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Tony Williams' Article on Professional Education

Live Classroom Training Meets Online Education to Best Prepare Professionals

“Differing opinions, views, and experiences often emerge from a group of people gathered in one room, and employees can draw upon these immediately and well into the future.”

Rewind a decade and almost all professional training took place at on-site, in-person events that were scheduled in advance. Supplemental materials were offered, but most of the learning happened in a classroom setting.

Thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of smartphones and connected devices, however, that has changed. Today, in some companies, approximately 85 percent of the education takes place online. Generational dynamics are also a factor. Younger professionals want to learn on-demand when it fits their schedule, perhaps by watching a YouTube video at 2:00 a.m. or partaking in a Webinar between meetings. By contrast, many older professionals, used to classroom settings, want the ability to engage with the presenter and ask questions.

Striking a balance between the two learning styles is critical to the success of any organization. If a company does not find a way, it risks losing both generations of professionals.

That dilemma has not been lost on the mortgage industry in recent years. Lenders and financial services companies are going to great lengths to present the best of both worlds: a robust library of digital education along with in-person training. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to achieving that. Companies are experimenting with different ways to meld the old and new. But one thing is for sure: Ignoring either part is detrimental to an organization’s recruiting, retention and productivity efforts.


In-person training’s clear advantages

Some companies are skeptical of the effectiveness of in-person training in today’s digital world. As financial services become more digitized, why shouldn’t the training be online as well? But there are clear benefits to in-person training—benefits that have stood the test of time.

Take networking, for starters. Networking is important in most careers and is made easier if done in person. Sure, social media, messaging apps, video conferencing and email add convenience but they cannot replace real human connection. Following up is also easier after making a good impression offline. Live training affords new and existing employees the opportunity to interact and forge relationships. The increased collaboration that results can be beneficial to the entire enterprise.

Engagement also tends to improve when training is conducted in-person. It is easy to become distracted when viewing an online video. With no one to notice, texting, posting on social media or working while the training takes place is common. Also, there is much less meaningful dialogue between the teacher and student. In a classroom setting, the trainer has more tools at his or her disposal to keep the students engaged.

In-person training allows for more flexibility in the course material as well. If the class is already knowledgeable about a topic, the teacher can move on to new or unfamiliar subjects. This saves time and keeps the employees engaged, creating an environment in which impromptu discussions break out. Anyone who has spent time in a college classroom or participated in a brainstorming meeting might remember how invigorating and educational those debates could be. Differing opinions, views, and experiences often emerge from a group of people gathered in one room, and employees can draw upon these immediately and well into the future. Furthermore, if a topic is complex, it is much easier to elicit assistance from a live trainer than from a prerecorded video on YouTube.


There is a time and place for eLearning

While in-person training tends to win out over digital learning, it is not always the best option, financially and logistically. These days, employees might be located across the country, if not the world, which means getting them in one place for live training can be difficult and costly. Add generational gaps and a changing industry to the mix and sometimes in-person training simply is not feasible. That is where digital education can prove valuable.

Online training provides the business and its employees with a flexible way to get up to speed. Instead of being in a classroom, staffers can watch videos or take online courses on their own time, whether in the morning before the workday, in the middle of the night, or any time in between. Employees also have flexibility in where and how they view the material, whether that means on the subway or the couch.

Digital training tends to be less expensive for employers, even when considering the cost to create the content. Companies do not have to worry about flying employees to their headquarters, putting them up in a hotel for consecutive days, and covering their meals during the training period. 


Digital content has to pop

Just like with in-person training, the engagement level is only as good as the material. Content that uses eye-appealing images, interactive videos, and animated descriptions will keep the audience interested and wanting more. That does not mean every video has to be a scripted, polished affair. There should be a mixture of educational material that is casual and professional within the online catalog.

Large corporations have advantages in creating educational content that resonates, often having dedicated staff and big budgets to tackle the problem. Smaller businesses have to rely on existing resources and software to develop a library of educational material. They also have to figure out ways to update the content so that it does not become irrelevant as the rules, regulations, and industry change. Newrez keeps its content creation in-house. We draw upon our staff to make videos and help create webinars. Recording a quick video on a new product or regulation has become routine among our employees.

Since classroom training and online learning each have pros and cons, combining the two can be a powerful way to train staff. At Newrez, new employees in the loan origination business, for example, go through a week of on-site training. Following that, employees obtain access to a library of digital content to continue to learn. This approach has proven to bolster both recruiting and retention.


Live training, eLearning: Evaluation required

Whether a company favors digital content or live training, it must be measured to ensure its effectiveness. You do not want the results of your training to be lackluster. Wasting time and money is not an option in a fiercely competitive environment in which everyone is vying for top talent.

Feedback is a critical component of assessing the training’s effectiveness. Regardless of where the training takes place, employees should have an opportunity to evaluate the program. A quick survey can yield significant insight. A follow-up skills test a few weeks later is another way to determine if the training was successful. Companies can further assess effectiveness by viewing the performance of  its employees before and after the training. If there is no observable change, it may signal the need for program improvements. Subject matter tests are yet another option. After viewing a YouTube video or listening to a lecture, did the individual retain the necessary material?

Education is an important part of running a successful business. This is particularly true in the ever-changing financial services industry. Maintaining a staff of educated employees with access to the latest data is critical to remaining competitive. Combining the intimacy of live training with the accessibility of digital learning is the best approach to providing the necessary skills. It ensures you are bringing everything to the table to support your team members on their quest for more knowledge.


Tony Williams joined Newrez in March 2014 and holds the role of vice president of organizational development. He has more than 25 years of experience in the learning and development field. Tony spent the last five years in the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry where he led a global training team. Prior to this role, he spent 15 years in the financial industry, namely the retail banking and credit card industries with companies such as Commerce Bank (now TD Bank), Wachovia and Advanta Bank.