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Understanding strengths and weaknesses for ongoing training

When it comes to training, there are a lot of options: classroom, hands-on with equipment, and online are the prevalent three. Worked properly, a blend of all three often finds the most success.

To put a first-class program together, it’s important to recognize that every training delivery method has its own strengths and weaknesses. Whether it’s instructor-led classroom training, online self-study, live eLearning, kiosks, coaching, job shadowing, whatever – they all have things they do really well, and things they do poorly. Making the most of each method starts with understanding those strengths and weaknesses, and developing a training strategy that leverages them.

Here’s a balance we like to see, especially at orientation:

Online training: This is a great tactic for orientation training when you want to make sure that people understand driving and vehicle operational basics. Pay them to do the training beforehand, and then use the valuable face-to-face time to focus on company-specific processes and people. Spend the time building a relationship.

Practical Experience at your Location: Let people use simulators, practice vehicle inspections and cargo securement strategies, and talk to the people they will work with in operations and the shop. Keeping everyone in a classroom for three or four days doesn’t give them a sense of your terminal or your culture. Give them hands-on experience.

Cross training: Cross-training is a valuable activity for a few reasons. Here's an example: You run a classroom course on a driver-specific topic (e.g. hours of service) for both drivers and non-drivers. When everyone gets the same training, drivers will see non-driving staff in a very different light. There is a greater possibility for relationship-building especially if there is discussion. At the very least, your non-driving staff will have an appreciation for what drivers do.

Diving deeper, let’s take a look at classroom training.  If you have people together in the classroom, you’ve got a great opportunity to collaborate and learn as a unit. Breaking people into groups for exercises, collecting their input and experiences through discussions, having them solve a problem individually then taking it up together – all of these are things that work beautifully in a classroom. In addition to learning the formal content, participants develop relationships with others in the class and the overall strength of the team improves.

Another benefit of classroom training is it’s comparatively quick to build. That short timeline means content can be much more topical, and can change regularly without imposing a lot of extra costs. It can also be customized more easily and more regularly. Rather than having one package for a generic audience, the material can be customized for individual businesses, or even individual departments within a business. It can also be localized into other languages more easily, sometimes just by having the instructor translate it on the fly.

While the positives are apparent, there are also some negatives. And again, it’s a balancing act.

There is the cost of getting everyone together in a classroom. Classroom training is disruptive to any business, but much more so in transportation where the business only makes money when people are on the road and the wheels are turning. This alone is often reason enough to curtail plans for training sessions.

Instruction pacing can be an issue.  A classroom instructor has to deliver the content at a pace that fits the bulk of the audience. The specific pace may change with each delivery, but one thing is for certain -- it will never be right for everyone in the class. Some people learn and retain information faster, while others need the information delivered more slowly. The pacing mismatch negatively impacts the learning experience, reducing effectiveness.

With pacing comes information absorption.  Compared to other delivery methods, the speed at which people absorb the content in a classroom is pretty slow. For example, the content that gets covered in one-day of classroom delivery would generally only require 2 to 3 hours when delivered online.

Consider a basic, all-too-common classroom training situation in trucking --an instructor stands at the front of the room and delivers a lecture, possibly incorporating some basic (mostly text) slides, then asks people if they have any questions at the end.

If the design of the classroom content is shifted a bit, the experience can be a better for everyone.

One way to do that is to balance classroom with online, allowing each delivery method to do what it does well. Online, for its part, is almost the complete opposite of classroom. It’s an individual experience allowing people to work at whatever pace they like, but doesn’t support group learning very well. It’s time-consuming and expensive to develop, so the content needs to be generalized for a larger audience, but the delivery cost is almost non-existent. So, once you have it, you can use it continuously without incurring extra cost.

Combining strengths

Put together, the two complement each other nicely. Online is well-suited to handle the generic elements of the content – like regulations or basic best practices – freeing up time in classroom for more collaborative, company-specific content. That combination approach is known in the training world as “blended learning” and companies that are doing it now see great results.

To make the most of a blended learning approach, here are a couple of things to keep in mind for each delivery method:

Classroom: Stop lecturing and start doing. Focus the content on real-world activities and group projects. Next, get out of the classroom whenever possible. There’s no rule that “classroom training” needs to occur exclusively in a dull room with everyone sitting quietly at desks.

Online: Remove the stress and impediments and allow people ample time to complete courses. Don’t assign a lot of content to be completed in a short time frame because participants will be worried about completing it rather than learning. And, make sure everyone has equal access. Not everyone has a fast PC at home, or the latest mobile device, so provide options for people who may need support in that area.

With those elements in place, you can put together some really interesting and high retention training packages for drivers. Imagine a cargo securement training program where participants took an online course to learn about tie-downs, working load limit, etc. on their own, then came into a “classroom” course where they got together in groups and practiced actually tying down loads. Or a vehicle inspection course where the theoretical parts were covered online, then followed up by practical exercises in the yard on real equipment.

There are endless variations possible, so it’s just a matter of applying some creativity to build an engaging, effective experience.

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