by Jim Zimmermann

The value of multiple modalities in IT training

Apr 30, 2018
IT LeadershipIT SkillsTechnology Industry

Four reasons why IT training programs should offer a variety of learning options.

digital training
Credit: Thinkstock

When people talk about IT training, they usually think about courses – either instructor-led training (ILT) or some combination of ILT and/or online self-paced courses. Although courses continue to be an important part of IT training, training today should consist of more types, or modalities, of training.

Here is a list of some of the most common IT training modalities available to learners today:

  • Live instructor-led training (in classroom and/or virtual)
  • Elearning courses
  • Videos
  • Books (print and/or online)
  • Audio (podcasts and/or audiobooks)
  • Mentoring (in-person and/or virtual)
  • Practice environments (on premises or virtual)
  • Assessments and practice exams
  • Resource files (PDFs, PPTs, Docs, etc.)
  • Social learning (discussion groups, community sites, etc.)

Providing a diverse set of learning modalities for IT makes sense for many reasons.

1. Adapting to individual learning styles

Not everyone likes to learn in the same way. Some people prefer going to offsite classroom training, while others prefer to take training at their own pace from the comfort of their office or home. Some may prefer to learn from videos, while others prefer to learn from books. Providing access to multiple ways of learning will help assure that everyone can learn the skills they need in the way that feels most comfortable for them.

2. Reinforcing learning

The best way to learn is to study, and then have reinforcement of what you are learning. For instance, before sending someone to an ILT course, you might want to have them take some introductory eLearning courses or read a book so they can get the most value out of the expensive ILT class. Another example is to create a learning program that consists of short videos, sections of books, eLearning courses, assessments, and access to a practice environment where the learner can practice the skills they are learning. The various learning types all work together to reinforce the learning.

3. Real-world practice of skills  

Courses, videos, books, mentors and other modalities are all great, but sooner or later the learner is going to have to put the skills they are learning to the test. Providing access to a virtual practice environment where the learner can practice writing code, practice configuring hardware, or practicing the skills needed to pass a certification exam can really solidify learning and prove that the learner has indeed learned the required skills.

4. Creating a scalable learning environment 

Most IT departments do not have an unlimited training budget. Sending people out to offsite instructor-led training can be very expensive. For the cost of one multi-day boot camp for one person, you could provide many people access to a one-year subscription to unlimited eLearning.

Examples of learning modalities at work

Let’s take a look at a few examples of how providing multiple learning modalities can help your IT organization:

  • If your company is hacked, you need to know how to stop it. Having someone take an hour-long course to figure out what to do doesn’t make sense. What your team needs is quick access to a short video or a section of a book that describes how to stop the specific attack. Or perhaps access to a mentor who has faced a problem like this before and who can provide a few quick tips on what can be done to help stop the attack.
  • If someone needs to learn a new programming language, a few 5-minute videos or a few sections of a book will not be enough. They will probably need at least one course (or maybe a series of courses), supported by in-depth books, practice coding environments, access to source code samples, etc.
  • If someone needs a quick refresher on a skill, they don’t want to retake an entire class or read a whole book. A few targeted videos and a section or two of a book may be all they need to get back up to speed.

Finding the right providers of multiple learning modalities for IT

Providing access to a range of learning modalities for IT can be challenging, but it is well worth the effort.

Most IT training vendors provide one, two, or at the most a handful, of learning modalities for IT training. Unless you shop carefully, you may end up purchasing from many vendors to get the mix of modalities best suited to your IT teams’ training needs. This can create a disjointed user experience with multiple instructional styles, formats, navigation, etc. However, there are a few vendors who can provide a wider range of modalities to help you establish a baseline of training, and then you can look at adding one or two other vendors (for instance an ILT provider) to address niche needs.

When you talk to vendors, ask them point blank how they can support your training needs across multiple modalities. If their answer is, “we just provide video-based training” or “we only provide ILT training,” broaden your net to include vendors who offer more modalities.

As you assemble the learning modalities for your teams, you may be challenged to find a good way to provide access to all the content. As part of your vendor evaluation process, ask them how their content works in today’s modern Learner Experience Platforms that have been optimized to support a range of learning modalities from many sources. They may have a platform that could easily address the needs of your IT teams, or you may have to look at a separate platform that will support all your learning.