This CQ Dossier provides evidence-based learning practices for team e-learning interventions. The dossier draws on e-learning principles that have been shown to be effective for more than one person. Organizations have focused on using teams to increase organizational effectiveness yet many of these practices have not always been based on scientific principles. Teams are social in nature with team members having high task interdependency and shared, common values (Salas, Cooke & Rosen, 2008). For teams to be effective, it is essential that organizations utilize effective training principles that are rooted in science. This dossier focuses on the ways in which to make teams more effective through evidence-based e-learning practices.
Team-based learning is a continuous process through which teams acquire and utilize new information (Russ-Eft, Preskill & Sleezer, 1997) to improve team performance and outcomes. One of the advantages of teamwork training is that it improves teamwork competencies such as cooperation, communication, conflict management, and work planning (Rousseau, Aube, & Savoie, 2006). In determining the best e-learning principles for teams, it is important to differentiate between task work and team work processes (Marks et al., 2001) Task work represents the nature of the work whereas team work describes how the team is doing the work with each other (Marks et al., 2001) For teams to function effectively, it is important that teams learn how to do the work as a team. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis examined the effectiveness of training interventions on team performance and found that teamwork training, or the ability to function well as a team, was effective at enhancing both teamwork and team performance across a variety of settings (McEwan et al., 2017).
Value teamwork in E-learning training initiatives
Research on management education has found e-learning instruction that focuses on collaboration to be effective. One study examined team instruction that used computer-supported training. MBA students were surveyed to examine the importance of teamwork orientation and the development of group cohesiveness towards overall student learning (Williams, Duray & Reddy, 2006). The study found that both teamwork orientation and group cohesiveness predicted student learning and team learning. The results confirmed that a focus on building teamwork skills is important and can be achieved through e-learning instruction. Previous research on teamwork skills also shows that training is effective. In a study that examined the efficacy of teaching guided team self-correction, the researchers found that teams could function more effectively together after acquiring this skill (Smith-Jentsch, Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, & Salas, 2008). This skill focuses on teams correcting their work through external facilitation (Smith-Jentsch et al., 2008). On average team training explains 20% of variance in team performance, demonstrating that well-designed team training also works (Salas et al., 2008). The main issue for training designers is to consider how best to incorporate this emphasis on teamwork skills through technology-driven instruction (TDI).
Use training principles that work for team training
Organizations are now implementing technology-driven instruction in addition to or instead of traditional forms of training and research shows that both can work if the right principles are applied (Sitzmann, Kraiger, Stewart & Wisher, 2006). However, if suboptimal principals are used in either type of instruction, this can result in failure. A meta-analytic review found that web-based training results in greater learning than classroom training although the mean effect sizes were equal for the two training designs when instructional principles were identical (Sitzmann et al., 2006). This research demonstrates that it isn’t always the medium that is important (Clark, 1994). What matters is that effective learning principles are integrated into the instructional design and that the training has a clear purpose (Bedwell & Salas, 2010).
Ensure that content can be learned effectively through TDI
Practitioners have argued that one of the benefits of technology-driven instruction is that it is more cost-effective and easier to deliver. However, there is little research evidence to support this assumption (Kraiger, 2003). In fact, training costs across organizations stay constant even when training shifts from traditional to e-learning instruction (Patel, 2010). Although training costs are lower for e-learning because of reductions in staffing of instructors and travel costs, there is a financial investment in technology support and technology investment offsetting the costs of staffing. It seems reasonable that technology-based instruction should not be adopted merely because of reduced training costs and that this cost-saving should not be assumed.
Utilize training methods that work for teams
There are several strategies that can be used to train teams. In a meta-analytic review of the literature, Klein and colleagues examined the efficacy of all types of team training including cross-training and crew resource management (Klein et al., 2008). The researchers found that team training had a moderate and positive effect on team functioning. In addition, both training strategies – an emphasis on teamwork or task work– resulted in team effectiveness (Klein et al., 2008). Eduardo Salas and colleagues also did a review of team training and found that team performance improved through cross-training, team coordination and adaptation training and guided team self-correction training (Salas et al., 2007). As Salas and colleagues point out: “team training works and can be a viable approach to enhance team outcomes” (Salas et al., 2007). The challenge is to test these same principles and include the emphasis on teamwork within an e-learning setting. However, the meta-analysis by Sitzmann and colleagues (2006) suggests that the same kinds of training strategies can also work online as well as in traditional settings.
In conclusion, this dossier provides HRD professionals with guidelines on how best to train teams using e-learning instruction. The main objective of the paper is to show that most of the principles utilized in traditional training still apply to technology-driven instruction. HR professionals are encouraged to reflect on whether TDI is appropriate for team learning and whether the knowledge and skills required can be best taught via TDI.
Ensure that teams learn how to do the work as a team
Teamwork training is positively related to team performance
E-learning instruction that focuses on collaboration is effective
Ensure a focus on building teamwork skills through e-learning
Ensure a focus on guided team self-correction in e-learning
There is little difference in Web-based training vs. traditional training when principles are identical
Effective learning principles must be integrated into the instructional design
Technology-driven instruction can work if the principles are effective
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Annette was born in England and now lives in the United States. She has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has taught at several institutions. Annette has published in several journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Development Quarterly, and Organizational Research Methods. She worked in the public and private sector for many years, primarily as a management trainer.