Information Professionals Are Thinking About Training and Learning, Two Sides of the Same

Information Professionals Are Thinking About Training and Learning, Two Sides of the Same


Evolve and Expand Your Role

Today information professionals are thinking about training and learning, two sides of the same coin, in new ways. Information professionals have a long history in providing bibliographic instruction, but there are exciting developments in the area of e-learning that challenge them to look for new techniques to support individual and organizational learning.

In organizations that have made a commitment to placing high-value information resources at the fingertips of knowledge workers, many of the routine questions that were formerly directed to information professionals are now answered with these desktop information resources. The information professional finds his/her role evolving to that of a consultant and educator—pointing colleagues to the best-available resources and providing guidance in how to use them effectively.

This unit of the Information Professional Resource Center has tools to help you assess how information resources can be incorporated into learning activities and how you can play a more active role as a learning champion:

Learning FAQ

Clarifying learning needs

Partnership opportunities

Learning options & adult learners

E-Learning Delivery

Becoming A Training Professional in Your Organization (Powerpoint)

Additional Reading

Organizations are investing more money than ever before in systems and content to equip employees with excellent decision support information. Well-designed learning strategies will focus on helping users get up to speed with using these resources quickly and efficiently or with simply delivering appropriate pieces of information into learning objects that the user can find and use when needed. Information professionals have new opportunities to leverage their experience and expertise in managing training initiatives for desktop resources, including Internet use, as well as in becoming involved with efforts to integrate external content into e-learning systems that are designed to enhance individual performance and increase organizational knowledge.



What is e-learning?

e-Learning is the use of network technologies to create, foster, deliver and facilitate learning, anytime and anywhere. It includes computer-based learning, Web-based learning, virtual classrooms and digital collaboration. A basic principle of e-learning is that the tools and knowledge required to improve performance are provided directly to the employee to be used as needed.

Why should information professionals be interested in e-learning?

Most companies realize that highly motivated and highly talented employees are crucial to their success. Learning programs are essential for developing these intellectual assets and thus, are recognized as an important corporate initiative. In fact, cultivating a culture of continuous learning allows companies to refer to themselves as “learning organizations.” The overarching goals of learning programs involve ongoing performance improvement and preparing employees to have a just in time response to quickly changing business situations and shorter market cycles.

Some of the skills required for creating and delivering effective learning programs closely parallel skills required for management and delivery of information resources/services—including identifying authoritative resources, channeling content into workflow applications using a variety of technology solutions and the thoughtful organization and presentation of information.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning describes learning that mixes various event-based activities, including face-to-face classroom instruction, live e-learning, and self-paced learning. It can combine several different delivery methods, such as collaboration software, Web-based courses, and knowledge management practices as well as in-person classroom-based instruction.

What is self-directed (self-paced) learning?

Self-directed learning describes an offering in which the learner determines when to take advantage of the learning activity and determines the pace and timing of content delivery.

What are some attributes of adult learners?

Adults have different learning preferences or learning styles (usually described as visual, auditory, kinesthetic or tactile) but some general principles apply to adult learning:

Many adults show a great deal of initiative to learn; they want to improve their own performance with the expectation of promotion or better pay, or they want to enhance their standing among their peers.

Adults demand relevance—their work and personal calendars are full and if they take the time for learning, it must be relevant and immediately applicable to what they do.

Adults filter new learning through a framework of previous experience and mental models, so they typically learn more slowly and learn best when learning is presented in chunks or small modules.

Unlearning can be a bigger challenge than learning something new.

What are some of the major benefits of e-learning?

  • Course content is consistent and controlled
  • “Just-In-Time” option—e-learning modules can be used, in part or in their entirety, when needed by learners and can be repeated as frequently as necessary to reinforce learning
  • Self-paced learning
  • Courseware can incorporate graphics and sound for multi-media experience
  • Quick, easy, and inexpensive to make courseware changes or refresh content
  • E-learning is scalable: large numbers of employees can access e-learning modules
  • Logistics for arranging instructor schedules, travel, preparing and shipping materials, and setting up classrooms and equipment are mostly eliminated

What are some of the key benefits of in-person, classroom instruction?

  • Highly interactive
  • Experienced instructors can easily adapt the presentation to needs of the audience
  • Very effective when role-playing or coaching, and when one-on-one feedback and sharing best practices are required.
  • Social context of classroom is valuable to many learners


Clarifying Learning Needs

As with every initiative undertaken by the information center, it is critical to affirm that the services being delivered to users help them meet departmental or corporate business objectives. To yield the maximum impact and benefit to the organization, the goal of learning programs developed by information professionals should be to equip the user to more effectively reach his/her business objectives.

Some learning needs will be so obvious that you can respond to them immediately. If you plan to formalize a learning strategy as an extension of information center services, this section on the learning audit will be of interest. The learning needs assessment will provide the background necessary to develop an overall strategy and programs to meet specific user needs. Objectives of a needs assessment can range from understanding current knowledge/skill levels to learning users’ expectations of training/learning outcomes. This knowledge will enable you to define attributes of the learning program to meet specific user requirements. Attributes that need to be defined include:

  • Audience
  • Format
  • Length
  • Technical specifications
  • Cost
  • Purpose or optimum use


A needs assessment can be as simple as an informal appraisal based on observations. For example, observing how clients use a workstation in the information center and keeping track of their requests for assistance with the product can be the first step to understanding what instruction would make the product easier to use. If the questions center around mechanics of the service, your approach to training or creating learning modules will be different than if the questions are focused on content.

Patterns observed with particular user groups when they attempt to retrieve certain types of information can also point out learning needs. If persons in the marketing group consistently ask about retrieving certain types of information, there may be a need for training in this application. The more you observe user interaction with an information product/service, the better you will be able to develop learning programs targeted to needs of the user.


Needs assessments, as has been noted in previous units, can also take the form of surveys, with web-based surveys (examples are Survey Monkey and Zoomerang) being the easiest to administer. Data about skill levels and gaps collected from a structured, standardized survey instrument can serve as justification for building a learning program. The survey data serves as a baseline from which to benchmark progress in the future, and may provide baseline data for measuring ROI (return on investment).

Learning needs assessment surveys should always be developed around business reasons for implementing the information service. Remember that information vendors are your partners, and you may be able to take advantage of their experience with launching products in other companies. Some have survey templates, including needs analysis surveys, which they will allow you to modify and use in your organization.

When an information service such as Factiva is being launched to provide enterprise users with ready access to news on customers and competitors, the following simple diagnostic questions could be used to determine where to focus future training based on current learner skill levels.

Finding Company Information on Factiva—Skills Checklist

Application / Very Proficient / Proficient / Need to Know More
Finding information on a company using company name
Finding company information using ticker symbols
Searching for basic financials on a company
Tracking stock performance of a company
Comparing a company to others in an industry
Retrieving investment analyst reports
Monitoring news about a company

Focus groups and interviews

The advantage of conducting focus groups and/or interviews is that you will get qualitative feedback from users. These insights into how users would like to be able to use information products/services as well as real or perceived barriers to use can help you further shape the learning programs to bring the maximum benefit to users.

When focus groups and interviews are used to follow up with users of new information resources after they have been exposed to various learning options, the questions should elicit at least anecdotes related to the 1) value of each learning mode and 2) value associated with having access to the information service/resource. It is always a challenge to measure ROI exactly. However, dollar savings can be hypothesized from documentation that training on a given information service enabled a user to more effectively find background information on a client or competitor, prevent making a risky business alliance, or respond quickly to a competitive threat. It is also challenging to document skills developed or knowledge acquired as a result of the availability of specific learning resources. However, accumulating this type of qualitative feedback is valuable for justifying information professionals’ increasing involvement in learning initiatives.

In preparation for leading a focus group, create a list of questions that you would like to have the participants discuss. Market researchers in your organization (or vendors or outside facilitators) can give you pointers about phrasing the questions to obtain the feedback you need, as well as how to capture data and report outcomes.


Partnership Opportunities

Library instruction is nothing new to information professionals. They have a long history of providing general orientation sessions and on-demand instruction for the use of specific services or products offered by the information center. The nature of library instruction is definitely evolving with an increase in enterprise access to a variety of information services, more employees performing their own research, downsized information centers and the launch of e-learning tools. To help organizations get maximum value from their investment in enterprise services and e-learning tools, information professionals need to reevaluate how they contribute to training efforts and the larger umbrella goals of organizational learning.

Rather than embarking solo on this journey, consider collaboration with other departments to develop training programs and create objects for e-learning applications. Learning programs are typically directed by corporate universities, corporate training/organizational development departments, office of the Chief Knowledge Officer/Chief Learning Officer or knowledge management teams. Learning initiatives can also be embedded in departmental goals.

These departments have employees with experience and expertise in instructional design, learning theory, and the latest learning-delivery technology. As an information professional, you have an opportunity to lend your expertise in identifying and selecting authoritative content to be used for specific business applications and in training people to use various information resources. Together you can build learning modules that are available to users from the desktop at any time and from any location.

Partnership with the human resources department

Within the human resources department, an organizational development group typically oversees learning activities as part of their overall charter to continually develop employee skills and enhance performance to meet workplace challenges. Personnel in this area can share their knowledge of learning management systems, courseware catalogs, training facilities, training schedules, prevailing attitudes toward in-person training and e-learning offerings, and successes and failures of past training initiatives.

Coordinating the delivery of training for information products and services with organizational development staff, and using the infrastructure already existing in your organization (learning management systems, registration procedures, e-learning software, facilities, equipment, communications channels and follow-up, for example) will make the process much simpler. It will also help this group satisfy their objective of identifying learning gaps and developing programs to improve employees’ job performance.

Partnership with the IT department

With large investments in networked computer systems, IT departments are anxious to realize a return on that investment. The deployment of enterprise-wide information/content resources is a way to derive additional value from computer networks, and thus, IT managers are likely to be amenable to working with you on training programs that focus on effective business use of these resources on the network. In addition, IT budgets may be a source of funds to apply to classroom training efforts or for developing online learning modules that can be integrated into the network.

Intranet and portal access to various premium information resources, particularly subscription services, can present challenges for IT departments. Information professionals need to assume leadership in designing courseware that includes guidelines for content evaluation and linking to high-quality content that is relevant to the organization.

Establishing a partnership with IT is important for tracking results of your training activities from the perspective of user adaptation of the services being deployed. Work with IT to define in advance your usage data report requirements so that you can determine how much the product being deployed is used, by whom, and where difficulties are encountered. Such reporting gives you a basis for planning further training and for developing self-serve e-learning applications.

Partnership with vendors

As your organization commits to implementing desktop information products, consider the training support capabilities of the vendors with whom you are working. Vendors are anxious to make sure that customers use their products effectively because they know that renewals are contingent on an organization receiving value from the product.

Some vendors employ trainers and customer support specialists who will lead training sessions at your site. If there is a need for a large number of training sessions over a period of time, consider working with these trainers to have them train members of your staff in a train-the-trainer program.

You may be able to use vendor-provided training materials exactly as they are, or you may need to work with the vendor to customize training materials for your organization and your particular application. Desktop publishing software used to produce most print training materials makes it simple to replace generic topics, company names, product names or personal names with those which would capture the attention and interest of your users. In a similar way, it may be relatively easy to work with vendors to customize web-based training modules built into the information service being deployed. Customization of training materials to reflect the interests of those participating in the training can have a major impact on enthusiasm for the training and more important, on learning retention.


Learning Options & Adult Learners

Learning options fall into three broad categories: 1) instructor-led training—either in-person or remote 2) self-directed learning and 3) simulation. There are numerous options within these categories—varying widely in terms of technical requirements, cost, time commitments, and overall complexity. A tremendous benefit to having a range of learning options available is that most learning styles/preferences are accommodated.

Information professionals are assuming more responsibility for coordinating learning programs—both for the use of particular information services and for placing nuggets of external information into performance improvement types of learning systems. It is important to work with vendors, professional associations and colleagues in other departments/divisions of your company who have experience selecting and launching the latest learning systems. Build on what already exists. If you find it necessary to create your own materials, remember to allow time for testing, revisions, and validation before launching the learning program.

Instructor-led training

A significant percentage of corporate training still takes place in a traditional classroom setting. While this percentage is gradually declining, all instructor-led training will not totally disappear or be replaced soon. Instructor-led training provides the human interaction element. A professional trainer or instructor, typically a subject matter expert, guides the learning program in person or from a remote location using technology such as videoconferencing or web conferencing. Instructor-led classes may be held in-house with internal or external trainers, or users may attend seminars offsite. If you are planning in-house seminars to be taught by your staff, use your best presenters, and persons with the greatest subject matter expertise. Make sure they have plenty of time to prepare for the courses they will be teaching. If the in-house training is to be led by instructors representing vendors or other organizations, make sure their knowledge and style are acceptable before launching the training program. Excellent trainers not only transfer knowledge, but their enthusiasm for what they are teaching frequently motivates the learner to quickly adapt new behaviors and skills. The questioning and discussions that take place with an instructor or other course participants are key to learning for some users.