For businesses, and especially those in the IT industry, professional development has become a requisite part of employee management initiatives. According to the Association for Talent Development, organizations spent an average of $1,208 on training per employee in 2013. Unfortunately, many businesses suffer from poor returns on their investment, wasting thousands or even millions of dollars on inefficient programs.

Both traditional in-person lectures and massive online open courses (MOOCs) can struggle to engage employees; often they fail to provide interactive learning opportunities. Instead of settling (and paying) for ineffective training, IT businesses should turn to online learning platforms.

Focused training vs. broad strokes curriculum

One challenge plaguing most learning methods is delivering a broad but shallow level of topical familiarity in order to meet a mass audience’s varied levels of understanding. However, and especially in the IT world, targeted subject matter knowledge is critical. With tailored online learning platforms, businesses can have more control over their employees’ professional development and focus on honing skills most crucial to success. Rather than commit to a full course or program, businesses can take a more modular skills-based approach using online learning tools. This grants organizations the flexibility to mold their own training curriculum to meet specific needs.

In this example, organizations can use online learning resources to match employees' training to their existing knowledge and the demands of their work environment. This customization allows IT firms to remedy internal staff skills gaps or quickly bring new workers up to speed. Even for organizations that lack the internal resources to develop a proprietary training program, there are a number of third-party providers that offer access to subject matter experts who can lead and curate internal education initiatives.

Learning by doing, not just listening

Lectures are widely reviled, but still heavily used in the private sector to efficiently reach large audiences. Businesses can do better. Using online platforms, IT organizations can replicate the success of 1:1 training programs for all employees without the historically high barriers to entry.

Implemented correctly, online learning platforms let employees put their knowledge to use through interactive tutorials and simulations. Not only do interactive experiences boost information retention, they empower employees to revisit and sharpen specific skills as necessary. Rather than simply memorizing and repeating information, IT workers are able to test their knowledge for gaps, and refocus their training on areas of concern.

Unlike traditional training methods, online platforms support both guided and self-directed learning, making education an ongoing workplace activity rather than a monthly or quarterly event. As the IT industry continues to evolve at a blinding rate, organizations need to invest in professional development programs capable of keeping up.