1) Cut to the chase. The name of the game should be IT training, not torture. "Traditionally, the IT training model has required employees to spend eight hours a day learning a new Cisco or Microsoft technology," said Graunke. "It's mind-numbing. People don't have time anymore for a 45-minute intro. Just cut to the chase."
Graunke recommends companies whittle down their training content by as much as 75%. Whether teaching employees how to troubleshoot a Cisco router or install software patches, Graunke said, "courses should cut to what people need to know. IT training, in general, has a tendency to be 180-page chapters in a 1,500-page book. Instead, it should be about what an IT professional needs to know to install this piece of equipment right now--not about learning the 17 commands they may never use."
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By distilling lessons down to must-know info, delivered in short intervals, Graunke promises employees will consume knowledge at a higher rate and retain it more easily. Additional learning materials can then be provided online or through interactive channels with an instructor.
2) Think like Spielberg. Having trouble seeing through your car windshield? According to Graunke, increasing numbers of people "go to YouTube to learn how to change the wipers on their car" and accomplish other fairly simple but non-traditional household tasks. IT training shouldn't be any different.
"Everything is so visual that if you take IT training content and surround it by multimedia, from a learning perspective, a company can cut training time by over 50%," said Graunke. That's because it's easier to capture the attention of IT professionals with fast-moving content, quality video, and entertaining effects.
Fortunately for IT leaders, Graunke said it's not about producing the next summer blockbuster. Rather, he said IT training is about "creating visual learning sentences. Not just a sentence to explain something but a visual learning sentence that tells your story with a picture."
3) Create winners. Another way to keep staff interested is gamification--the art of creating social scoring for training activities, such as who can complete a lab the fastest and who received the highest score on a post-learning test. "The video game Diablo 3 just came out and sold nine million copies in 48 hours," said Graunke. "That fundamental mindset of scoring and competing is already embedded within the IT industry. Why not leverage it? Now learning goes from being painful to being a source of pride. IT professionals are challenging themselves to get better and they're doing it through training that makes it fun."
4) Keep it human. Despite its bottom-line benefits, Graunke said IT leaders need to think twice before replacing live instructors with cursors and keyboards. "Something went terribly wrong with e-learning. It's a miserable failure," he said. "It's cheap and it's anytime and anywhere but can you name the last time you did something in e-learning that you thought was amazing? What we're missing is the human element."
According to Graunke, the presence of an instructor actually increases a student's ability to learn and absorb material. Whether it's a live chat or an interactive classroom, being able to connect with a living and breathing human being helps "knowledge retention rise dramatically," he said.
At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.