The following is an extract from our white paper we published in 2009.
Researchers have highlighted many things to consider when looking at delivering a form of training via a technology based medium such as via web technologies online. An Induction is the phrase used across Australia, New Zealand, Canada and parts of Europe for the Onboarding process of new employees, contractors and visitors.
Rheingold pointed out that fear is an important element in every novice computer user's first attempts to use a new machine or new software: fear of destroying data, fear of hurting the machine, fear of seeming stupid in comparison to other users, or even to the machine itself (Rheingold, 1995). This is very true as new staff may come from varying backgrounds in computing and a fear of the induction framework itself such as the software being used to deliver the induction may greatly affect the user's ability to receive and understand the induction content. If a user is overwhelmed by the induction software then one might expect the effectiveness of that induction process to be of a poor standard or perhaps not be completed at all. There is also a pain point in becoming aware of important organizational knowledge, both internal and external. Research showed as much as 20% of their working week involves struggling to get the right information. The need to centralize this in a single and consistent platform has the potential to reduce this burden.
There is a body of literature that concludes that the Internet as a technology has delivered a new platform for delivering education overcoming traditional problems. Oblinger suggests that for distance education, the Internet is a new appeal, either because it taps into unexplored instructional niches, such as just-in-time learning (i.e., training delivered to workers when and where they need it) and corporate training (Oblinger, 2001). Murray concludes that it deals more effectively with limitations that traditionally have been attributed to distance learning (Murray, 2003). Here we can see evidence that delivering education through an online medium can overcome traditional limitations with different forms of learning such as distance learning as well as allowing just in time learning where workers can learn material as they need it. When you compare this to an Online Induction, this situation is perfect since inductees could learn the content they need as they need it rather then be inundated with material in one hit which they may forget months down the track when they actually need to know it.
Some research has shown that the benefit of being anonymous in an online environment can be a favorable contributing factor towards the success of an online training medium. In Sullivan's (2002) research, 42% of the females surveyed commented on the advantage of anonymity in a networked learning environment. In an online induction, the user doesn't necessarily have to be identified. Their anonymity in completing the induction process online may mean more confidence in case they get material wrong. Where as in a face to face environment, other inductees and the training will be aware of their mistake which could lead to the inductee not wanting to participate or seek an interest in finding the correct answer.
Face to face versus Online Human Computer Interaction
When looking at the advantage of using a web technology for communicating over face to face environments, a study by Althaus (1997) was conducted to examine whether supplementing a face-to-face discussion with a computer-mediated discussion would enhance academic performance. The study looked at the undesirable characteristics of face to face discussions in an environment such as a classroom and concluded that students who were actively involved in the computer-mediated discussions earned higher grades than other students. Compare this to the Online Induction scenario, inductees grouped together may face the same characteristics. They may all fight to get a chance to speak to the trainer when only one person can talk to the trainer at a time. In an online environment, communication could be open allowing everyone to voice their questions and concerns at once and then the trainer can respond one by one.
Some researchers have looked at the idea that an online based education or training platform could lead to a lower standard of education for the user compared to a traditional face to face based process. A study completed by Bata-Jones and Avery (2004) studied nursing students performance on midterm and final examinations in a pharmacology course, comparing students who chose the online version with those who enrolled in a face-to-face format. The researchers concluded there were no significant differences in the test scores found between the two groups. This proves in this case that the same level of education was achieved through both face to face education and online. From this you could conclude that the benefits of delivering education and training through an Online Induction would not deteriorate any standards in learning the material and would only add value through the identified benefits of having the induction process online.
Researchers have investigated the preferences of users in completing learning processes through an online medium and some of the associated benefits.
Sonnenwald and Li (2003) conducted a study that specifically investigated the effect of computer-mediated delivery systems on the social interaction preference of the user. Their research demonstrates that learner control is a very attractive feature of online instruction and not a simple convenience. They concluded that when students could control the pace of their lesson, satisfaction and engagement improved. A similar study by Wilson and Whitelock (1998) concluded that this was the most important incentive for the user in choosing online instruction as their medium for learning. These studies indicate a benefit to the online induction that makes it favorable as the choice of delivery for induction content. The inductee can progress through their online induction at their own pace and not that of the trainer or other inductees around them. This in turn could allow the inductee to absorb the content of the induction at a higher rate ultimately ensuring they understand the content before them.
In summary, the body of literature discussed demonstrates a strong foundation for the purpose, development and future of online inductions. The start of the decade saw studies on the effectiveness of delivering learning through an online environment and as some researchers have discussed from studies they conducted, the standard of education remains the same whether face to face or delivered online. There appears to be a preference toward an online platform due to the fact it allows the user to progress at their own pace through the online learning experience as well as the removal of undesirable characteristics of the face to face environment. Another strong foundation identified from the literature researched is that the online induction allows for just-in-time learning (i.e., training delivered to workers when and where they need it) which plays a major role in allowing inductees to learn as they go. Rather then be inundated with overwhelming material in one session, the inductee has the opportunity to progress with content as they need it in their role whereby some content may not be needed for some months or even years down the track. Ultimately, there is a need for more research in the field but the foundations from the body of literature so far are appealing for the need, development and future of an online induction.
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Rheingold, H. 1995. The Virtual Community. London: Minerva p 10
Nicholson, N. (1984). 'A theory of work role transitions', Administrative Science Quarterly, 29, 172-191.
Oblinger, D. (2001). Will e-business shape the future of open and distance learning? Open Learning, 16(1), 9-25.
Murray, S. (2003, March2 4). Web-based systems change the MBA landscape. Financial Times, p. 3.
Sullivan, P. (2002). "It's easier to be your self when you are invisible": Female college Students discuss their online classroom experiences. Innovative Higher Education, 27, 129-143.
Bata-Jones, B & Avery, M . D. (2004).Teaching pharmacology to graduate nursing students: Evaluation and comparison of Web-based and face-to-face methods. Journal of Nursing Education, 43(4), 185-189.
Althaus, S .L. (1997). Computer-mediated communication in the university classroom: An experiment into n-line discussions. Communication Enducation4, 6(3), 158-174.
Sonnenwald, D. H., & Li, B. (2003). Scientific collaborations in higher education: Exploring learning style preferences and perceptions of technology. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(4), 419-431.
Wilson, T., & Whitelock, D. (1998). Monitoring the on-line behaviour of distance learning students. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 14, 91-99.