There is no doubt that companies who move at least some of their training programs online realise some big benefits.
Probably the biggest benefit is flexibility. Online training eliminates the issues of scheduling physical training sessions that will accommodate both trainees and trainers – cancellations by trainees due to other obligations or emergencies will never happen again.
Another benefit is often budgetary. Once an online training program has been developed successfully, it is there permanently. While it may need tweaking due to evolutions in content and delivery, these are far less costly than bringing in trainers or eating up the time of in-house experts.
Online training is not without its challenges, though. While it is easy to provide timeline ranges for completion of modules, track trainee completion, it is not as simple to measure engagement and satisfaction on the part of those trainees. And we know that when engagement is not there, focus and long-term retention suffers.
Too often, online training courses consist of simply bringing a classroom environment into digital space. This will never work. Craig Campbell, marketer and developer of online training, including an “Advanced SEO Course,” puts it this way: “If you plan to simply move offline training sessions to an online format, you will fail. Remember, participants are alone in front of their devices, without the normal interactions that occur when they are in a physical offline environment. You must use available technology to make the online experience as interactive as possible, to give trainees the sense that they are a part of a group experience that includes “social” interactions both with their trainers and fellow trainees. Without this, engagement is lost. When engagement is lost, the training never ‘cements.’”
How to Address the Challenges of Online Training
The overriding principle in achieving engagement and thus focus and engagement is to put the learner front and centre and to develop training programmes from that learner’s vantage point. To accomplish this, there are three things to keep in mind.
Know Your Trainees
There is a huge difference between training upper management personnel in new leadership concepts and principles and training clerical employees in a new software system.
It will be important, then, to develop a trainee “persona.” Marketers understand the need for personas – demographics, lifestyles, socio-economic and educational backgrounds, language style and tone, etc.
If training is to resonate with trainees, content and delivery must be “on their level.” It will drive the activities that are designed and how they are designed. Leadership training for managers, for example, will probably include realistic situational activities in which learned skills can be practiced and mastery demonstrated, possible in augmented reality environments. On the other hand, modules in a new software system may involve activities that are in a gaming environment – something fun that will also involve skills practice and demonstration of mastery.
When training programme development puts the learner needs and preferences first, that training will reach much greater success.
Variety is the “Spice” of Training in Materials and Tools
Nothing is more boring than to have the same delivery model for every training module. With so many tools available today, there is no reason to present content in the same way. You have a lot of mediums to choose between: videos, podcasts and interviews, games, simulations, video conferencing.And the learner can directly participate in a number of these too.
By mixing and matching different tools and mediums, you’ll want to accomplish the following three things:
- Create interactive activities, so that participants are active in their learning
- Offer a degree of challenging materials – when things are too easy, the learner will lose interest and motivation
- Capability to provide rapid feedback. Learners want to know how they are doing – it motivates them to move forward.
Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate
There are only two factors in evaluating the effectiveness of your online training programmes – learner mastery and learner feedback. You see, it is still all about the learner.
If you have the right tracking systems in place, you will know the level of mastery of participants. As well, you will know how rapidly that mastery was achieved. Did learners smoothly move through a module or did they have to repeat in order to achieve mastery? This data will tell you which parts of the training have been well-developed and which parts need to be improved.
The other critical piece of evaluation is how participants assess it. If they mastered the content and enjoyed the process, you obviously have a winner. If the criticism of specific parts is consistent, then you have some work to do in those areas. Trainee feedback is truly the best assessment you can have.
When marketers design their content strategies, they put the customer first – developing a persona, researching needs, and showing value in the meeting of those needs. It is not about “selling.”
The same holds true of online training programs. You are really “selling” a product to your customers (learners), and their needs must come first. If you know your learners and keep their preferences at the forefront, the training programs you develop will be successful.
Independant inbound marketing consultant with 5+ years in the industry, including coaching and developing e-learning courses. Bylines at the Huffington Post, Tech Cocktail, Hackerspace by Lifehacker among others.