A rapid movement is afoot toward using the Internet, online meetings and other technology-based tools to help club owners and their professional staffs increase performance, prepare for certifications, obtain specialized certificates and fulfill a variety of other business needs. This trend has been building more slowly in fitness than other industries and has seen its share of challenges. But current economic realities, combined with the need for knowledge transfer, make using these tools a necessity.

Using technology training solutions dramatically cuts costs, builds necessary technical and knowledge skills and also helps get sales staff and fitness professionals up to speed more quickly than sending them to a live conference or seminar. Technology-based learning quite simply diminishes your investment risk during this time of razor-thin margins for business errors.

A few of the formats that have been successful for the health club industry include online course preparation for certification; training in customer service and business processes; certificate training; advanced, specialized training in everything from consultative selling to sports performance, and even to training for special medical and demographic populations; live Web casts and online chats using content experts; blogging; and using social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube.

Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), says that health and fitness professionals now entering the market are highly attuned to and accustomed to using online resources for education and advanced knowledge transfer.

"It is an expectation for them, a given," Bryant says. "Interestingly enough, they are using the social networking sites to dialogue and connect with others without the traditional conference formats we're used to. We have to acclimate to this dramatic shift in the changing work force."

Another certifying organization, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also is offering a variety of technology learning platforms, including Web-based education, to connect experts all over the world and provide forums for presentation and interaction.

"Web-based learning took off for us last year, and it will become turbo-charged in 2009," says Richard Cotton, ACSM's national director of certification. "You stand to gain in both participant productivity and overall cost-effectiveness with these platforms. Technology does, in this case, make life easier."

Dozens of entities beyond ACE and ACSM are jumping into this space. Research some providers to determine if their learning content fits your needs. When doing so, here are a few things to look for:

  • Is their content (or modules) recognized by accredited certifying bodies where necessary? Do they provide continuing education credits?

  • Do they offer a sample of the curriculum, tests and outcomes for you to test drive before you buy?

  • Is there a continuum of learning resources? For example, if they have a basic "consultative selling" module, is there a follow-up, including advanced modules and live online support?

  • Can they provide client references so you can contact colleagues and determine the efficacy of their programs?

Other technology-based learning solutions include: www.acefitness.org, www.acsm.org, www.ptonthenet.com, www.ideafit.com, www.smartclubmarketing.com and www.dswfitness.com.

Conferences and face-to-face learning are valuable. However, in this day and age, we must also be fiscally responsible and open to the increasing depth and efficacy of technology-based training and learning.

Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at gregory@fitadvisor.com.