In days gone by if credit unions wanted to train their staff members, options were fairly limited. They could provide training in house—calling employees together at a particular time, in a particular place, and providing information to them via an in-house, or contracted, trainer. Or, they could send employees to external training.
Both options came with costs, often high costs: training time for both the trainer and employees who were taken away from their regular work duties and, in the case of off-site training, the cost of registration and travel.
Technology has significantly impacted both the forms and costs of training available for credit union leaders and managers to ensure employees are up to speed on the practical, technical and regulatory aspects of their work. No longer do employees need to leave the credit union—or even their desks—to avail themselves of various forms of training, from webinars, to YouTube videos, to massive open online courses, Ted Talks, Google Hangouts and everything in between.
“The old days of being ‘the sage on the stage’ are gone,” says Kordell Norton, a motivational speaker and trainer based in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. “Today you have to be a ‘guide on the side.’”
Alternative Training for Credit Union Leaders
According to elearningindustry.com, self-paced e-learning is expected to reach nearly $50 billion in revenue this year. More than 40 percent of global Fortune 500 companies report using some form of educational technology in their employee training—a figure that is expected to increase.
Credit unions are riding this wave. In fact, says Kathleen O’Connor, they’ve been early adopters. “They’re pretty progressive when it comes to providing training,” she says. O’Connor is an associate professor of management and organizations at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson School of Management and an instructor for CUES’ CEO Institute. Most recently she worked with CUES and Cornell Executive Business Education to offer two CUES Elite Access courses—one on the concept of leadership brand and the other directed toward women interested in capitalizing on their leadership potential.
The programs started with a real-time, online kick-off class that set the stage for custom project work that would follow. “With the help of dedicated coaches, participants drafted a project proposal and set a plan for executing the project,” says O’Connor. Students worked with the coaches, peer groups and independently on their projects for a few weeks. Then, a second, wrap-up online class was held.
Both classes were live and moderated, says O’Connor, providing participants with the opportunity to pose questions that were answered in real time. It’s a good example of how traditional can be blended with alternative training, in this case providing the opportunity for interaction. For these courses, says O’Connor, “the custom project work is really central, enabling participants to put the lessons learned to work for themselves and their credit unions.”
That connection and transfer of learning back to the workplace is critical to ensure retention, and practical application.
Much of the reason for the eager adoption of alternative training methods by CUs is necessity, notes Tarra Jackson, an author, financial advisor and speaker with a credit union background. She continues to work with CUs as a “virtual executive vice president.”
Small credit unions, in particular, she says, are often challenged by a lack of resources and staff. Those challenges extend into the need to ensure that staff is trained. Finding both the time and money to provide that training can be difficult. That’s where training automation can come in, she says.
Many options and methods exist to keep employees up to date and with ready access to the information they need to do their jobs effectively. But, like anything that comes with benefits, there can be drawbacks. Understanding the pros and cons of the various training options and how to incorporate these options, along with traditional training methodologies, is important to ensure the transfer of learning in meaningful ways back into the workplace.
What Are the Benefits?
“Most credit unions embrace online training because employees have limited time to devote to training,” says Michael Steuer, president/CEO of Credit Union Insurance Resource, Sturbridge, Mass. Steuer says that, in his work, he has found that supporting workplace educational options through alternative means is important for credit unions, although he acknowledges that face-to-face training remains important.
O’Connor’s CUES Elite Access sessions helped provide Ivy League learning in attendees’ work environments, saving time and money. “Instead of pulling someone out of their work environment, having them travel and stay in hotels where it’s very expensive, there was an opportunity for people to participate in very targeted sessions,” she says.
Alternative forms of delivering training can be just as effective as traditional means, says Norton, and he has some evidence to prove it. About a decade ago, he says, he was working with a major insurance company that wanted to test the effectiveness of new employee orientation through video. “So they had a control group of online vs. classroom and gave tests to both groups to find out who learned the material better.”
The scores were the same, he says. But, even though the cost of full motion video was a lot more expensive at that time, “they found out that their employees could complete the information in 40 percent of the time, so they could get more employees through it faster and get them up to speed and working more quickly.”
What Are the Downsides?
With any form of training, says Steuer, the rate of retention is an important consideration. Retention is not always as high with online training, he says.
Norton agrees and while he is a fan of new alternative forms of training he offers an important caveat. “We consume three times more information today than we did in 1984, and are we three times smarter? No!” Information that just “washes over us” is not effective, he says. Effective training must engage employees with heart and emotion.
These downsides can be addressed, though, as O’Connor has found through her experiences in conducting blended sessions that incorporate interaction and project work. “We’ve been really clear about the importance of building in project work,” she says. The interaction and project work help to make the experience more active and less passive, leading to better results.
Learning is a social activity, so it must be in a social context, says Scott C. Hammond, Ph.D., a clinical professor of management in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. “Employees can watch a TED talk, but they can only learn when they socially engage and discuss,” he says.
How do Alternative Offerings Fit Into Overall Training Programs?
Jackson works with credit unions to automate their training through various means—“whether creating an intranet for their training class or creating an online grading tool or creating a PowerPoint presentation that employees can access via their shared drive.”
She stresses that these alternative forms of training aren’t a replacement for traditional means, but are intended to complement traditional training. Training, she says, is not an event—it is, or should be, ongoing. Alternative means of making training available, on demand and as needed, can help to make that happen.
“You may give a particular training session quarterly, but staff members need access to the information on a consistent basis, so you need to have back-up.” Making information available online, she notes, allows employees to “create their own ways of learning.”
Ideally, says O’Connor, alternative forms of training would incorporate some elements of personal interaction. “This has yet to evolve,” she says, “but it would be great to see the people I’m speaking with. I always enjoy that kind of dialogue—even across 50 or 60 people.”
The key in achieving maximum effectiveness with any training effort is starting with clear objectives—knowing why the training is being done and what specific outcomes are expected. That’s the starting point for effective evaluation with traditional and alternative forms of training.
Track and Measure Training
The ability to measure the overall effectiveness of training—whether traditional or non-traditional—is also important. After all, why invest time and effort, if there is no benefit from that investment.
Hammond suggests having a clear learning objective in mind. “Just feeling good together is not a learning objective,” he says. Determine what you want people to know and do after they’ve participated in the training. And, he adds: “The closer the objective is to their daily work, the better.”
Credit unions also may be concerned about tracking employee training—both credit union provided, and training they may be undertaking on their own. That, says Steuer, can be done through log-ins, certificates of achievement and databases.
Employees may be way ahead of the game when it comes to taking advantage of alternative forms of training, notes Hammond Don’t assume ignorance of these methods among your staff, he cautions. “Non-traditional training is widely available. It is possible that your employees have already seen that YouTube video or watched that TED talk at home.”
Today’s anytime, anywhere, technology access means training can be consumed across a variety of platforms in short or long chunks. In fact, with the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and—in the not too distant future—wearable technology, it’s conceivable that learning may become a 24/7 event.
Alternative Options and Opportunities
CUES/BVS Dynamic Learning: When you’re looking for credit union-specific, reliable sources of training, this can be your go-to source to access courses in a variety of formats, as well as a library of other online resources.
MOOCs: Massive open online courses are exactly what they sound like: Online sources of information made available through a wide range of sources, many through top universities, and often free. Some popular sources include Udemy, Stanford, MIT and even Harvard. The options are truly massive.
TED Talks: TED was established way back in 1984 and has grown to encompass more than 100 languages and myriad ideas that are shared through various forms—from radio, to social media, to blogs and even books. In fact, TED’s tagline is “ideas worth spreading.” TED Talks are likely the most widely known of these resources and they focus on topics that range from the practical (“Creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits”) to the poetic (“Poetry that frees the soul”) and virtually everything in between.
YouTube: According to YouTube’s own data, more than 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on its channel. Videos range from entertainment to instruction and, from a training standpoint, lend themselves well to anything that needs to be demonstrated—like how to use various software or other forms of technology.
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a freelance writer and human resource management and marketing communication consultant in Chippewa Falls, Wis. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement (Adams Media, 2014) and Human Resource Essentials (SHRM, 2010).