Training in a Distributed World

Applying information is just as important as learning. However, what happens when large training classes can't work because employees are in offices spread throughout the state?

by / May 31, 1998
FREMONT, Calif. -- Your development staff just put the finishing touches on a brilliant new Web-based application. Tens of thousands were invested in the project, and several politicians are already talking it up in the media. It's sure to vastly improve your agency's productivity and increase the quality of service to citizens. Now all you have to do is help your two-person training department work out how to get all your staff fully trained on it within a three-week implementation window -- in all 30 locations scattered around the state.

This type of training problem is increasingly common as more distributed and Web-based applications are going live. Usually, it is not practical or possible to shut down a remote office and bring everyone to a central location for training, and it's logistically and financially impossible for trainers to visit all the remote sites. Such pressures push training departments toward distributed or Web-based training. In short, the world is going Web and taking training with it.

Even when a new application or procedure doesn't need to be exported to multiple locations, the Web is still often touted as the next great medium for training -- and it does have many potential advantages. Platform independence, multimedia capabilities, general ease of authorship and reliance on existing, not new, infrastructure have helped it flourish as a development platform. The same benefits may potentially facilitate distributed training. Nonetheless, it is also possible to get caught up in the excitement of Web technology and lose sight of the training goals.

Perhaps more important, all the things that make the Web so attractive as a development and distribution platform, can cause problems for trainers. Easily distributing information does no good unless there is a way to ensure users master the training materials. If anything, the Web provides a glut of data, making it difficult for users to separate the important from the trivial. "Just-in-time" and "distributed" training, then, require a standard method to ensure student proficiency.

Most training programs result in low retention of the training material and incomplete employee proficiency. The Gartner Group has studies showing that users retain 10 percent or less of what is taught in class. This creates problems and frustration for agencies, because when systems go live, users are slow and frequently make mistakes while attempting to learn new processes in the midst of already high-pressure jobs.

"The Web is a great tool, and many people are looking to it to solve the problems of 'distributed training' and 'just-in-time training,'" said Ingrid Gudenas, president of Effective Training Solutions (ETS) in Fremont, Calif., and current president of the Silicon Valley Chapter of the International Society for Performance Improvement. "But, too often, the focus is on the flashy, new technology, not on how to use that technology to train people who can fully and correctly do the job."

Gudenas, who has worked in corporate and government training for 20 years, began delivering 100% Proficiency Training six years ago. Dissatisfied with the lack of real proficiency produced by traditional training methods -- a lack that has transferred over to Web-based training -- she began delivering the method of self-paced learning. It results in employees who have all the necessary knowledge to do their jobs well, who are able to rapidly and correctly execute the actions on which they are trained and who can exercise good judgment. In short, they are proficient.

The 100% Proficiency Training system is based on research conducted by best-selling American author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1960s and published as a lecture series covering what Hubbard termed "study technology." This research showed that training results are improved by shifting responsibility for, and control of, learning to the student by setting the standard at 100 percent, by giving the student relevant learning skills and by changing the trainer's role from "teacher" and "trainer" to one of "coach" and "quality assurance." ETS provides trainers with a five-day program that teaches them how to consistently achieve 100-percent proficiency with their trainees.

"One of the key things we've learned by using 100% Proficiency Training is that it's not the bells and whistles that ensure training success," said Gudenas. "It's whether the student understands and masters the materials he or she is being asked to study -- whether he or she is gaining proficiency. The more proficiency gained, the happier the student and the more effective the employee."

Donald Kirkpatrick, the father of modern training evaluation, also views the Web as another medium for training, subject to the same constraints and rules as other media.

"I think my levels of evaluation apply however you might want to measure it," Kirkpatrick said. "I don't care whether you are talking about technical training or soft training, we have to measure technical skills. Are the people learning the skills we are training? It doesn't make any difference what kind of organization it is, people want to know: 'Are we getting our money's worth out of our training budget?'"

Moving a Hospital

Lee Chamblee is an education specialist with The University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the Houston Medical Center, and he faced a problem of training a large staff in a variety of skills in preparation for a move to a new hospital facility.

"We're expanding the hospital, and most of the inpatient side is moving into the new building," said Chamblee. "The staff is currently working on the old mainframe dumb terminals and, when we move into the new building, everything is going to be up and running on new PCs. Lots of people are not proficient in using a mouse and the new systems, so I'm coming up with [100% Proficiency modules] that give them an introduction to Windows 95 and PC basics and other ... modules for looking up patients and patient care within our system."

Chamblee selected the 100% Proficiency method after reviewing his options for training a total hospital staff of nearly 8,000. A week-long training course at ETS enabled him to begin designing his own modules.

"Because we are limited on instructors and classroom facilities -- we have only four classrooms and only 10 terminals in each -- it makes sense ...," stated Chamblee. "It will make it much faster to get them in and out."

"Using Hubbard's study technology, and its derivatives -- such as the 100% Proficiency method -- helps trainees get through courses faster, reduces the load on understaffed training departments and results in higher levels of competence than traditional training," ETS' Gudenas said. "These kinds of benefits can mean the difference between successful, manageable implementations and nightmare implementations that never seem to end.

"Perhaps even more important, in the world of shrinking budgets and increasing demands, our clients tell us [this] method is inexpensive to learn and multiplies training resources. When training responsibility is shifted from the trainer to the student, combined with 100% Proficiency programs, students not only get more out of their studies, they require less trainer time and attention," Gudenas said.

Throw Away the Paper

Cisco System's Peg Maddocks, training manager for Worldwide Manufacturing, recently completed a 100% Proficiency Training program that will be featured as a case study in the upcoming edition of Kirkpatrick's seminal work on training evaluation, Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels. (The new edition, published by Berrett-Kohler, is due out in early to mid summer.)

"We had a paper process for returning parts to vendors," said Maddocks. "There were about five different people who had to get involved, and the paper would get lost. We would try to return boards, and the vendor would say they didn't get them or lost the paperwork."skills and by changing the trainer's role from "teacher" and "trainer" to one of "coach" and "quality assurance." ETS provides trainers with a five-day program that teaches them how to consistently achieve 100-percent proficiency with their trainees.

"One of the key things we've learned by using 100% Proficiency Training is that it's not the bells and whistles that ensure training success," said Gudenas. "It's whether the student understands and masters the materials he or she is being asked to study -- whether he or she is gaining proficiency. The more proficiency gained, the happier the student and the more effective the employee."

Donald Kirkpatrick, the father of modern training evaluation, also views the Web as another medium for training, subject to the same constraints and rules as other media.

"I think my levels of evaluation apply however you might want to measure it," Kirkpatrick said. "I don't care whether you are talking about technical training or soft training, we have to measure technical skills. Are the people learning the skills we are training? It doesn't make any difference what kind of organization it is, people want to know: 'Are we getting our money's worth out of our training budget?'"

Moving a Hospital

Lee Chamblee is an education specialist with The University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the Houston Medical Center, and he faced a problem of training a large staff in a variety of skills in preparation for a move to a new hospital facility.

"We're expanding the hospital, and most of the inpatient side is moving into the new building," said Chamblee. "The staff is currently working on the old mainframe dumb terminals and, when we move into the new building, everything is going to be up and running on new PCs. Lots of people are not proficient in using a mouse and the new systems, so I'm coming up with [100% Proficiency modules] that give them an introduction to Windows 95 and PC basics and other ... modules for looking up patients and patient care within our system."

Chamblee selected the 100% Proficiency method after reviewing his options for training a total hospital staff of nearly 8,000. A week-long training course at ETS enabled him to begin designing his own modules.

"Because we are limited on instructors and classroom facilities -- we have only four classrooms and only 10 terminals in each -- it makes sense ...," stated Chamblee. "It will make it much faster to get them in and out."

"Using Hubbard's study technology, and its derivatives -- such as the 100% Proficiency method -- helps trainees get through courses faster, reduces the load on understaffed training departments and results in higher levels of competence than traditional training," ETS' Gudenas said. "These kinds of benefits can mean the difference between successful, manageable implementations and nightmare implementations that never seem to end.

"Perhaps even more important, in the world of shrinking budgets and increasing demands, our clients tell us [this] method is inexpensive to learn and multiplies training resources. When training responsibility is shifted from the trainer to the student, combined with 100% Proficiency programs, students not only get more out of their studies, they require less trainer time and attention," Gudenas said.

Throw Away the Paper

Cisco System's Peg Maddocks, training manager for Worldwide Manufacturing, recently completed a 100% Proficiency Training program that will be featured as a case study in the upcoming edition of Kirkpatrick's seminal work on training evaluation, Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels. (The new edition, published by Berrett-Kohler, is due out in early to mid summer.)

"We had a paper process for returning parts to vendors," said Maddocks. "There were about five different people who had to get involved, and the paper would get lost. We would try to return boards, and the vendor would say they didn't get them or lost the paperwork."

As a result, Cisco ended up with a significant, unnecessary cost at the end of each quarter. A new software program was brought in to reduce costs. Maddocks assumed responsibility for the training about a month before the new program went live.

"We trained the 130 people, and we shut off the paper within a three-week period," said Maddocks. "Now, when we do something new, people want 100% Proficiency modules. One group, which mostly focuses on IT processes, now trains everyone using 100% Proficiency. No more correcting errors and over-the-shoulder training that goes on for two [to] three months."

Four Levels

To put together the case study, Maddocks reviewed the training results using Kirkpatrick's four levels of training evaluation.

The first level -- how students like the training -- received high ratings on most items. The only significant complaint was that students sometimes needed to wait for practice data to be set up in the program so they could complete the required exercises.

The second level -- whether students learned the material -- is an integral part of the 100% Proficiency method. Quality control checkpoints throughout the training ensure each student becomes proficient and has a working knowledge of the material learned. "Lots of people do multiple-choice tests, which only tests whether you can read and do tests," noted Maddocks.

The third level -- whether the training changed on-the-job performance -- was measured on an individual and group level. "Cisco does a lot of measurement," said Maddocks, "so we could measure each employee's performance. Trainers and the cost accounting department noted a stunning and immediate reduction in the number of questions asked and were rarely asked to solve process problems anymore. The trainers told me they felt like the Maytag repairman."

The fourth level -- what impact the training had on the business -- was easy to see. After implementation, Cisco no longer had problems with returning parts to vendors and, more importantly, they eliminated all unnecessary costs within the same quarter in which the training was done. "Although training can't take credit for all of that," said Maddocks, "what would have happened without the 100% Proficiency Training is that we wouldn't have turned off the paper process so soon. The most important thing that happens with this method is that training that usually takes several months is significantly shortened."

Bells and Whistles

Training departments are virtually always understaffed. With new software and procedures being introduced almost continuously, the need for effective training has never been greater. What makes the situation even more difficult is that "distributed" and "just-in-time training" means trainers are expected to be everywhere at once.

The Web is an attractive and highly touted medium for solving such training challenges, but bells and whistles don't guarantee success. With 100% Proficiency Training, a growing number of agencies and departments are solving their distributed and just-in-time training problems economically, efficiently and with stellar results -- and without killing their training-department staff.

June Table of Contents