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TRAINING SYSTEMS MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS.

The rate of growth of technology is accelerating. This has caused a major issue of training end users to keep up with the growing technology. As a result, training managers are challenged to find effective and innovative ways to train end users. Corporations are investing large sum of money in training end users with expectations that end users will continue to be productive. More specifically corporate executives are concerned about long-term effect of training on end user productivity. This paper presents a training model and strategies corporations could adopt to effectively train their employees. The study reports the findings of longitudinal study conducted in a field setting. The study discusses management implications for training managers.

Introduction

Management is becoming more complex as organizations attempt to reengineer their administrative and production systems. Training individuals to meet these needs imposes an increase in the complexity and scope on training systems. The skills and knowledge workers need on the job are rapidly changing. Because of the complexity of organizational change, the responsibility for training falls on the training department. The need for staff development using computer systems is important (Cabrales et al. 1992)

In response to this challenge, researchers have studied key variables such as training support, training delivery techniques, individual differences of the trainees, and technology that can be used to enhance effective training program design. The consequence of prior investigations is varied approaches to train and develop employees who compete for organizational resources (Cabrales and Eddy, 1992).

In order to achieve the maximum benefits of reengineering, management must realize that workers are generally capable of performing above the level their jobs require or allow. In response, corporate interest in providing training in basic workplace skills has increased. For example, corporations such as Texas Instruments require their employees to take mandatory training in the job areas where they lack ability. Consequently, many corporations have opted to make rather than buy productive employees by investing in training programs (Tracey 1985). Corporate management is frequently more interested in training as opposed to education. Training is an activity related to the job and oriented toward problem solving; whereas education is preparation for a defined job in the near future. This implies that corporations will find new ways of providing training to keep abreast of advancing Information Technology (IT).

Problem

This study is motivated by the issues created by end-user computing (EUC) and its growing importance within organizations. One of the major issues related to EUC is training individuals to adapt to the new IT. Developing information systems (IS) human resources is ranked fourth and organizational learning and the use of IS technologies fifth among the top ten issues of IS management (Niederman et al. 1991). The difference in training methodologies and job functions further complicates the training problem. For example, word-processors, spreadsheet, graphics, and other software packages are used throughout the organization, but the extent of their use varies depending on job functions. A clerk may use a word-processor more extensively than the manager, a manager may use spreadsheet software for decision-making functions; whereas a clerk may use it for data entry, and so on. Organizations face questions such as which is the most effective way of matching the workforces' requirements and the training methodology, what is an appropriate length of training for the variety of employees, and how much material is to be presented per training session. The importance of the computer in training is mentioned by Eddy et al. 1997, but limitation exist as reported by Spaulding and Eddy, 1996. The keys in computer training are complex (Eddy and Spaulding, 1996).

In addition to the problem created by existing IT, advances in IT create the need for human resources with specialized skills. The need for specialized skills means finding new, more productive training strategies and, as a result, additional investments (Irish 95). Management must look at more effective training and development strategies as a necessary investment. The key issue the management concerned about is how effective is a training method over a certain period of time. In summary, both researchers and practitioners agree that organizations should continually examine effective ways of training employees to keep up with technological advances, especially when introducing software products that impact the entire corporation (Cabrales and Eddy, 1992).

Overall, the problem addressed by this study is significant because effective selection of training strategies and effectively managing the training investments are critical to the successful management of end users.

This study addresses issues such as the impact of training delivery technique and type of computer application software on end user trainees' performance over an extended period of the training.

Research Framework

The research framework for this study is derived from the analysis of various carefully selected elements. These elements are based on previous research (Desai 1996). This study uses task type and training method as independent variables and outcome/performance as a dependent variable.

Independent Variables

In the context of this study, task type is categorized as using a specific software product and its application. Task type is limited in this study to word processing (Microsoft Word for Windows Ver. 6.0) and a spreadsheet (Excel Ver. 5.0).

Training method refers to the actual delivery of training. Several researchers agree that the training methods influence trainee's performance. The types of training methods used in this study are instructor-based training (IBT) and computer-based training (CBT).

Dependent Variables

A training program's effectiveness (outcome) is a dependent variable. The surrogates for this variable are accuracy, trainee's time, and end-user satisfaction. Performance (knowledge of a software package and its use) will be measured at three times: at the inception of training, at the end of the training session in the training class, and one month after the training session at the trainee's workplace. Measuring performance at three different times allows researcher to investigate how much learning is impacted due to training activity and how much training is actually transferred to the workplace. Performance is measured both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

The quantitative performance measure will include subjects taking a test on either Microsoft Word or Excel software package. Each test will be graded and a score will be given. The difference in the scores on the test prior to, at the end, and approximately one month after the training will be used as a measure of effectiveness of training.

The qualitative performance measure will include a trainee's end-user computing satisfaction with the IBT or CBT. The end-user computing satisfaction was measured by administering an instrument based on Doll and Torkzadeh's (1988) end-user satisfaction instrument. This instrument was modified and used as a guideline to include items that focus on ease of use.

Field Experiment

In order to validate and measure the impact of the above variables a field experiment was conducted. Key variables studied were the training methods and task. The training methods used were instructor-based training and computer-based training. Tasks selected for the study were Word for Windows and Excel 5.0. The target population for this study was end-users of information systems technology. The subjects (sample) for this study were employees of a Fortune 100 corporation located in a major southwestern city in the United States. The study included employees who were required to or who wanted to learn a new software package. Because of privacy and ethics concerns, the subjects' anonymity was preserved. The reason for using the corporate employees in the experiment was to strengthen the external validity of the study. It was assumed that the subjects selected for this study were all novices. Subjects were allowed to select training classes based on the training schedule provided by the training center. A self-selecting and convenience sample was employed in this study.

Procedure

Each subject was asked to sign a letter of consent stating that participating in the experiment is voluntary. Subjects could drop out of the experiment at any time they wished. Subjects were grouped in four groups -- IBT (Word), IBT (Excel), CBT (Word), and CBT (Excel). IBT and CBT contents were similar and were designed to follow similar sequence of topics.

The IBT approach used a combined traditional training, stand-up lecture and the hands-on exploratory method. The CBT approach was similar to the IBT approach except for the absence of an instructor. Thus, in CBT there is no direct interaction between the subject and an instructor. In CBT, the subjects can directly interact with a computer. CBT was a commercially available purchased software package and not custom developed for the experiment. CBT software for Microsoft Word (Ver. 6.0) and Excel (Vet. 5.0) were loaded on the computer system. Unlike IBT subjects, CBT subjects were not provided with a training manual. They were required to follow a series of actions displayed by the CBT software. No instructor was present to answer any software-related questions. The only time subjects were assisted was when the system froze or the students had difficulties other than training related.

Measurement Procedure

There were several measures included in this study. These measurements were taken at various time intervals such as at the beginning of the training, at the end of the training, and one-month after training.

Demographic data on each subject were collected at the beginning of the experiment. Demographic data included subjects' gender, present use of software, current job functions, work experience, computer experience, and education. Demographic data were used in assessing the prior knowledge of the subjects.

Participation of individuals was as follows:
Application      Male      Female      Total
IBT Word         22        23          45
IBT Excel        28        17          45
CBT Word         6         5           11
CBT Excel        5         5           10


Quantitative performance (accuracy performance)

Experts were given a set of questions on Microsoft Word and Excel to assess the validity of the instrument. A knowledge assessment of each subject was made by administering the set of questions on Microsoft Word and Excel software concepts respectively. The subjects were tested using the same test questions at the beginning of training, at the end of training, and approximately one month after training. At each interval of training, subjects' scores on the tests were recorded.

Qualitative performance (end-user computing satisfaction)

Individual satisfaction measures include general attitude toward using the software in the future, perceived importance of training, ease of use, overall satisfaction with the trainer and training content, and satisfaction with the facility. The end-user computing satisfaction instrument was used to measure individual satisfaction. It was adapted from using Doll and Torkzadeh's (1988) user satisfaction instrument.

Results

The overall results indicate CBT training to be more effective than IBT, which implies that corporations should consider CBT as a part of their training strategy. There was no significant difference in performance accuracy of the subjects one-month-after-training versus end-of-training. However, several reasons explain why CBT subjects performed significantly better than IBT subjects. The average education level of CBT subjects was at least college undergraduate or better. Approximately 38% of the CBT subjects were postgraduates and 38% were graduates. Among the IBT subjects, 42% were high school graduates, 26.6% were undergraduates, 14.4% graduates, 1% postgraduate, and 15.5% had other education. Seventy-one percent of the CBT subjects and 38.8% of the IBT subjects used Microsoft Word or Excel before the training. Thus, the higher level of education and use of Word or Excel may explain why the CBT subjects performed better than IBT subjects. This implies that management should carefully select the employees for CBT approach.

Overall, the analysis indicated that Excel training was more effective in longer retention of learning than Microsoft Word training. The rationale for this difference was that 70% of Excel subjects used Excel after the training compared to 51% of Microsoft Word subjects who used Microsoft Word after the training. The results suggest that management should make sure that employees use the software after training or else should send the employees for training before they are assigned to a task for which a specific software skill is needed. However, the subjects' satisfaction was not significantly different for Excel than Microsoft Word. Overall, task difference showed significant impact on immediate and long-term training outcomes. There was no difference in accuracy at the pre-training and at the end-of-training between subjects receiving word processing training and the subjects receiving spreadsheet training ([F.sub.1.109]=1.08, p= .302). The mean performance of Microsoft Word task was 13.17 versus the mean performance of Excel task at 16.59. These scores are the average differences between the pre-training and end-of-training performance measures.

There was a significant difference in accuracy at the pre-training and one-month-after-training between subjects receiving word processing training and the subjects receiving spreadsheet training ([F.sub.1.109]=5.15, p=0.025). The results further indicated that the score of Microsoft Word subjects was lower one-month-after the training than at the end-of-training. Thus, it was concluded that the use of software after the training increases the retention of learning.

There was no difference in accuracy at the end and one-month-after-training between subjects receiving word processing training and the subjects receiving spreadsheet training ([F.sub.1.109]=2.51, p=0.11). The results demonstrated that use of training task after training results in longer retention. When the net gain in performance at the end-of-training and one-month after training were compared, the results were not statistically significant. However, the average mean score was lower for Microsoft Word subjects compared to Excel subjects.

Discussion

Managing end-users is a critical issue for corporations, and researchers have suggested several ways to manage them (Alavi, Nelson, and Weiss 1987). The key factor in managing end-users is to efficiently and effectively train them to use information technology. Today, 88% of all organizations sponsor computer skills training compared to 74% in 1989 (Kowal 1995). Thus, it is critical to investigate factors affecting computer-skill training.

It is suggested by the findings that training significantly improves an individual's performance. The research also established that computer-based training (CBT) was more effective than instructor-based training (IBT) when pre-performance was not considered. It was further determined that training schedule and its interaction with training method is significant for long-term retention.

Training Methods

The findings indicated that the major differences between IBT and CBT subjects were attributed to the performance, enrollment for the classes, motivation and general attitude toward training method, and satisfaction with the facility. Motivation or attitude were not measured but interpreted based on the general comments made by the subjects and the proportion of IBT enrollment versus CBT enrollment. The CBT subjects' overall end-of-training and one-month-after-training performance was significantly better than IBT subjects. However, a key management issue the research identified was that it is difficult to sell the CBT method as a formal training tool to the employees (Cabrales et al 1992).

It was observed during the research that the trainees in the CBT were found to have a high motivation to learn on their own and displayed a cooperative yet independent behavior. This finding concurs with Baxter (1993) which concluded that adult employees who are highly self-directed will experience greater success in self-paced instruction than those less self-directed. In follow-up discussions, the CBT subjects indicated that they preferred the flexibility CBT offers because they did not like to be bound by the classroom limitations and interruptions. The demographic characteristics of IBT and CBT indicated that CBT subjects had a higher level of education and experience with computers. The percentage of CBT subjects with prior use of software was higher than IBT subjects. On the other hand, in informal interviews the IBT subjects indicated that they preferred instructors because they could interact with the instructor whenever they needed assistance. A subject who tried to use CBT did not understand how to interact. Another subject came to CBT with an expectation that there would be an instructor to help. The subject did not know that CBT was a stand-alone software training package. One CBT subject, with extensive computer experience, had difficulty interacting and understanding the instruction offered by the CBT software package. This implies that training managers need to critically evaluate the software interface while selecting CBT. In any case, the subject was successful in completing the training without any assistance.

These findings imply that even though CBT renders freedom to an individual during training, a difficult interface or instruction leads to frustration. CBT may enable more efficient interaction; interaction with the computer cannot be a substitute for human interaction (Leidner and Jarvenpaa 1995).

It was determined by the research that CBT is an effective means of training; however, its acceptance as a formal training tool was not favorable. This conclusion was based on the total number of responses to the repeated announcement of CBT classes by the training department. Both IBT and CBT classes were announced; however, the CBT class enrollment was very low as seen in the results. This implies that training managers need to seek alternate ways to encourage end-users to take CBT to acquire the cost savings over IBT. This will require a special effort on part of management to educate users about the importance of CBT as a training tool. Educating users about the possible cost advantage of CBT over IBT may also motivate users to increase the use of CBT. The State of Ohio's Department of Administrative Service has to train more than 5,000 people per year in spite of the cut in their training staff (Hequet 1995).

According to the instruction administrator, the cost of CBT is five times less than a traditional stand-up instructor (Hequet 1995). This has resulted in the growth to 1,200 users per year for CBT among trainees at the Department of Administrative Service. Hequet (1995) further reports that Union Carbide is also moving away from classroom training toward CBT. This implies that management needs to encourage and motivate employees to increase their use of CBT. These findings concur with previous studies that even though management views CBT as cost-effective, there is a resistance to using it because of its lack of stimulation in the learning environment (Keyes 1990).

Another implication of this research for training managers concerns the long-term learning effect of training. The one month follow-up questionnaire indicated that a majority of the end-users did not use the target software during the month after the training. Training managers need to follow-up on the trainees' performance using the target software. This would allow the training managers and corporate leaders to send only those employees to training who would use the training material soon after training. If corporate leaders can correctly identify the employees who need training and who would apply the training immediately, then the result would be a cost savings by not training the employees who do not have a need to use the training material (Cabrales et al. 1992).

A further implication for training managers concerns the type of CBT used for training. Training managers may have to work closely with the CBT vendors or designers and determine the parameters critical to end-users in effectively using the CBT. This calls for a close partnership between the managers and developers to sell CBT to end-users.

Training Task

The study found no significant difference between Microsoft Word (Ver. 6.0) and Excel (Ver. 5.0) subjects' performance at the end-of-training. The research in this study further revealed that if trainees practiced what is learned in the class after the training, they would have a long-term retention of training. This study demonstrated that the training was more effective in long-term retention effect for the subjects in the Excel course than for the subjects in the Microsoft Word course. This was because a larger number of Excel subjects had used Excel during the one-month-after training period than Microsoft Word subjects.

The results of this study further indicated that the interaction effect of a training method and training task is significant both for performance accuracy and for user satisfaction. This implies that interaction of training method and tasks should be considered when long-term learning retention is desired. Task complexity and its relation to cognitive processing has been addressed by previous studies (e.g., Tsai 1991). Thus, a CBT interface for a specific software that complements the cognitive processing ability of an individual will facilitate learning retention (Eddy and Spaulding 1996).

Conclusion

General findings, their implications, and a set of recommendations were discussed in this paper. It is anticipated that conducting future research as recommended in this study would result in more complete findings into the effective approach to training end-users. The current research influences both training managers and corporate leaders who are users of information systems technology. Corporate leaders will continue to look for effective and efficient ways and means to train end-users. Internationally, the methods mentioned here for training are applicable world-wide (Cabrales and Eddy 1992).

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MAYUR S. DESAI, PH.D. Indiana University Kokomo

THOMAS RICHARDS, PH.D. University of North Texas

JOHN PAUL EDDY, PH.D. University of North Texas
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Author:DESAI, MAYUR S.; RICHARDS, THOMAS; EDDY, JOHN PAUL
Publication:College Student Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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