We already have virtual friends, virtual businesses, and even virtual or “fantasy” sports teams. Why shouldn’t we also have virtual training?

Lots of companies are already doing it or considering it. When faced with the prospects of importing dozens of employees to some central location, paying for hotels and meals, and then providing a meeting room for a training program, the alternative of having those same employees log onto a website from their own workstation and participate in a virtual classroom experience seems highly attractive.

Virtual training is here to stay, says the Human Resource Management Association, and companies and their HR departments need to be prepared to deal with it. To bring everyone up to speed, the HRMA has invited Jeremy Kestler, a consultant to the marketing education team for SAP software, to address the group’s monthly dinner meeting on Monday, February 13, at the Hyatt Regency Princeton. Networking and registration begins at 5:30, meeting starts at 6 p.m. Price: Pre-registered: members $40, non-members $50, students and qualified in-transition $20; all walk-ins add $10. Call 609-844-0200.

The title of Kestler’s presentation: “Oh No! I Have to Do a Virtual Training Session! Best practices for making virtual training effective and enjoyable for everyone.”

In an E-mail interview Kestler makes clear that the “oh no” moment is quickly erased once a company tries the virtual approach to training. “The challenges of training a geographically dispersed workforce are actually less now than they have been due to new tools and technologies being introduced every day,” Kestler says. “Many organizations now employ web-based online training using tools like Webex or Adobe Connect as a critical part of their overall employee training.

“In fact, many could not live without it. It would be hard for them to consider returning to the old days of flying teams in or flying trainers out. Organizations are still investing in face-to-face or instructor-led ‘classroom’ style training, but live virtual training sessions are reducing the travel burden on trainers and learners and adding benefits like cost savings and convenience. Additionally, online sessions can be recorded and archived to create ‘on demand’ learning assets that are accessible 24/7 for a global audience.

“As with any method of training delivery, live virtual training has its benefits and its drawbacks. It can be difficult to command employees’ full attention on virtual sessions but most trainers view this as a necessary challenge but one that is easily overcome with some practice and new techniques.

“Every time you develop any kind of training or E-learning asset you have to ask questions about the overall learning experience such as: Who is going to read or view this? How will they view it? Do they need headphones? Will they be at their desks or at the airport? Do they have the right players installed on their laptops? How many people will be on the phone — 20 or 200? These questions become second nature and help inform the method of training delivery that we choose.”

Kestler grew up in Short Hills, where his father was a corporate lawyer for AT&T and then Lucent Technologies (and is currently the chief compliance officer at Columbia University). His mother is an experienced medical writer and editor.

A 1994 Princeton University alumnus who also earned an M.B.A. from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, Kestler notes that he has established learning infrastructure and processes and has advised clients as they transition from the familiarity of classroom training into E-learning.

“I think one of my major career influences has been working at many start-ups, advising budding entrepreneurs and also starting my own entrepreneurial ventures. These experiences have made me very comfortable with change and in my roles as a trainer and internal consultant, at SAP and past companies, I have always viewed myself as a driver of organizational change,” he says.

Kestler spent the first half of his career in marketing working for such companies as Coca-Cola, Wise Snack Foods, and some technology start-ups. “The second half of my career,” he says, “has been exclusively focused on learning and development and E-learning.” Among his employers: Caliper, based at the Carnegie Center, where he created the company’s first global learning management system, Caliper University. Kestler has also developed training in leadership and management, software systems and business processes, new product introductions, marketing, sales, customer service, and new hire orientation.

“So my current role at SAP is a great fit because I train internal marketers on marketing topics like branding, social media marketing, and marketing analytics,” says Kestler. “I have a firm understanding and actual work experience in a variety of marketing areas and now my job at SAP is to help SAP’s marketers become proficient in these areas. I work on a very progressive and innovative team using the very latest technology and techniques.”

He has served as a business advisor and instructor for the U.S. Small Business Administration. Last year he was a board member and technology chair for the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) Mid-New Jersey Chapter. He organized the Technology Showcase event titled “2010: A Social Learning Odyssey.”

Concludes Kestler: “No one method is the best for all situations. And, we often have to create multiple ways that learners can access the training such as an archived recording, plus a podcast and a two-page job aid or how-to document.

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