Conceptual image showing employees in a training session

Everyone knows that investing in employee training and development is one of the smartest things a business can do.

But you can’t just whip up a few quick lectures, blast them out via email, and call it a day.

(Okay, in some cases you can. More on this in a bit.)

To be blunt:

How you deliver your employee training sessions matters — to your employees, your team, and your company.

That said, today we’re going to dig into everything you need to know about effective employee training methods, including:

  • Which methods are most commonly used today
  • Why using multiple employee training methods is essential
  • How to determine which training method(s) to use in a given scenario

Let’s dive in.

Effective Employee Training Methods

To be sure, you likely already use at least a few of the following methods for helping with your employees' development.

Still, it’s important to understand exactly what each method entails, and when they’re best utilized.

1. Traditional Lectures 

Traditional lectures are speaker-led instructional or informational sessions that require minimal interaction from or with the audience.

The goal of using this training method is to quickly, clearly, and precisely disseminate important information to a mass audience. As such, lectures are prepared in advance and adhere to a tight script from beginning to end.

The lecture format, then, is best used to communicate information that can be understood verbatim, and without much further inquiry.

Such as…

  • When introducing a new company-wide policy
  • When delivering reports on quantitative data
  • For recertification purposes when hands-on training isn’t required

2. Instructor-led Training

Instructor-led training is also speaker-led, but is much more interactive and candid than traditional lectures.

Here, instructors and learners are more free to engage with one another (and each other) to ask questions, receive guidance, and otherwise solidify their understanding of the topic at hand. Instructor-led training often involves planned activities, multimedia presentations, and other more hands-on learning opportunities.

This engaging employee training method is best used:

  • When demonstration of skills is needed to communicate information and showcase learning (i.e., when training on tacit knowledge)
  • When instructing on complex topics or procedures where additional questions and “deeper dives” are necessary
  • When demonstration of skills is required for regulatory compliance

3. eLearning

eLearning exploded in popularity with the explosion of remote teams, and continues to be an effective training solution for teams of all shapes and sizes.

eLearning can occur live or asynchronously, depending on the circumstances. It can also be tailored to the individual trainee — or developed in similar fashion to lecture-based instruction.

In either case, multimedia is a common staple of most eLearning experiences. Even lecture-based eLearning can have interactive elements, such as checks for understanding and opportunities to provide feedback.

Common uses for eLearning include:

  • Onboarding new employees
  • Delivering ongoing training to long-time team members
  • Delivering compliance training simultaneously to a large audience

4. On-the-job Training

On-the-job (OTJ) training has the employee learning new knowledge, skills, or processes while actually completing their job-related duties.

However, don’t confuse OTJ training with a haphazard, learn-as-you-go approach. Rather, on-the-job training is intentional and procedural, involving trainer-led instruction and guidance throughout.

The nature of OTJ training means employees get firsthand, real-world learning experiences without taking them away from their core responsibilities. The downside of this is there can potentially be little room for exploration or clarification when time is of the essence.

All that being considered, on-the-job training is best used:

  • To teach a specific process or task to an individual employee
  • To demonstrate effective techniques and best practices for completing a task
  • When training a current employee for a larger role in the company

Note that OTJ training should only be conducted in low- to no-risk situations until you’re 100% confident in the trainee’s abilities.

5. Simulation

Simulated employee training combines eLearning with on-the-job training — while taking all of the risk involved in OTJ out of the equation.

Simulated training has existed in simpler forms for quite a while now. For example, most software onboarding experiences provide simulated scenarios to allow new users to practice utilizing the program. Interactive employee training videos are used for everything from product training to compliance — and much more.

Emerging technology — from AR and VR to artificial intelligence and generative chat — has brought even more realism to simulated training sessions across the board. In many ways, these training sessions are…virtually…indistinguishable from the real thing.

Simulated training technology is best leveraged…

  • To teach and practice effective techniques and best practices
  • When OTJ training is too risky and/or dangerous
  • When training remotely or asynchronously

6. Mentorships

Mentorships connect novice employees with expert colleagues for both immediate instruction and long-term guidance.

The goal of a mentorship is to bring the rookie up to the level of the expert (or, at least, to put them on a path toward getting there). While traditional mentorships take an age-related approach here, the main focus should always be on effective transference of knowledge or skills.

As a long-term process, mentorships involve both formal and informal interactions — initiated by either party at various times along the way. On the mentor’s end, it’s all about keeping the learner on-track and confident in their growth; the learner must then be able to reach out to their mentor whenever they need assistance.

Mentorships can be used…

  • To train new employees on overarching strategies or approaches to their work
  • To prepare employees for promotions or position changes
  • To teach non-digital natives how to use emerging technology

7. Cooperative Groups

Cooperative learning groups can be developed to facilitate learning and growth around a certain domain, topic, or theme.

They can be formal (e.g., workshops, communities of practice), or more relaxed (e.g., discussion boards, Slack channels). Either way, the idea is to band colleagues together around a common learning goal — and to use one another as springboards to help everyone reach this goal.

Cooperative groups are effective for…

  • Collaborative problem-solving around major roadblocks and bottlenecks
  • Filling knowledge gaps and strengthening team-wide knowledge
  • Promoting creative thinking amongst your workforce

Note that while these groups often have a more company-wide goal in mind, reaching this goal typically involves developing the knowledge and skills of all team members.

Why You Need Multiple Employee Training Methods

As we just went over, the main reason you need to use a variety of employee training methods is that there’s no single option that works best for every occasion.

(On that same token, it’s possible for some methods to be the exact wrong ones to use in certain scenarios. We’ll come back to this later.)

Still, that doesn’t mean that one training subject should be taught via one training method, end of story.

Rather, you should always be open to using a variety of methods and approaches when conducting employee training of any kind.

Here’s why.

1. Improve Knowledge Retention

Using multiple employee training methods helps improve knowledge retention — in two senses of the phrase.

On an individual level, your employees will be exposed to the learning material multiple times, which in itself will increase the chances of it “sinking in”. Plus, experiencing the material in different ways and from multiple perspectives will help fill in any gaps in their learning — and build upon what they’ve already learned in past sessions.

This can then lead to improved knowledge retention on a company-wide basis. The more your employees learn and take away from their training, the more knowledge content they’ll be able to document. In turn, your organization as a whole will continue to retain this knowledge for the future.

2. Enhance Skill Development

On top of retaining information more effectively, your employees will also be better able to apply their learning when exposed to multiple training methods.

In many cases, this is simply a byproduct of utilizing multiple methods. For example, an intranet forum discussion following an instructor-led lesson will bring various perspectives to the table — causing participants to think more critically about the information they’d learned previously.

Or, it may be more intentional and strategic on your part. For example, you might connect a new hire with a specific mentor to strengthen areas of weakness that came up during simulated onboarding sessions.

3. Cater to Individual Preferences

While the notion of learning styles has long since been debunked, there’s no discounting the importance of catering to your employees’ preferences when it comes to training.

This goes for their “big picture” preferences (i.e., what training methods they generally prefer), as well as their immediate preferences (i.e., what methods are most convenient and effective at the time).

In short, you’re giving your employees more options to train in the way that works best for them. This not only makes them more likely to engage and learn from the material — but also shows them how dedicated you are to their development.

4. Cater to Individual Differences & Provide Accessibility

In addition to the above, some employees may require training to be given in a certain format.

For example, you may have an employee who needs learning material to be presented in text-based form due to a medical condition or disability; a remote worker who requires asynchronous training due to time zone differences; or a non-native English speaking employee who needs a translator.

For such employees especially, a one-size-fits-all approach to training isn’t going to work. To this end, using multiple training methods is an act of inclusion — and should be a proud staple of your organization.

5. Encourage Continuous Learning and Development

By using multiple training methods to promote growth and development among your employees, you send the message that this growth and development should be continuous.

With this more dynamic approach, you’ll be:

  • Revisiting information and learning material over time
  • Building upon prior learnings and experiences
  • Pointing trainees toward further learning opportunities

In contextualizing training through various methods, you make it an essential part of your employees’ on-the-job experience — not just something they go through sporadically just to get it done.

This leads them to take control of their own development and create a learning plan that aligns with their future goals within your organization.

How to Determine and Implement the Most Effective Training Methods

Okay, so we know that some training methods work better in certain situations than others.

Now, we need to know how to narrow things down to find the method that will:

  • Allow for the most effective and efficient transfer of knowledge
  • Lead to the most possible growth for all participants involved
  • Best improve the performance of your employees, your teams, and your business

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Assess Your Employees’ Needs

Your first order of business is to take a closer look at your employees’ actual needs.

Understanding their knowledge gaps is most important. With this information, you can determine exactly what it is they need to learn or learn how to do.

To get this information, you can:

  • Dig into past performance reviews for the employees in question
  • Create assessments specifically for future training purposes
  • Engage in candid conversation with the employees and their managers

You then need to find out what their preferred learning formats are, along with any accommodations they may require throughout the training. Again, candid conversations (along with surveys, direct observation, and other tactics) can shed more light onto what their preferred methods are — and just why these methods are most preferred by your team.

Consider Your Main Options

Even at the early stages of planning, you’ll likely have a good idea of which training methods you’ll likely be working with.

Even if the right choice seems like a no-brainer, you still want to go through the process of vetting each one beforehand. Yes, your quick announcements will likely be communicated in lecture format — but there’s always a chance that another method could lead to a more valuable experience for your employees and your business.

A few examples:

  • Software training can potentially be done through on-demand eLearning via microlearning platforms as well as eLearning management systems, live webinars, or in-person instruction.
  • Different customer service skills can be taught via mentoring, role playing, or community discussion.
  • Teaching leadership skills often requires a combination of ongoing coaching, workshops, and seminars.

The idea at this point is to nail down the key reasons that specific methods immediately come to mind for certain training purposes. That way, you can identify other training methods that offer similar value — and may potentially be an even better choice for the situation at hand.

(At the very least, you’ll have a clear idea of how to best repurpose the training session in the future.)

Evaluate the Effectiveness of Past Training Programs

Next, consider which training methods you’ve already used, and in what capacity you’ve used them.

Dig into your past training initiatives, identifying what went well and where things could have gone a bit smoother. If your shortcomings align with the disadvantages of the training method chosen, it may be time to revamp the initiative altogether.

(As a simple example, if an on-the-job training session ended with someone getting hurt, you’ll almost certainly want to think twice about any kind of real-time training in this learning domain moving forward.)

That said, you might not need to choose a completely different training method if things haven’t been going perfectly. With your assessment data in hand, you’ll now be able to determine:

  • Whether you’re taking full advantage of the strengths the method offers
  • If there are any quick-fix ways to mitigate the weaknesses of the current method
  • If the current initiative can be supplemented with additional training via different method

Consult with Stakeholders

Be sure to involve all involved parties as you optimize your approach to a given employee training method (and, eventually, to all of them).

Essentially, this boils down to those who have conducted training in the area of focus, and those who have completed this training. You also might want to touch base with employees who are candidates for the training in question, but who have yet to actually take it.

Your trainers will be able to help you confirm that the issues faced during training were due to the chosen method.

(And not something like a lack of effort on the part of the trainees.)

Here, you’ll get a better understanding of where your instructors may have faced blockers, bottlenecks, or other points of friction that kept them from providing top-notch guidance. Again, trace these issues back to determine if it’s the actual method itself that’s the problem.

Then, talk to those who have completed the training in its current form to get their perspective of things:

What did they love about it? Where did they lose interest? Most importantly, did their engagement and success with the training translate to improvement in their performance?

Though you’ve already surveyed your potential trainees, you’ll now have more context to bring to the discussion as you seek suggestions for future training. Use the info gathered from trainers and past trainees to gauge future trainees’ interest in different methods — and to show them just how valuable each method is in different scenarios.

With all these different perspectives locked in, you should have a pretty good idea of which training methods to focus on.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Now you’re ready to ask the all-important question:

Which training method is right for our current purposes?

By “right”, we really mean:

Which training method will be worth the investment for our current purposes?

In short, it’s time to conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

Begin by defining the intended outcomes for the training. Remember, you’ll have already determined your trainees’ needs; here, you’ll be fleshing these needs out into more official terms.

Think about what you want your employees to know or be able to do — and the value this growth will bring to the company. This is where the process of documenting the business case for the upcoming training initiative begins.

From there, list out all the costs involved in conducting the training using each prospective method. Consider not just the amount of time, money, and other resources to be spent — but also the potential opportunities you’ll miss by reallocating these resources for training purposes.

Of course, the cheapest option isn’t necessarily the best one. While the lowest-cost option might seem “good enough” to convey the training material at hand, going this route may cause your employees to miss out on opportunities for further growth that would make the training much more valuable.

Implement, Track, and Iterate

Once you’ve determined which employee training method(s) to use for a certain purpose, your next step will be to design and implement the training program.

As the training initiative goes live, you’ll then shift to tracking employee progress — and also assessing the effectiveness of the training session in its current form.

Tracking employee training progress involves:

  • Assessing their engagement and performance throughout the training session
  • Analyzing their growth in terms of knowledge, skills, and abilities
  • Tracing this growth to improvements in employee, team, and business performance

(This is also a good time to collect feedback from your trainers and trainees regarding their experiences during the training.)

With this data in hand, you can then make iterative improvements to the training initiative — or potentially think about using a different format in the future.

Using Helpjuice to Supercharge All Training Methods

Your internal knowledge base plays a pivotal role in employee training regardless of which training method we’re talking about.

With a comprehensive knowledge base in place:

  • Your communities of practice and on-demand learners will have instant access to all organizational knowledge as needed.
  • Text-based and multimedia content showcasing standard workflows and best practices enhances mentor-led training.
  • Lecture-based announcements and the like can be documented and retrieved with ease.

Which is where Helpjuice comes in.

Our advanced knowledge base software lets teams create, access, and deliver training material and other informational content with ease. This makes trainers more effective — and ensures learners stay engaged at all times during training.

Want to check us out? Sign up for a free 14-day trial of Helpjuice today!