This CQ Dossier provides information on how to provide effective e-learning to teams. The dossier describes training strategies that can enable effective instruction when training teams using technology-driven instruction (TDI). The dossier describes the events that should occur before, during, and after training as applied to teams in an e-learning environment. To implement effective e-learning instruction to teams it is best to draw on principles that have been shown to work based on empirical research (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).
Use a three-stage approach for effective team training in TDI
There are several theoretical frameworks to aid in developing effective e-learning training programs for teams. The framework by Cannon-Bowers and colleagues (Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, Salas & Converse, 1991) bridges the gap between theory and practice and focuses on the linkages between theory and practical applications for training analysis, design, and evaluation. The model poses three practical questions: a) What should be trained b) how should training be designed and c) Is training effective? It is important that HRD professionals consider these questions when implementing e-learning instruction for teams.
Training transfer matters for teams
Most of the research on training transfer has focused on individual employees. Training transfer is a crucial indicator of training effectiveness because it measures the extent to which learning during training is applied on the job (Salas et al., 2012). Training transfer can be estimate by a correlation between learning scores (in training) and performance ratings on the job. Training transfer is particularly important for teams because it is crucial that the team works well together once they are back on the job. Much of technology-driven instruction is learner controlled and so it is important for organizations to consider how best to allow team members to utilize their skills once they return to work. One way is through supervisor support, which research has shown to be critical for training transfer (Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2001). Supervisors can set difficult but attainable goals with team members regarding the level of mastery expected in learner-led e-learning programs. In addition, supervisors can help team members engage in post-training activities that reinforce the concepts learned in training programs (Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992).
Organizational climate matters
When organizations create a culture that utilizes teams with a focus on collaborative efforts, this changes the climate within the organization. Organizational climate is the shared perceptions and attitudes about the organization. It is important that organizations ensure that the climate is congruent with e-learning initiatives for teams (Rouiller & Goldstein, 1993). Organizational climate can significantly alter the effects of training. Organizations with climate that encourage team empowerment and autonomy will find it easier to implement learner-controlled training programs. Typically, teams are accustomed to having control over tasks, so they may respond positively to more control in training.
Working with virtual teams
One of the advantages of using e-learning is when team members are geographically dispersed and need access to collaborate with one another and to build teamwork skills (DeRouin, Fritzsche, & Salas, 2004). Virtual teams may meet occasionally face to face but mostly work in different physical locations. One of the ways in which organizations can successfully build virtual teams is through e-learning instruction. Many of the elements of successful face to face teams are also relevant for virtual teams, including trust and communication. Trust is the cornerstone for effective teamwork and this can be accomplishment through e-learning instruction. Although it might seem difficult to increase trust when team members are working from a distance, online interactions can promote trust and team cohesiveness (Moisey & Hughes, 2008). In fact, Moisey and Hughes (2008) write that online interactions promote a ‘sense of belonging and mutual support’. It is important that e-learning instructors develop trust and safety within the electronic community so that team learners feel comfortable in being transparent in their communication. One way to do this in e-learning instruction is through asking teams to complete tasks together. Small tasks that have a deadline can foster the development of trust in virtual teams (Bergiel, Bergiel & Balsmeier, 2006). Social interaction within virtual teams helps aid in decision-making and increases collaboration between groups to enhance team performance (Bolliger, Supanakorn, & Boggs, 2010).
Team communication matters in e-learning instruction
An important principle in e-learning instruction is the phenomenon of conversation, which describes socialization as well as communication processes within the learning environment. Conversation can increase feelings of belonging and psychological closeness and this can increase team learning. Research shows that collaboration, community and connectedness are related to success in e-learning (Bolliger, Supanakorn & Boggs, 2010). In a study of virtual teams, relationship conflict and lack of communication were the most serious issues for virtual teams’ effectiveness (Tseng & Yeh, 2013). Using a triangulation research model utilizing meta-analysis, field experiment, and survey, a study found that social factors such as developing successful relationships were a pre-requisite to effective task coordination in virtual teams and this approach resulted in team accomplishment (Lin, Standing, & Liu, 2008). One way to increase effective team communication is to incorporate a participatory design approach to effective e-learning instruction. In this way, the e-learning system acts as a two-way street allowing ongoing communication between designer and users rather than a design that is aimed at either the learner or the education (Brown & Votlz, 2005).
Create a shared learning space for teams
Research on effective e-learning instruction for teams illustrates that clarity in team norms, positive instructor attitude, and effective communication supports team effectiveness. These principles create a learner-centered environment leading to greater participation, team work, respect, and commitment. HRD professionals should foster peer-interaction and encourage collaborative learning to increase active learning and critical reflection within teams. This helps team members gain deeper learning and the skills to function effectively within a team (Johnson, Hornik & Salas, 2008).
This CQ Dossier describes key factors to consider when providing instruction to teams in a technology-driven environment. The list is not exhaustive but provides principles that help guide instruction. It is important to link these e-learning instructional principles to the training cycle including needs assessment, transfer of training, and evaluation. HRD professionals should consider exercises that can promote these general principles to enhance team learning and team performance
To design e-learning instruction for teams, use a proven theoretical model
It is important that what is learned during training, is transferred to the job
For team transfer to occur, the supervisor must provide support
Organizational climate needs to be congruent with team training initiatives
For virtual teams to be effective, they must be trained to be effective as team
Building trust can be instilled in e-learning through communication and collaboration
Create a shared learning space for team members
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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.