Mindflash CEO Donna Wells on the Future of Employee Training

by Susan Johnston on April 22, 2011
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Ten years ago, “employee training” often meant a conference room filled with bored employees watching a PowerPoint presentation or participating in lame “trust-building” exercises. Not anymore. Companies like Mindflash are redefining training with interactive and user-friendly tools that allow large and small businesses to customize their online training programs. Donna Wells, CEO of Mindflash and an Intuit and Mint.com alumnus, shared her insights about this growing market.

ISBB: First off, why is employee training so important?

Donna Wells: It’s always been important to make sure that your people in the field and every employee in the organization has the information they need to do their jobs. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to do that given the volume of information and the speed at which business is changing. Competitors are making new moves, resulting in pricing changes. The velocity of information within an organization is so much faster than ten years ago, and the tools have really not kept pace.

Training is the last core business function to move into the cloud and become easy. We’ve seen that evolution with Quickbooks and other accounting packages. We’ve also seen it with market research with Survey Monkey and Zoomerang.

What are some of the advantages of online training vs. traditional in-person training?

Online training has a number of key advantages. The first is it’s available to anyone, any time. You get greater employee focus, which reduces the time and cost to share knowledge across an organization. Trying to set up a web conference across multiple time zones is typically pretty disastrous. Attention is usually divided between listening to some audio conference and doing your email, reading documents, checking Facebook.

With online training, you’re delivering information at the time and place that he or she is going to be really focused. Let them go through the material at their own pace. Instructor-led training goes as slow as you need to, to keep the folks who are struggling engaged. What’s been missing is the ability to have that online training also include a feedback loop back to the trainer at headquarters. We do that through quizzes and real-time training dashboards.

How can employers make training fun rather than a chore?

Rule number one is to filter your content and present the most important info first. Number two is to present information in no more than 10- to 20-minute bursts. Then get people involved in something interactive like a quiz, a video, a screencast. Mix up the content and that allows trainees to process the information that you’ve communicated already and start to create a  schema around that information. They can start the process of storing it in their long-term memory so the information gets retained.

Also, build the content with the trainee in mind. Tell stories instead of presenting. Humans react well to storytelling and anecdotes and case studies that make content really relevant and successful.

How should employers tailor their training to employees who might learn in different ways?

First off, online training is not the right channel for every form of knowledge sharing. It works very well with information that’s fairly straightforward, direct, and fairly factual. Every organization has a lot of corporate knowledge that fits that description. Any time a company introduces a new process or software, they don’t need to fly you to Las Vegas to teach you that.

On the other hand, if you’re changing your corporate direction and you’ve got a new vision for where the organization should go and you need to motivate employees to do their work in a different way, you want to do that in person.

What we see our clients doing is mixing those things up. Use some online training ahead of time to either pass along information about logistics, pass along pre-reading, and collect feedback from the attendees to make sure the agenda you have is relevant. Have the live event and follow up that up with an online component.

Understand that some people learn by reading. Some people learn by hands-on doing. Some people learn best face-to-face. With the new online training tools a lot more of those learning styles can be effectively supported. You can easily mix up text, video, and handouts.

How do employers know if the information has actually sunk in?

People used to think about training as a one-off event. The best trainers are now approaching training as a process, selling a service experience as opposed to selling a product. Engage with your trainees before the actual section to set expectations. After the training session, follow up to understand what resonated, to see what they have put into practice and what they haven’t. You can quiz information in real time, and it’s really easy to follow up with folks to understand what got lost in translation.

Susan Johnston is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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