The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- All right, has everyone gotten over the sexiness, inexpensiveness, and convenience of e-learning yet? It was sooooo alluring to think self-paced, ad hoc technology would drastically lessen, if not totally replace face-to-face, classroom/conference settings, and dynamic real-time interaction with fellow human beings.
Now reality's set in. E-learning is a nice compliment but isn't a substitute for instructor/facilitator-led old school. Why is this?
Despite all of the hoopla over technology -- in every phase of our business -- we still rise and fall on the ability of people to interact with, relate to and touch other people. Not even in accounting, billing, collections or other IT intensive function can we minimize the significance of a person-to-person meeting -- not emailing, texting or even voice mailing, but physically talking with another person. The ultimate joke I saw was a web-based course on interpersonal communications skills and team building. That's like learning to drive by CD . . . maybe it can be done, but there is certainly a quicker, more effective gain by actually getting in a car with an instructor.Lively, interactive, face-to-face learning remains the most effective method when dealing with team and co-worker skills, process, and content training. The key is to focus on outcomes. Content facilitators and instructors need to craft discussion sessions that provide real-world sharing among attendees. Perhaps when it comes to a cursory overview of a concept, technology suffices. However, true learning comes with trial and error, practice, and certainly an immersion in the real environment of distraction and interaction of co-workers, supervisors, etc. But the "old school" models of a stuffed shirt reading from a prepared script, armed with only research, statistics, and theoretical perspective, have to change. Some of the best known and best performing companies are also recognized for their approaches and attention to training and development -- coincidence? I don't think so. Such high achievers include: Abbott (ABT - Get Report), Procter & Gamble (PG - Get Report), Verizon (VZ - Get Report), Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report), Intel (INTC - Get Report) , McDonald's (MCD - Get Report), Steelcase (SCS - Get Report) and Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report). These and other companies continue to emphasize both content and delivery when it comes to initial and ongoing employee development initiatives. Here are four ways to bring back relevance and results in people development: 1. Align the objectives with a practical, real-world, professional instructor/facilitator: The days of professors spouting research from researchers and so-called experts who have ripped-off every Google entry on a subject, is no longer an option. Audiences ask and need answers to real situations from practitioners who have dealt with issues first hand, not by reading the latest book or article. 2. Get their attention vs. mandate engagement: Mandating attendance in a training session is much less effective than positioning the benefits of participation for both the success of the firm and the employee. Emphasize the personal and professional gains to someone who has been chosen to participate. Being chosen is always better than being forced. 3. Pace the learning: Don't drink from a fire hydrant. Continuity and consistency is better than one big exhaustive, multi-day event. To increase effectiveness and minimize travel, consider having a learning road show. Gather your presenters and have them systematically bring the training event to your locations in regional or local venues. Consider a bi-monthly or quarterly installation of road shows to ensure breaks in between, but with an emphasis on learning as a continuous process and focus of the company. 4. Don't look for smiley faces, but results: Feedback is good, a change in behavior is better. It's always nice to hear friendly and affirming comments, but seeing noticeable changes in attendees' conduct back in the workplace is the greatest measure. It is attitudes, team spirit, and significant improvements and feedback from customers that truly measures whether the training was impactful. And one more: Don't get hypnotized by hype or degrees: In today's business environment, MBA- and PhD-laden leaders have failed us at alarming rates. It's about principled, real-world, applicable knowledge, not theoretical case studies, process, or some other company's way of doing things. Corporate training should not be a return to high school or undergrad purgatory, but something exhilarating and challenging for experienced adults in a chosen profession. Forget cheap and convenient and up the ante to practical and effective -- you'll be glad you did and so will your people.