Pros and Cons of Online Training for Employees

Acceleration is possibly the biggest challenge facing companies in today’s tech industry. It seems that new technologies, programming languages, and even thought paradigms emerge almost daily. As the pace of innovation continues to accelerate, what can you do to keep your staff up-to-date with the skills and knowledge they need to stay competitive?

The growth of big data

In the mid-1990s, several papers were published identifying a paradigm shift in how we store data and the emerging challenge of dealing with “big data”. In 2003, a paper published in the IBM Systems Journal concluded that digital data storage became more cost effective than paper storage as early as 1996.

In 2000, global digital data storage topped out around 1.5 exabytes (1.5 billion gigabytes). By 2018 that number had grown to something like 2.7 zettabytes (2.7 trillion gigabytes). This means that in less than 20 years, the amount of digital data increased 1800 times.

According to a report released by IDC, there is expected to be around 40 zettabytes (40 trillion gigabytes) of data stored digitally by 2020. That means that the vast majority of data that currently exists was recorded in the last two years.

big data

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The advance of data science, machine learning, and AI

As the quantity of data collected continues to explode, the technologies needed to make use of all that data have kept pace.

In December 1999, Jacob Zahavi, a professor at Wharton college, mentioned in an interview that “special data mining tools may have to be developed to address web-site decisions.”. Twenty years later in 2019, we have become so used to advanced applications of data science, machine learning and AI implementations in our daily lives that we often don’t even notice their presence. Big data is no longer a challenge of the future, it’s a staple of highly profitable business strategies.

The exponential growth of technological innovation has allowed humanity to achieve things that were unthinkable just two decades ago. On the other hand, the rapid pace of change in the tech industry poses a major challenge for big companies. The pressure to keep your workforce up-to-date, and to keep your hiring managers knowledgeable enough to select employees with current skillsets, is an increasing challenge for HR training and development departments.

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Using online training to solve the acceleration problem

One way that companies have tackled the challenge of constant acceleration in tech is to use online training services like Pluralsight to allow their employees to access asynchronous Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Pluralsight provides courses based on video lectures that usually include some interactive exercises and downloadable materials. The biggest benefit of Pluralsight against their top competitors such as Udemy, Coursera, and others, is the company’s tailored experience for tech industry professionals and corporate training departments.

By offering MOOC training packages to their employees, companies can provide a platform for their employees to learn new skills, or keep up with continuing education in their current fields. Many companies these days are offering Pluralsight subscriptions as part of a standard package for all employees. This is such a valuable practice that many job-seekers in fast changing technology professions look for Pluralsight subscriptions as an offered perk during their job search.

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Is online training right for your employees

Transitioning to a fully online training program can be a big challenge, and it brings with it some significant challenges. This style of training isn’t right for every industry, or for the personality and learning style of every employee. Even more challenging could be the task of convincing your board to let go of traditional training paradigms in favor of a relatively new approach.

In this guide, we’ll explore in detail some of the major benefits and disadvantages of online training for employees in technology professions. So, read for more information if you’re thinking about changing your company’s approach to training, or if you’re a tech professional looking to add some new skills to your resume.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Training for Employees

Whether your a tech professional interested in adding skills to your resume, or a training manager for a company that wants to diversity their approach to employee development, online training has many advantages (and some disadvantages). In this guide, we’ll look at some of the key features of online training and how they relate to common training and development goals in the tech space. Each section will be labeled as either an advantage or a disadvantage.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Training for Employees

Benefit – Lower Cost

For most training managers, the first potential benefit of a service like Pluralsight is the savings over maintaining an in-house training department.

According to Glassdoor.com, salaries for corporate trainerrs range from $37k and $92k per year. If you have a large software development company, you will likely need constant training services in order to keep your staff up to date. If you’ve got a lot of developers, you’ll need more than one trainer to accommodate them. It’s easy to see how maintaining an in-house training and development department can get really expensive really quickly. And that’s just the cost of labor, not to mention all of the infrastructure, teaching materials, and downtime for your staff as they complete training.

Companies like Pluralsight reduce the cost of training dramatically by consolidating the infrastructure costs, and allowing you to outsource the burden of hiring and managing training professionals. Your employees can complete trainings from their own desks and at their own pace, which reduces the impact of loss productivity from time spent in formal classroom training.

Challenge – Companies in Bleeding Edge Tech

If you’re working in an industry of specialization that’s ahead of the curve, you might find it difficult to locate online courses that offer new information for your workforce. Since MOOCs are developed to benefit a large number of people, the most available content will focus on commonly-used technologies and widely adopted techniques. That doesn’t mean you can’t find bleeding edge topics on online training platforms, but you might have to work a little harder to find them.

If you’re so far ahead of the pack that no one is providing courses that interest you, maybe you should consider producing your own course! Pluralsight has pretty stringent requirements for instructors, but instructors with highly specialized knowledge are in demand.

Benefit – Reduced Administrative Burden

In addition to outright cost, running your own training department places a significant burden on your human resources department. With in-house training, HR needs to interface with the training department to track employee metrics, conduct reviews of training staff, and all of the other things that go along with operating a department.

By outsourcing training, your HR department is relieved of almost all of the work of tracking progress. Pluralsight is especially powerful in this aspect with their extremely detailed and insightful tracking and reporting options. When using external training resources like Pluralsight, HR burden can potentially be reduced to a simple checklist of skills. When the training for a given employee reaches a pre-determined minimum level, HR simple checks off that they have completed that module and moves on with their day. No more internal reviews and verification of training quality, that’s all done by Pluralsight.

Challenge – Accessibility for Employees with Disabilities

Hearing and vision disabilities can be a significant challenge for learners taking online courses. If you require your staff to use distributed training like Massively Open Online Courses, make sure there is always a course option available that can accommodate any accessibility issues your employees might face.

Many platforms provide closed captioning for hearing impaired individuals, but this is just one of the many challenges you may face related to accessibility.

Benefit – Access to World Class Instructors

With all Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) providers you will encounter a variety of experience levels and teaching abilities among instructors. That said, platforms like Pluralsight and Udemy offer plenty of courses that are led by industry-leading professionals, professors from top universities, and other extremely well-qualified educators.

Bringing the caliber of instructors you can find on Pluralsight in-house is an unattainable goal for any company other than the big players like Microsoft and Google. By signing up a for an inexpensive corporate subscription plan on Pluralsight you get access to these incredible instructors for a tiny fraction of the cost that of bringing them onsite even for a temporary engagement.

Challenge – Monitoring of Instructor Quality

If you allow your employees to choose their own courses, you’ll need a metric for evaluating the quality of the instructor they choose to learn from. Outsourcing training necessarily means you have reduced direct involvement with the way a course is delivered. This is both a benefit and a challenge associated with MOOCs in corporate training environments.

Benefit – Guidance from Training and Development Experts

Along with access to leading instructors, Pluralsight also provides the benefit of their years of high level training and development experience.

Pluralsight has been around since 2004 and started out as a provider of onsite classroom training. They have grown rapidly over the last 15 years and now provide their professional training expertise as an accompaniment to the high quality video course on their platform.

Benefit – Easy Pivoting

By using online training platforms like Pluralsight, your company is freed from the burden of having to pivot an in-house training program every time the wind changes. Staying on course in technology training requires rapidly responding to industry trends, and knowing about up and coming tech far enough ahead that your training team is able to develop programs teaching materials to tackle it.

MOOCs on platforms like Pluralsight, Udemy and others are developed and constantly updated by the instructors themselves. Using a massively open training platform is like crowdsourcing education. The chance of missing a key industry development because your training is overburdened or can’t pivot quickly enough becomes a thing of the past when you tap into the distributed nature of an online course platform.

Benefit – Self-Directed Learning

Flexible scheduling is one great benefit to employees in online learning, but possibly an even bigger advantage is the flexibility that MOOCs offer in terms of learning style.

By allowing your employees access to a range of different courses on a given topic, platforms like Pluralsight let individual employees pursue topics in the way that best suits their personal approach to learning.

Challenge – Limited Interaction and Collaboration

One of the most attractive features of online training can also be a big disadvantage in some cases. By delivering training asynchronously to individual learners, the collaboration and social benefit of classroom training is lost. Isolation and siloing of individual employees can have a serious negative effect on morale and motivation for some employees. For this reason, keeping some in-person training in your employee development program can be beneficial.

Benefit – Consistency

In cases where lots of employees need to receive the same information in a very consistent format, MOOCs are an ideal delivery platform. Let’s say you have hundreds of employees located in several different locations around the country and you need them to learn a very complex and precise new policy. With traditional classroom training, this might require sending an individual training professional to multiple locations over the course of days or weeks to ensure the material is covered consistently. Alternatively, you might choose the train-the-trainer approach and spend time and money training and vetting a team that will distribute the information simultaneously in all locations.

Whichever approach you take with traditional classroom training, you will face either extended timeframes for completing training, or potential for reduced clarity and consistency across the different training locations.

By delivering this kind of training via an online teaching platform, a single expert instructor can deliver the policy update to every employee in all locations simultaneously without even leaving the comfort of their home office.

Challenge – Employees with Different Learning Styles

Some people just don’t do well with online learning. Learners who respond to social engagement and direct feedback may find MOOCs more of a burden than a benefit. A person’s approach to learning is not easy to manage or alter, so switching to an entirely online training program may leave some of your employees in the cold.

Benefit – Metrics and Tracking

The best online training platforms provide extensive tracking and metrics for managing student progress. Pluralsight in particular provides extremely valuable and meaningful metrics and makes all kinds of data available for training managers in your company to use. Aggregating progress tracking, exam scores, aptitude levels, skill evaluations, and tons of other metrics is super easy with Pluralsight’s tools.

Challenge – Managing Metrics and Evaluations

If you work with a platform that doesn’t provide extensive training management services, your company will still need to develop a system for tracking metrics, verifying quality of instructors, and other administrative tasks associated with training and development. This cuts into the advantages for online training by increasing costs, and reducing your ability to directly verify that your staff is receiving consistent and effective instruction.

Pluralsight is one online training platform where this lack of direct contact is not a concern. They provide a variety of tools to help you guarantee effectiveness of your training program, including consulting and advice from training and development experts.

Benefit – Can be Offered as a Perk

One of the unexpected benefits of online training is that it can be offered as a perk, rather than a requirement. Tell your employees that they’re required to sit in a classroom for a certain number of hours each month for continuing education and their eyes glaze over. Offer them the opportunity to access world class training in a wide variety of topics that will propel them forward in their career, and you have a valuable hiring incentive.

Not convinced that job seekers see access to training as an incentive? Try a quick search for Pluralsight on Indeed or Glassdoor.

Challenge – Increased Network Infrastructure Burden

In this age of bottomless bandwidth, we don’t often worry too much about network capacity. But if you have a large staff that are all accessing online courses during the workday, that’s a lot of streaming video. While online courses make it possible to take training home with them, your employees might also choose to access their video lectures while they’re onsite. Make sure you know what burden this will add to your network infrastructure, and have reasonable usage policies in place to make sure you don’t run into problems.

Challenge – Interactive Courses Cause Potential IP Issues

Whenever your employees interact with other professionals in their field there is the potential for IP to leak. It’s natural for highly-skilled professionals to discuss their work with others, and this can lead to problems with IP security in unsupervised scenarios like an online course. While most MOOCs are fairly one-sided and don’t involve student-to-student interaction, it is still a good idea to have very clear policies and procedures in place for what your employees can discuss in their online classroom. This is especially important because online training can often blur the line between internal and public interaction.

Benefit – Adaptable to Employee Schedules

Requiring employees to attend frequent classroom training is a huge burden on productivity. The most passionate and dedicated employees will be willing to attend training outside of regular work hours, but this has a negative impact on their all-important work life balance. You want your staff to be able to stay current on new tech without impeding their personal happiness or their ability to do their work.

MOOCs allow individual employees to approach learning on their own schedule from anywhere they like. Rather than having to give up a weekend to attend a seminar, or skip a team meeting to spend four hours in a classroom during the workday, an employee might work through an online course five minutes at a time during their regular workday. They might choose to complete exercises for their course while they zone out in front of the TV at home.

Whatever an individual’s personal schedule demands, online courses are much easier to fit into daily schedules.

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Conclusion

After reading this guide, you probably noticed that are more benefits listed than disadvantages. The truth is that online training is not right for every situation, but it is an excellent option for large scale training, especially in tech industries topics like programming languages, software development skills, computer networking and security, and project management.

If online training seems like the right fit for your organization, check out Pluralsight today. And hey, if you use this handy affiliate link, you’ll help ensure that this blog can continue to provide the kind of useful insights and guidance that you found in this post.

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