Most companies have training budgets and most of those budgets have been hard-hit by the facts of currrent economic life. Nevertheless, some traininng, especially in dynamic technical subjects like IT, have to occur.
For example, technical conferences are being well-attended again. I was at SalesForce.com's Dreamforce conference last month and more than 15,000 people were on-site, with additional thousands joining via the web. This month I attended Microsoft's SharePoint Conference, along with nearly 8,000 cust0mers. developers, and business partners. Of course, at a big conference, the kind of training that occurs is different than a training class devoted to a specific subject, like an operating system or a programming environment, that will take place in a small classroom and go on for 3-5 days. That can be a lot more intensive and detailed.
We have long looked to e-learning as a replacement for that kind of F2F training and we are using lots of it, but it hasn't come close to replacing traditional classroom training. That might be because an appointment with an instructor is more likely to result in time being firmly reserved for learning, while an eLearning class is easily interrupted by the operations of your IT department or (if you're taking it on your own time) "Life."
Sharon Fisher has written a great article about some of the things that are changing in the training world. Specifically, she writes about two things I've been observing: making the training into a game so that people get engaged with it and using virtual worlds as a place where a kind of interactive training can take place.
I think the game idea mainly works for less technical topics, but there are certainly companies and instructors who use it for technical content.
I've always been a little less than enthusiastic about Virtual Worlds, not because I don't like the idea, but rather because I don't like the execution yet. I've never been in a Virtual World situation where it was easy to create an avatar, get on line, and find the place I want to go. That could all be made a lot easier and more transparent and for some commercial applications (like attending an on-line conference) it has been. I've also not found a Virtual World situation where I felt I was really there and not sitting at my computer watching. That's a harder problem to solve.
Nevertheless, from the time I first tried on-line learning (with a terminal interface on a green screen) to the class on e-Learning I taught at the University of Pennsylvania (using a simple eLearning tool and a computer lab to let my graduate students try it out) to my latest forray into Second Life, I remain convinced that a substantial amount of training is going to migrate to on-line. It's a combination of the economics and the fact that it can be self-paced, at the learner's convenience. As long as the company takes on-line training seriously and figures out when people are going to do it and what the policy will be to Leave them alone!