Auto Industry Taps Into Blended Learning

It’s no revelation that the automotive industry was forced to undergo painful budget cutting when the economy took its dramatic tailspin in 2007/2008. Annual new car sales dropped from what had been a consistent 16 million vehicles a year to the low-water mark of 10.4 million new cars and trucks sold in 2009.

Ouch. And it wasn’t just familiar but underperforming brands like Hummer, Saturn and Pontiac that took a hit. The commitment to training was also a victim of the declining economy. When automakers out of necessity looked to trim costs, training was identified as less than critical for the survival of the company.

Unfortunately, the lack of adequate training also led to an inevitable decline in the quality of customer service, in the professionalism of its client-facing staff and its ability to manage staff in an informed and enlightened fashion.

Fortunately for the industry and its customers, those days are receding in our collective rearview mirrors. Budgets for training are expanding and courses once discarded as less than mission-critical to the enterprise are now acknowledged as essential to grooming a workforce designed to compete and succeed in this challenging global workplace.

Automotive companies are reenergized, responding nimbly to the constantly evolving marketplace with better designed, higher quality vehicles that are capturing the eye of consumers – and new market share.

In addition to adopting new attitudes regarding design and production techniques, automotive suppliers and OEMs also realized a more enlightened approach to training was required to improve operations.

As an example, one of our customers, a tier one automotive supplier, was spun off from its parent company. It had the opportunity to rethink all of its business processes and start over. It soon was confronted with the challenge of how to simultaneously introduce new business processes and protocols throughout the new company at multiple locations throughout the world.

Adding to the complexity were the multiple languages and varying laws and regulations in different countries. The challenges of developing traditional instructor led training (ILT) to educate their management staff was onerous, time consuming and ultimately unacceptable.

The solution was a hybrid approach called blended learning. What used to take two days for staff to learn new business has now been reduced to accessing online modules and attending a one-day, traditional instructor-led class.

The benefits are multiple:

  • Management can take Elearning course whenever is convenient.

  • Students can be tested for familiarity with course materials and arrive at the instructor-led training with a fundamental knowledge of the subject-“ no need to teach to lowest common denominator, alienating the more advanced students.

  • Basic information is consistently taught throughout the enterprise, ensuring staff are familiar with important issues such as how to handle violence in the workplace, sexual harassment and ensure your interviewing questions are legally permissible.

  • On-site training costs are cut in half with only one day required instead of the two days previously devoted to learning and instruction.

Not only were the staff pleased to be away from the workplace less, they were also better trained than the previous sessions that required twice as much time away from the shop floor or wherever they worked. Significant worker hours were saved and course retention was ensured.

The advantages of the blended learning approach were apparent when the company quickly repurposed the eLearning modules for use in Mexico, China and now for its various European facilities. In addition to translating into the appropriate languages, adjustments were made to accommodate laws and regulations that vary from country to country.

If the training were delivered via the traditional instructor led training the cost would have prohibitive and the time involved to service all the various markets would potentially add months to the project.

We now see automotive companies eager to again embrace training, acknowledging that there had been a drop-off in the quality of their staff when training was neglected.

We are gratified to see stronger, more responsive, nimble and competitive automotive businesses emerge from what was a frightening downturn for the industry. Combining the traditional instructor led training in classrooms with the advantages of online eLearning to create the new hybrid approach of blended learning, I’m confident we are seeing the resurgence of an industry that won’t be taken for granted.

Jeff Walter is CEO of Latitude Learning, provider of the industry leading, cloud-based learning management system (LMS). Walter can be reached at