The learning technologies on the market today offer learning leaders and their organizations powerful capabilities, ranging from creating and developing learning programs to delivering and reinforcing training to tracking and reporting the impact of learning efforts. However, if you stopped and asked a training manager, many would probably tell you they spend more time struggling against these technologies than leveraging them to streamline processes and drive business results.
For over a decade, Training Industry, Inc. has done just that — stopped to ask thousands of training professionals regarding the capabilities and best practices of great training organizations. And, although technology integration is ranked sixth on the list of process capabilities for great training organizations, it is still critical to the success of effective learning organizations.
“[Technology integration] helps to keep everyone connected to the information they need,” says Kenneth Baucum, CPTM, organizational development manager at SageNet. “The days of having paper binders full of information are behind us. We need to be able to have access to that information quickly.”
While a little over 26% of the training managers Training Industry surveyed feel technology integration is critical to their training organization’s success, only 10.5% feel confident in their ability to implement effective integration practices. Let’s explore a few ways learning leaders can enhance their approach to integrating learning technologies while strengthening relationships across business functions and increasing accessibility to the information employees need most.
Build Relationships With Your IT Department
Much like training departments, information technology (IT) teams are often viewed by stakeholders as cost and order fulfillment centers rather than a value-adding function of the business. However, Dr. Bill Brantley, CPTM, senior human resources specialist at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, says, “Your training is what gets your leaders there; your IT is what’s helping keep [the business functioning]
Undetectable technology integration is the goal. However, frequent communication with and a firm understanding of the needs and goals of your IT department are the means of achieving seamless integration. “By forging that relationship and building that trust between IT and [human resources (HR)] and the rest of the business, [you enable] everyone to communicate more clearly [and] understand what the left hand is doing with the right and for everyone to be on the same page to help collectively work toward those business goals,” says Baucum.
Ensure Communication Between Technologies
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic was shortly followed by the appearance of terms like “Zoom fatigue” to describe the burnout employees experience after a full day of virtual meetings and interactions. Similarly, Brantley says, employees also experience “tool fatigue”: “If I want to do this, I have to go to this system. But if I want to do this, I have to go into another system … By the time I’m finished, I’ve got about 10 different systems with their own different interfaces open. And I’ve got to remember how each one works.”
This situation creates a significant strain on employees’ ability to focus on the task at hand, as they’re required to multitask among platforms. Great training organizations “cut down the cognitive load” for employees by ensuring technologies are compatible and operate symbiotically, says Brantley.
Additionally, communication between technologies ensures that learning leaders are not mining and duplicating the same data and metrics. Brantley says that often, learning leaders have “these pools of data that are isolated and separate,” but to effectively track learning and prove impact, learning leaders “need to know what [learners have] taken, when they’ve taken it and what they’ve done on it so [leaders] can say, ‘They’ve mastered this.’”
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, communication between and optimization of technologies and platforms ensures that learners spend less time on technical difficulties, easing stress and increasing productivity for remote workers.
Don’t Become Distracted by the Latest and Greatest
At the end of the day, it isn’t about buying the flashiest or most modern technologies with the sleekest interfaces. In fact, Baucum says, “Anytime we had an integration that went poorly, it always came back to not focusing on the business need or the users’ need. It ended up being a hastily made decision to buy something that was cheap and easy without actually going through and figuring out what the needs were.”
However, “if you do stop and you ask the right questions of your stakeholders, of the users of the platform, and you build … with those people in mind, it works a whole lot better,” says Baucum. Taking the time to ask stakeholders questions ensures that learning leaders have a clear understanding of the problem, helping them to align technology solutions to critical business needs.
At Amtrak, infrastructure and the need to comply with government regulations place unique and difficult constraints on the training technologies and methodologies available to learning leaders and their learners. Trent Bartholomew, CPTM, lead instructional designer and course manager for safety, compliance and training at Amtrak, shares, “We took technology that does exist and figured out how to adapt it within our confinements.”
He adds that not only will mobile devices on the warehouse floor “get you fired at Amtrak,” but workers are often “in the warehouse with no Wi-Fi.” As a result, training managers at Amtrak turned to Blackberry handhelds, equipped with refresher videos on technical processes and surveys and assessments, to check competency. These devices are not the latest in handheld technology, but they meet the needs of Amtrak’s workforce.
Bartholomew’s advice? “Figure out what [your] needs are. We know the limitations, so what can we use within those limitations that still gets us down the road where we need to go?”
As a process capability, technology integration supports the infrastructure driving and connecting your training organization — especially in a predominately remote work environment. By maintaining frequent communication with IT teams, ensuring compatibility between technologies and interfaces, and remaining focused on introducing only technologies that are strategically aligned to business needs, great training organizations can achieve seamless technology integration.