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Innovations in IT Education: From Virtual Training to Social Networking

by Richard Strattner | SAPinsider

July 1, 2010

A well-trained workforce is key to an IT team’s success—but what is the best way to deliver that training? Hint: It’s no longer confined to the live-instruction classroom. In this article, you can explore recent training innovations—including simulation games and embedded learning—that address and accommodate the current budget, learning style, and culture of your workforce.

Those who work in the IT sector are well acquainted with the positive impact that a well-trained workforce can have on organizational productivity and success. A recent survey by analyst firm IDC found that “over 60% of IT managers believe that the skill of their teams is the most important success criterion for critical IT functions.”1

But the training needed to build that skill — how is it being delivered? It is no longer confined to the live-instruction classroom many of us grew up with. In fact, recent innovations in corporate education have expanded beyond traditional classroom training to incorporate alternative methodologies, such as virtual training, simulation games, embedded learning, and social networking. This shift (see Figure 1) has occurred for three main reasons:

  1. Budget. Sending a member of your workforce offsite for a training course can incur the cost of travel, lodging, meals, and related expenses. Limited training budgets can thus significantly curtail the number of individuals who can be trained offsite. Plus, there is the indirect cost associated with time out of the office.
  2. Learning style. In the field of IT training and education, as in the broader field of general education, not all individuals learn the same way. What allows one individual to effectively consume and retain knowledge may prove completely ineffective for another.
  3. Culture. The learning environment in which individuals feel most comfortable is generally related to the current culture. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study, for example, determined that young people between the ages of 8 and 18 spend 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen.2 Unsurprisingly, this “Learning 2.0” generation — the work force of today and tomorrow — embraces a virtual learning environment.


 Corporate education yesterday       

Corporate education today   

 Centralized knowledge

 Knowledge dispersed throughout business units   


 Knowledge workers

 Company-owned learning

 Community/business-owned learning


 Anytime, anywhere

 Learning capture

 Learning distribution and sharing

 ROI analysis of training spend

 Performance and effectiveness analysis

 Content development

 Framework development

 Workforce development

 Social/workforce engineering

 Learning as a discreet business

 Learning as an ecosystem

 Reactive content development

 Predictive learning frameworks

Figure 1 The evolution of corporate education: what past characteristics have become today

Let's explore some recent training innovations that address budget, learning style, and culture.

Virtual Live Training

Virtual live training is a concept that blends e-learning with the benefits you would gain from presence in a physical classroom. The typical virtual learning day is comprised of presentations, exercises, and questions and answers, much like in a traditional classroom, but it is all facilitated through an electronic performance support system (EPSS). Take, for example, the virtual live classroom training offered by SAP Education (see sidebar); it provides comprehensive training from SAP experts — the same content delivered in SAP’s traditional “brick and mortar” classrooms — through over-the-web
connectivity, eliminating travel expenses and time out of the office.

Virtual live classrooms are not to be confused with webinars. While webinars communicate information to a large audience in one direction (instructor to learner), virtual training is usually delivered in small, collaborative groups.

Simulation Games

The concept of integrating fun into learning is quite popular in primary and secondary education. In corporate education, however, fun isn’t exactly at the top of the list — but perhaps it should be. Take simulation games, for example. In this training methodology, individuals in an
organization’s workforce engage in a collaborative competition that utilizes tools and experience from their daily professional lives. By pitting one player or team against another, the players gain insight into best practices, enhance their sense of teamwork, and see the direct impact their actions have on the overall business.

SAP Education has embraced this concept with the SAP ERP Simulation game by Baton Simulations, a classroom-based, competitive business game played in a live SAP environment. In small teams, participants run the full business cycle of a small company, using standard SAP reports and dashboards to make and execute business decisions. The result is a workforce that is more intimately familiar with SAP ERP, can execute transactions with greater speed and accuracy, and has a deeper appreciation for collaboration.

Embedded Learning

Embedded learning is predicated on the notion that transferring knowledge in real time can have a greater impact than creating a separate learning instance. In other words, organizations make critical learning available at the moment of need without having to remove the learner from his or her work. This is done by breaking instruction down into bite-size learning objects that can be easily embedded into an employee’s workflow. This training style is based on the idea that the more contextual learning is to an individual’s job or task, the more he or she is motivated to learn.

Embedded learning may be a good choice when your company is faced with a software upgrade, for example. In such a case, an entire training course is not always necessary. That’s why SAP Education offers online knowledge products (OKPs). These self-paced courses can be accessed as often as you wish for up to 12 months. The goal is to get your workforce the answers they need as questions arise and return them to productive, efficient activity as quickly as possible.

Social Networking

Taking into account the power and rapid adoption of social networking sites, social networking as a training tool broadens both the scope and concept of the modern classroom. Instructors are no longer simply the individuals at the front of the classroom — they are the distributed members of the class, each providing an additional source of guidance and content.

Practical examples of social networking as a training tool include the use of forums and blogs for content distribution and discussion, as well as the use of popular sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook as distribution channels for new information. Utilizing those channels to expand the scope of knowledge that a broad community has on a topic, solution, or deployment can not only facilitate the sharing of information, but also enhance the content development process.

Content, Then Delivery

Of course, no matter which of these innovations you decide are most appropriate for your organization’s IT training, they will not do much good without strong content. The quality of your training materials, created either explicitly by a professional or in conjunction with an expanded network of contributors, remains the number one success factor. With that said, innovations for delivering that material, such as the ones mentioned in this article, are critical for accommodating the current budget, learning style, and culture of your workforce.

Richard Strattner

Richard Strattner ( is an education and technology professional with experience in creating and executing sales and marketing strategies at firms worldwide. At SAP, Richard works in Global Services Marketing, supporting the education line of service.

1Source: IDC MarketScape: Worldwide IT Education and Training, 2010 Vendor Analysis. [back]

See “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds.” [back]

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