Since 2011, money spent on e-learning has doubled, and as of 2014, over 41.7% of global Fortune 500 companies have used some form of educational technology to instruct employees. It seems employers are catching on to the multitude of benefits online training can offer.
Online training is a tool, and a tool is only as good as the person wielding it. Whether it’s an architectural firm deploying a project management MOOC or a manufacturing company rolling out a leadership e-course, employers should be fastidious in preparing for online training to ensure a smooth and effective training experience.
Here is a pre-deployment checklist for online training.
1. Establish Goals
When employers decide to use online training, they can pursue one of two strategies: collaborate with an online course developer like SweetRush to create a custom training program, or use a service like Udemy for Business to identify the optimal training program from a pre-existing collection.
“Having clear goals upfront is absolutely key,” said Paul Sebastien, vice president and general manager at Udemy. “What do you want out of this? What don’t you want out of this? What are the pain points?”
Goal-setting helps online training providers like Udemy create the most effective training experience. Sebastien said establishing goals, particularly those that are measurable, is also essential when it comes time to assess the training’s effectiveness.
Innovations in analytics have made it possible to determine the return on investment of nearly every type of online training. This means that goal-setting requires more nuance than simply wanting to improve employee performance or increase revenue. Companies need to dig deeper.
If improving employee performance is the overarching goal, what aspect of employee performance specifically needs improving? Productivity? Accuracy? Quality? Is the goal of the online training to reduce the learning curve for a specific task or role? Is it to boost team cooperation?
If revenue growth is the overarching goal, are there specific sales goals that need to be met? What is the root cause of the inadequate revenue? Poor customer service? Poor salesmanship? Is it a marketing issue? A PR issue?
Defining and quantifying your goals prior to training deployment will result in a more targeted training experience, and make it easier to measure the training outcomes and effectiveness.
2. Evaluate Prior Training Programs
For many companies, online training is only the latest in a series of training initiatives. If your company is switching from a physical training model to a virtual training model, or shifting from one online training provider to another, be sure to conduct a thorough evaluation of any prior training programs. By identifying where the prior programs fell short, you can circumvent similar issues in the new program.
For example, imagine that a prior SEO training program failed to fully engage employees. Investigating the matter might reveal that the participating employees maintained varying levels of expertise in SEO, and those who did not fully engage found the courses to be too slow, which resulted in boredom and ambivalence.
Armed with this insight, you can ensure the new online training program comes with a contingency plan for this exact scenario. Consider choosing a program that offers a proficiency test to determine course placement, or a program that enables employees to skip, or place out of, certain course levels.
3. Technical Requirements
To provide an optimal training deployment and maintain a positive training experience, companies must ensure the technical requirements of the training program align with the company’s technical capabilities.
For example, some e-learning programs are not formatted for mobile devices. Does your company have enough computers for each employee, or were you partially relying on tablets and smartphones?
Is your company equipped with disability-friendly technology? Can you accommodate employees with hearing disabilities or motor impairments?
How many people are typically online at once? Will the training require an unprecedented number of simultaneous online events? If so, does your company have enough bandwidth? Slow connection speeds can adversely affect the training experience.
4. Prepare Employees
An employee’s attitude toward a training event can affect how they learn, and how well. Therefore, it’s important for companies to sufficiently prepare their employees for online training by setting expectations, building excitement, and fostering a positive learning environment.
“Ideally, you want employees to be curious, open-minded, and even eager to gain knowledge and learn skills,” said Andrei Hedstrom, CEO of SweetRush.
Hedstrom suggests companies craft thoughtful communications before the start of a training program to put employees in the right frame of mind.
“A video trailer, a series of email announcements, even posters in the hallway, done right, can build anticipation and increase motivation and attention,” he said.
Hedstrom also emphasizes how important it is to show employees you value their time. Unfortunately, not everyone will automatically appreciate an upcoming training event, and may see it as a fool’s errand or a patronizing initiative. Failing to set goals, learn from previous training experiences, and meet technical requirements might be construed as disrespectful, and can internalize these doubts even further.
Providing high-quality, engaging online training “is the most critical thing you can do to ensure your employees will be open to and eager for the training courses you will want them to take over time,” Hedstrom said.
5. Change How You Think About Training
For companies transitioning from the classroom to the computer, a change of thinking is advised. Hedstrom describes this change in thinking as “a shift from an assembly line to an ecosystem, like a rain forest. You have to continually look for connections between the various parts of your curriculum in the multiple layers of the curriculum canopy.”
Compared to a traditional classroom setting, virtual learning is a much more dynamic system, and presents a myriad of new tools and tactics such as virtual instructors, games, and support apps.
Hedstrom says that envisioning this kind of dynamic system “can help open [companies] up to the possibilities, and avoid challenges that come from minimizing the effort involved.”
It helps to understand that online training is not linear like classroom training. Participating employees will advance at different tempos, and some online courses have multiple navigation paths, meaning that each employee’s learning experience will differ.
What’s more, observing your employees as a teacher would observe a classroom doesn’t translate. To evaluate progress and effectiveness, companies must rely on analytics and employee feedback. The independent nature of online training also requires employers to relinquish a certain amount of control and trust that their employees are committing to the process.
Online training is a wholly different animal than its traditional counterpart. Understanding those differences helps companies better prepare for training deployment, and proper preparation can lead to long-term success. Remember to establish specific goals and evaluate any prior training programs to prevent similar issues. Make sure that all technical requirements are met and prepare employees for training by creating a positive and respectful learning environment.