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Best Practices for HVAC E-Learning

May 30, 2011
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Counter Certification skills can be taught online and within the workplace, utilizing tools and resources familiar to the trainee.


Here’s a tidbit to make you feel even older and more alienated from the youth of America: According to Internet security company Anti-Virus Guard (AVG), more small children can play a computer game than ride a bike, and more children aged 2 to 5 can navigate a smartphone application than can tie their own shoelaces. Speaking of smartphones, the education nonprofit organization Project Tomorrow recently reported that 33 percent or more of today’s sixth graders actually own an application-based smartphone. When I was in sixth grade I collected stickers, not apps.

The acceleration rate of technology and the demand for new and evolutionary capabilities continues to be a defining characteristic of Generation Y, also known as Millennials. Since the introduction of Gen Y into the workforce about a decade ago, many businesses have struggled with the divergence of applied practices, skill sets, and work ethic of the various generations represented in the work environment. But the numbers do not lie - it is a general consensus that by 2025 the workforce will be predominately Gen Y employees.

While some businesses continue to deny that change is necessary, many others have come to accept the inevitable: Evaluation and modification of the current organizational model are necessary to meet the needs of this new younger workforce. Inventory, sales, and customer service business processes (for example) have experienced a rapid evolution to adapt and leverage newer technology. Employee learning as a business process should be no different. We must be capitalizing on the newer technology available to refine and better our learning processes.

I am happy to report e-learning has gained traction in the HVAC industry over the past several years as a viable platform for training. If ease of use and reduced costs are good reasons to implement an e-learning strategy, the bottom-line reason to implement or administer an e-learning program is simply that - your company’s bottom line. When properly executed, the implementation and utilization of an e-learning strategy results in stronger behavior changes at work than traditional learning and training models. This behavior change is a key consideration. All learning and development professionals will tell you that training increases an employee’s knowledge base and with this comes an increased level of confidence in his or her ability to perform, meet, and exceed goals. As a result, your business benefits when that individual puts that new knowledge into action. Although vital, the translation of knowledge into behavior change is not always easy. There are a few very important things to keep in mind as you implement and assess the effectiveness of an e-learning program.

DESIGNING A PROGRAM

First, consider your program design. You should align your e-learning initiatives (as you have traditional learning and development initiatives) with your business strategy and current business issues. If your core business strategy is to attract new customers, why spend your training dollars on something that isn’t designed to further this initiative? All training efforts should be developed in connection to your business goals to boost the bottom line.

Another element of your program design is ensuring the programs you select are appropriate for an e-learning format. Some programs and initiatives are more appropriate than others. When evaluating your options, if you are considering a large e-learning initiative, testing the concept via a learning pilot is highly recommended and provides you with the opportunity to compare your users and how they learn in a traditional setting versus an electronic setting. For a smaller project, a pilot is probably not necessary; however, due diligence on the appropriate learning format is recommended.

CHANGING BEHAVIOR

After the program selections have been determined, you should set appropriate goals for each trainee line with the desired outcome. Remember, as with any learning program, it’s not about knowing, it’s about doing. This refers to the behavior change I mentioned earlier. All programs should focus on the application of knowledge, not just the knowledge itself.

For example, imagine that you ask a counter employee to participate in an e-learning program with the goal of learning how to diffuse a hostile customer, but when faced with the situation, he or she is unable to apply any of the new knowledge. Unfortunately, the investment you made in this training did not produce the desired outcome and was not an effective use of your training dollars. Effective e-learning programs are those designed with behavior change in mind. Developing specific development plans for implementation after an e-learning program will result in the desired behavior change. An incentive structure aligned with developmental reviews for each trainee will reinforce your training investment. Incentives will also foster a positive outlook as each employee realizes the potential that training provides them for success and growth.

MEASURING RESULTS

When an employee finishes an e-learning program, it’s time to measure and evaluate the results. A great best practice is to use business metrics for evaluating and validating the learning.

Use numbers and statistics to show how your training initiatives have impacted the company’s important goals and strategies. If, for example, a review of your company indicates you currently have a 40 percent turnover rate for every new outside sales person, you can determine the financial benefit of an e-learning program targeted at this position. Assuming that it costs approximately $75,000 to hire a qualified sales person (including recruiting costs, ramp-up, lost productivity, missed opportunity, etc.), then determine how the training program affected turnover. If you reduce the turnover rate by 10 percent within the first year, this represents a $15,000 savings to your company. And you can quantify even more savings achieved by e-learning when you begin evaluating other metrics impacted by your initiative, such as reduced program costs.

PARTNERING FOR SUCCESS

Not every organization is equipped to create, deliver, and evaluate e-learning in-house. Partnering with internal and external vendors helps ensure program outcomes are delivered on time and align with your strategic goals and objectives. Many organizations, like Heating, Airconditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), offer e-learning programs with the ability to customize course and program options to meet varying levels of organizational need. By knowing your business, industry e-learning providers are able to offer the most effective content more cost effectively than what you could develop in-house.

Finally, as you consider an e-learning strategy, always remember that you are not an island. Just as your marketing team is connected to other marketing people, your education team should be doing the same. Groups comprised of instructors, administrators, and other HVACR industry personnel from across the United States, like the Council of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (CARE), can be excellent forums for collaboration. This is a great way to brainstorm ideas, learn from others' e-learning experiences, and learn from a group of your peers.

Remember, when you boil it down, a well-designed and properly executed e-learning program provides the same - if not better - results as a traditional training program would, but at a much lower cost.

Publication date: 05/30/2011

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