweigh the cons. Especially with technology evolving, everyday!

Some of those disadvantages include:

1. A lack of personalization. That human interaction is a huge component when successfully training learners. Everything from facial expressions to demonstrations play a role. One of the things we’re working on with our LMS providers is making it truly “virtual”… meaning the learners can see the facilitator, via webcam. We’ve tested it and found it to be well liked by participants. If you have an engaging and animated facilitator (topic depending, of course), this approach is just as impactful as classroom learning… mainly because that human “touch” is present. They aren’t just learning from a “bot”.

2. Another disadvantage, in my opinion, is the inability to perform the highly powerful act of role-playing. While it’s not a favorite among most learners… they quickly have a change of heart once they can see themselves growing, catch themselves before needing to be coached, get to try out new techniques in a non-threatening environment and find out firsthand how much easier/actionable/comfortable/etc… this “new” approach is.

3. Finally, not every associate is as computer savvy as the next. For some, the thought of e-learning or a virtual classroom can be both intimidating and disheartening. This is why having a comprehensive on-boarding process, which outlines the use of technology in training that the company uses, is paramount. It’s also mandatory to have a user friendly LMS system that is less tech (unless the associate base demands otherwise, of course) and more “lay-person”. Using an LMS that has both the functionality needed, while being easy enough for a non-computer user to use, is key.

Q. Do you have any tips for other Human Resource or Training & Development professionals?

Absolutely!

My advice to other HR and Training Professionals is to always remember that our job is 5-fold. We are responsible for providing the most current & relevant course content, hosting a supportive & encouraging learning environment, demonstrating real examples that participants can relate to, quickly establish our credibility as the SME and always remember who our audience is and just like we train (in sales), make the connection with everyone individually by adapting your style to suit the needs of your group.

Keep in mind that you’re the expert and it’s your responsibility to make each learner leaves with actionable “nuggets” of information to take back to their respective jobs.

At the end of the day… we’re touching lives. People remember both good and bad trainers… make sure yours leave wanting to take more of your courses and with the ability to really apply what they’ve learned to their jobs.

Q. What books, blogs, and/or magazines would you recommend for our human resources and training & development readers? Why do you recommend them?

I have a few favorite books that I would recommend, but admittedly I’m a little biased because of my experience with Dale Carnegie.

My all time favorite is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. So often, just going back to basics, is the ticket… this book is filled with insight into just being a good human being!

Another favorite book is called Telling Ain’t Training by Harold D. Stolovitch. It’s an easy read filled with humor and best of all… it’s actually practical.

Finally… I love the book Running Training Like A Business: Delivering Unmistakable Value. Since so many companies are quick to cut training when times are tough, this is great at providing trainers the ability to produce results and provide tangible business value for each dollar spent on training. Showing that training can be measured and isn’t as “subjective” as some insist is crucial to establishing your department as a business necessity.

I do a lot of writing on my personal HR & Training website: www.tarafuriani.com.

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