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TRAINING WITH MULTIMEDIA

Vol. 2, No. 11, 1997

 


How to Convince a Training Sponsor to Invest in Multimedia

ADVISORTM TRAINING STRATEGY DECISION SUPPORT SOFTWARE HELPS BUILD THE BUSINESS CASE

With so many new learning technologies to choose from, training sponsors can have difficulty deciding how to best leverage their budgets for optimal performance results. For most managers, the transition from classroom-based learning to technology-assisted solution is a leap of faith. They would like to be completely convinced they are making a wise decision with demonstrable business results. For training consultants, this means reliably answering questions like these for their clients:

  • Which delivery method is the most appropriate for the learning requirement?
  • What will the course cost to build?
  • How much will the whole training implementation cost?
  • How can I save money?

BNH Expert Software of Montreal, Quebec has built a suite of software tools that helps consultants to formulate quantified answers to these questions and easily present them to clients. The software is not biased towards any type of training delivery method but is most appropriately used when lower-cost alternatives to instructor-led training are being evaluated. The software called AdvisorTM version 2.0 performs three primary functions:

  1. Recommending Training Delivery Methods / Media: The feasibility analysis software processes user input about audience, training requirements, course content and delivery logistics. User input on a total of 54 variables can have 188 possible response selections resulting in thousands of possible response permutations. The software uses a rule-based decision system to recommend the most effective delivery option. The options include twenty types of training ranging from conventional instructor-led all the way to virtual reality. It can also support decisions for which combination of delivery methods is required.
  2. CBT Development Hours: From a range of user inputs regarding the variables which impact on the course design, the software determines how many development hours will be needed to build one hour of the required CBT / MBT. In another tool, this number gets plugged into other variables to come up with a total course cost.
  3. Training Cost Analysis: This tool uses input data from the other two tools plus additional inputs to compute the cost of the training implementation over the expected life of the course, by year, or by learner. It can compare these costs with one or many optional training delivery methods to allow the training sponsor to fully understand how cost savings can be achieved using various alternative delivery methods. It presents a break-even point at which the technology-assisted solution becomes cheaper than the conventional classroom.

The most compelling aspects of the software are the abilities both to play with the numbers, looking at a range of situations in the sponsor's presence and to have the results presented in a readily comprehensible format. In this way, the sponsor begins to gain insight into why one training strategy makes more sense than another and to understand the very significant financial impacts of "time away from work to train" and "travel to training costs."The US Air Force, which started using interactive multimedia for training long before its current popularity, developed training strategy decision support tools but never attempted to commercialize them for corporate use. BNH Expert Software evaluated the Air Force's tools and used Sheppard Air Force base as one of their beta testing sites. They also tested the rule-based system and linkage between the tools with over one hundred different types of training challenges before launching Version 2.0.

In this article, we explore the features of the software to show how it will help to improve the training decision-making process for both novices and organizations already doing substantial technology-based learning. This tool will become a common standard in the training industry. At a price per unit of $295 US / $395 CDN, this should not be a purchase decision you should take any time to make.


Making Sense of All the Variables

Even if you are experienced in all the new learning technologies, the number and complexity of decisions required to build and implement training are now growing exponentially. When classroom, video and paper-based self-study were the most common forms of training, the decisions were a lot simpler. The constraints are becoming more complex as well, particularly those stemming from hardware, schedules and the mandate to reduce cost per learner.

AdvisorTM asks the user to enter all the variables that impact training decisions. It uses selections from a fly-over menu activated by the right hand mouse button or input of actual numbers. For some entries, the software can recommend values which it has computed from results of other data already entered or from training development and implementation benchmarks reflected in the rule-based system. Shaded fields fill in by themselves by drawing on data already entered. The "Help" function provides clarification regarding criteria for entering information in each field.

Variables are divided into "factors" which play a major role in the training recommendation and into "multipliers" which either are used to weight factors positively or negatively. The rule-based system steers the user back on track when illogical combinations of variables have been entered. An extreme example of this would be entering a role play requirement in a computer skills training program. The software recognizes computer training as a major factor and has a profile of what variable entries would typically best support computer training. As role plays are not required in computer training, the software would automatically reduce this entry to an insignificant level of importance, thereby restricting its impact on the result.

After filling in the various worksheets associated with each tool, the computed results are summarized and can be displayed or printed in quick study graphic and text formats. For the user, the tools simplify the number crunching, add some "intelligence" of their own and help organize the analysis in a standardized, systematic way. The software stores each course analysis as a separate file. These files can be used over time to reconcile planned with actual data as well as to develop benchmarks for statistics like average costs, average development time or total corporate savings from technology-based training solutions.


Summary Screens

FEASIBILITY ANALYSIS:

Based on user input, this screen displays each of the delivery methods/media in rank order of how well suited they are to the training challenge. The horizontal bars have a percentage rating on their right end which allows for quantitative comparisons. When the score for any delivery method is below 100%, the question mark icon beside each option can be clicked to have the screen on the right indicate why the effectiveness of each media option is less than perfect. As the scoring is relative, even the top-rated delivery medium may still involve considerable challenges or have specific shortcomings.

The AdvisorTM guidebook recommends analyzing the course module by module if certain conditions are present. A mix of course objectives may point to using a mix of delivery methods. Some modules may be most effectively handled with self-paced reading while others may require an instructor. Analysis by module in this way may actually reduce training costs. The guidebook says that a course may be divided into separate standalone modules if:

  • The module is self-contained and may be presented independent of the course.
  • Not all learners are required to complete the entire course.
  • The modules are managed and/or taught by individuals who are not conversant in all the modules.

DEVELOPMENT HOURS:

This summary screen groups factors which contribute to development costs being lower, moderate, higher or not applicable. The user is also given an actual number to indicate how much time one hour of CBT / MBT would require to develop. The "Training Cost Analysis" tool uses this number as a benchmark and calculates the entire course cost. As cost per each incremental hour of a course tends to diminish, the software does not simply multiply the hour estimation by the total number of hours estimated for the course. It adjusts the benchmark down for each incremental hour.

TRAINING COST ANALYSIS:

As this tool is the most complex of the three, there are four choices of summary screens: Costs, Savings, Investment and Break-even. Costs and Break-even can also be depicted graphically.

The Costs screen gives you a cost comparison between various delivery media broken down into the various key components of cost. You get a total cost and a cost per learner by method. You can print out a graph depicting each type of media option in order to present the cost components to your client.

The savings screen shows savings per year versus classroom training for each type of delivery method. This is broken out into direct and indirect savings plus total savings over the life of the course.

The break-even screen should only be looked at in a graphical format as the numerical screen only contains the number of months to break-even for each delivery method. The graphical screen depicts the break-even month compared to another delivery method and graphically shows what happens over the life of the course. It not only shows the break-even month but also shows the break-even point in dollars, the up front investment, and savings over the life of the course. There are three choices for the type of charts you can use for break-even.


Direct and Indirect Costs

When professional consultants advise a client on the costs of various training options, they typically look at all costs associated with the training in order to compare apples to apples.

Some organizations prefer to evaluate only the costs for which there is a cash outlay and to bury other costs into general overhead and operating expenses. If you have in-house trainers on salary and do not get charged back for their time, you may omit this cost in your comparisons. If travel costs for learners to attend a classroom session is a travel budget expense and not a training expense, there is a temptation to not include this in the training costs analysis.

The AdvisorTM software facilitates the entry of all training costs, both direct and indirect to arrive at a true cost for training. This is the only professional way to get a true break-even, and to arrive at an ROI for a training project. Increasingly, more professional management practices are requiring the charge back of all related expenses to projects that used to be absorbed into the overhead of the business unit or into budgets that did not specifically relate to training.


What About EPSS?

The Feasibility Analysis tool can identify opportunities for an EPSS, embedded training, hypermedia, and hypertext. This is a mark of sophistication and recognizes the growing interest in EPSS solutions for achieving the desired performance faster and at the lowest cost. Some of the input selections that would point to an EPSS solution are:

  • reason for course (upgrade knowledge - versus initial learning)
  • content deals with (a very large body of knowledge)
  • information referred to (regularly)
  • applying knowledge is (complex and cumbersome)
  • location of learners (widely scattered)
  • number of learners (large > 500)
  • consistency (critical)
  • learning objectives (problem solving or trouble shooting)

What About ROI?

If you have already made the decision that training is the solution to a performance issue, AdvisorTM can determine an ROI for various delivery options. For example, if you are currently delivering a classroom course and would like an ROI on converting the course and implementation to interactive multimedia, the software will do this. However, if the effectiveness of the training is a component of the ROI calculation, there is currently no tool that can estimate how effective the training will be at improving performance. As we know, the effectiveness of training can vary widely based on variables like course design, management support, learner compensation and process design.


Is Advisor Easy to Use?

AdvisorTM is very supportive of the user. A few rounds of practice will quickly bring the user up to speed. While the software is very intuitive to use, the learning curve relates to a few aspects of the tools:

  • You may not understand the linkage between some of your inputs and the summary screens until you play with these inputs and see how they effect the summary result.
  • You may have to remind yourself which input screen you are in so you do not input "classroom" data into the "interactive" input screen. The screen title is plainly visible but until you get used to the tools, you may need to be focused on which screen you are in.
  • You will need to understand exactly what each input field is about because a wrong entry can sometimes seriously skew the result. The Help function can assist you with this, and after several rounds you will become accurate.
  • Your inputs need to reflect a planned training intervention rather than a current reality. If you currently do not have Multimedia PCs but plan to for the training, you must enter the selection "any-time" in the "Access to Multimedia PC" field rather than "no access."

AdvisorTMwill become the standard

AdvisorTM reflects BNH Expert Systems' profound knowledge and experience of a wide range of training methods and technologies. It also reflects a professional approach to managerial cost accounting practices and the need to fully represent all costs related to training in the their proper context. The software is well - designed and simple to operate. The benefits for training consultants are significant. AdvisorTM creates:

  • a reliable process for approaching performance improvement opportunities
  • a way to document and relate training costs between projects
  • a common language shared by training consultants and clients to promote clarity
  • a great presentation tool to simplify training decision for the consultant and client
  • a way to make media selection, costing, and training management more professional.

AdvisorTM does work that may independent training consultants are used to charging several thousands of dollars for. While it does not replace the experience or judgment of a good training consultant, some consultants may feel it would undermine their value to clients and will avoid showing it to them. Others will use it as a tool to simplify their work and to add value for clients by using it with them. Either way it will be come a standard.

Contact :
J. Bahlis
BNH Expert Software
Tel: 1-800-747-4010
Email - bahlis@bnhexpertsoft.com

Training With Multimediaİ is published by Turning Point Business Media.


Copyright © 2016 BNH EXPERT SOFTWARE INC. All rights reserved.