A side-by-side comparison of common employee training methods
There are many ways to train employees, and you’re probably using more than one method in your own organization to solve different types of problems right now. But is there any one particular method that reigns supreme? It depends on what you’re trying to teach. All methods of employee training have their own pros, cons and ideal applications.
1. On-the-job training
Hands-on training is a critical part of the learning experience, especially for frontline workers who use dangerous machinery, work directly with products or otherwise need to learn by doing. For instance, if you manage a deli counter in a grocery store, would you feel comfortable handing over the meat slicer to an inexperienced employee who has only read about how to use it? Chances are, you’d want to deliver in-person training first and schedule job shadowing before allowing the employee to use the equipment solo.
Hands-on training cannot be replaced by online courses because it goes beyond compliance and theory and delves into the physical demands of the job. A peer trainer or manager may need to ensure the safety of the trainees, instruct on the nuances of the task and help to promote proficiency and muscle memory through repetition.
To carry out on-the-job training, you need great trainers who understand not only what information and skills need to be transferred and taught but also how to effectively work with novices and accommodate individual needs, preferences and backgrounds. When done right, this type of training is great for building practical skills.
2. Classroom training
There’s a lot of debate about whether instructor-led training in a classroom environment is good or bad for company training. It can be difficult to schedule, especially in a busy operation. It’s hard to remember information delivered in a lengthy lecture, and it can be boring and disengage participants when there’s no meaningful interaction. And then there’s the whole Zoom fatigue conversation when you take lectures and presentations online. But while training employees in a classroom isn’t always the best way to go, there is still a place for it.
For instance, if you hire several new employees at the same time (for a new store opening or staff expansion), you can get everyone up to speed simultaneously with a guided group training in a classroom-type environment. This type of training is good for introducing company policies, safety and compliance requirements, customer service best practices and basic tools and technologies.
Classroom training isn’t bad. Bad classroom training is bad. When done effectively, bringing people together allows for discussion, peer learning and direct engagement with both trainers and fellow employees.
In order for online or in-person classroom training to be effective, the key is to provide real value. Don’t make it an info dump. Engage directly with trainees, make it an interactive training experience if possible and—most importantly—try to keep the training session filler-free. Focus on the most important information that people need, and deliver it in an engaging way. If you’re going to bring people together, in person or virtually, maximize the value of doing so through conversation, practice activities, etc. The goal is to inspire meaningful interaction. If the goal is to communicate information, another format might be a better fit.
There’s real value in practicing within safe, low-risk environments, especially when it’s too dangerous or expensive to do so in a real-life setting. An effective workplace simulation must mirror real life and provide clear, actionable feedback in order to be worthwhile. Certain types of simulations can be done as part of in-person classroom training (especially if the group is small), but especially complex or safety-centric simulations should be done outside the classroom setting to ensure that everyone is able to get the necessary practice and observation. There are training tools you can use, like manikins (for basic life support procedures) and even VR training solutions.
Simulations are especially useful for safety use cases. For example, X-ray technicians must operate complex machinery that emits live radiation. You can’t expect them to learn about the machinery in a classroom and then get right to work on live patients. In some cases, simulations are an important intermediary step to ensure proficiency and safety in high-stakes environments.
4. Online courses
When you need to get information out to a large number of people in a consistent, easy-to-access way, online courses can be effective. It’s harder than ever to get people into a classroom or schedule time away from the operation. Online courses can be designed to fit into the workflow, deliver critical information and reinforce important knowledge.
For instance, if you have a team of retail employees, you can take their compliance training online. Compliance lends itself to online courses because it requires consistent information to be delivered to a large group of people in a validated way. Concepts that don’t easily lend themselves to hands-on training are often excellent candidates for online learning. Online courses can also be used to reinforce information previously taught on the job.
Because online courses are asynchronous, employees can complete them at their own pace and—depending on the demands of the workplace—in their own time. For online courses to be effective, they should provide information that’s highly relevant, easily digestible and reinforced in spaced intervals for maximum retention. In addition, individual lessons should be short and focused on a single objective.
Microlearning is all about delivering content with a singular focus in bite-sized segments. Though microlearning is often connected to digital content (like the kind outlined in the previous section), it can be any learning activity that focuses on a single outcome and fits within the workflow—whether it’s an LMS module, a video or even a live demonstration. Whatever types of employee training programs you use, there’s likely a place for microlearning.
Understandably, you can’t learn everything you need to know about a complex topic, like how to drive a lift truck, in a 3-to-5-minute microlearning session. But you can introduce new concepts in small chunks that fit seamlessly into the workflow. Plus, you can use microlearning sessions to reinforce critical knowledge, like, for example, how to signal when driving a lift truck through a busy section of the distribution center.
The majority of Axonify users—83%— log into the platform 2-3 times a week to complete a short microlearning lesson. Over the course of a month, users start to develop a strong learning foundation. Over the course of several months, those short lessons contribute to a massive body of retained knowledge.
This type of short-form training can be a game-changer in frontline industries where free time is at a premium. Though all employee training methods have their merits, microlearning can be an effective ingredient in any training program, as it’s not time-consuming and proven to be effective for long-term retention.
What are the most effective employee training methods?
There’s no single best employee training method. It’s about blending the best ideas into a meaningful experience that meets people’s needs and satisfies your training and development goals. It’s not picking one tactic and applying it to everything.
No matter how you choose to train your employees, the important thing is to make sure it’s engaging, useful and tailored to the learner.