A Gentle Guide to Creating Online Employee Training
Training is a complex topic as there are so many variables. The objective, content, design, and delivery – as well as learner ability, role and much more, need to be taken into consideration. However you don’t need to make it overly complex either.
If you already have in-classroom, face-to-face, or paper based training, then you should have content and materials to start creating online training also. However if you’re inventing training at your organization then the above needs to be thought through properly so that you can create effective learning.
Luckily there are external sources you can use to provide employee training. Browsing through the offerings available – may solve your training needs. However, for custom employee training that’s unique or relevant to your organization – you may need to create it yourself.
Using external learning and training sources
There are a lot of training providers that provide existing online training, as well as online sources where you can find learning material for yourself or for your employees. The following sources are good examples of this:
There are also smaller independent training providers spread out across the globe that provide specialist training programs and courses.
Creating custom employee training courses
More often that not, you’ll want to create your own custom training. Most businesses will want to provide training around processes, policies, employee on-boarding, or product and services training. You can’t just reach out to other firms as the content for these is unique to you.
To create your own course, you need to consider a few things, first you need to decide how much of it you want to do from designing, creating, to delivering it.
Do you want to create the course yourself or hire an expert?
Hiring an expert makes sense if you have a budget for it. Training is such an important task that a business should have a budget – but alas, it may not be at the forefront given other circumstances. You can convince your management team by writing up a business case which will easily justify having an expert create training material.
However you may opt to do it your self. You or specialists would have the most knowledge compared to an external expert that you hire.
1. Plan the course or training program
It’s good to plan out your course before actually developing it. Planning the program takes into consideration the development of the courses, but also the strategic view, as well as how you will roll it out.
First start by knowing the objective. It’s important to understand what the objective of the course is.
Here you want to ask yourself, ‘what do you want the learner to walk away with?’, ‘what is the new knowledge they must obtain?’ or ‘what is the new skill set they will form by doing this course?’
Before designing the actual course, you may even need to define the financial or business objective – this is good to have regardless as it gives you something to aim for. But it might be a necessary step if you need to convince managers or others to get buy-in and dedicating resources towards the creation of the course. They’ll want to see numbers. So creating an estimate on what value the course(s) provide will be useful in this case. That can serve as your financial or internal objective for creating the course.
For example, say you want to create a comprehensive employee on-boarding course. Here, your primary objective may be to increase productivity because the course will help new employees settled in, familiar with the company, and get to full productivity as soon as possible. Estimating the time savings and increase in productivity will be justifiable by understanding how long it takes employees to become fully productive currently. How long it will take employees to become fully productive after the on-boarding course. Determine the difference. Then multiply that with the number of new employees.
You can use both the financial and learning objectives to measure the success of the course.
2. Design the course or training program
Once you’ve planned out the course, the objectives, and how you can roll it out. The next step is the design phase. Here you can even create a full story board for your course. The story board can be a simple list of modules and topics you want to cover off, to a fully thought out design of the course including imagery, media, and scripts for video. It can even include designs and specs for the video (especially animations) or interactive media.
The design phase is important! It will help you stay on track, not go overboard with development, and prevent you from creating material that may not be useful. It’s cost effective to pick up on these now, rather than trying to re-do things once you’ve started developing them.
3. Develop the content
There are so many ways to create a content. You can use a mixture of these types depending on your own skill level and desire, resources and time available to you, and your objectives for the course.
The following are some of the ways you can create the content:
- Video course
- Text and image
- Power point
- Interactive media (HTML5)
- Mixture of all the above
Text and image based are the easiest to create. Video courses obviously require some sort of decent video recorder – luckily most smart phones now are good enough to create high quality Video.
You can use professional equipment as well – that’s completely dependent on your objectives and budget! However, quality of the course is going to depend on other things, and not the quality of a video recording alone!
You’ll also need some sort of video editing software. If you’re considering doing screen casts then you need to consider software that allows you to do that too.
Going a little more complex, you can even create interactive content using HTML5. This lets you create browser based interactivity. This can include things like select-able items, drag and drop, pop ups, quizzes and so on. Using HTML5 requires more know-how and skill level, as well as software that will let you create HTML5 content. It’s not a recommended approach if you want to quickly create content and make it available to your users.
Luckily, bless technology and hearts, a simple Google search will reveal a few free options you can start with for both video editing and even HTML5. Upgrading to paid versions will give you more flexibility and options.
Deliver the courses online
Delivering the content to your learners is something you also need to consider. How will people access it? That means putting the content you create online so that people can go view it.
There is also the option to host your own solution. Once again, there are a few methods you can use:
- Moodle (dedicated LMS)
There are others as well, but these are the most common. A WordPress or Drupal is a content management system. Because of the community support and add-on plugins available, you can turn a WordPress or Drupal site into a fully fledged e-learning platform and expand it with your own custom capabilities (for example, add on community features, turn into social learning platform, or add e-commerce capabilities to start selling your courses).
Moodle is a dedicated Learning Management System. It offers advanced capabilities to manage your e-learning. It may be too excessive for smaller companies or even large companies that don’t need to have too many options. These options are more relevant to managing the student-teacher model. So it’s more suitable for educational institutes.
You can find other learning management systems that could serve your business better. Remember an LMS is basically a restrictive content management system that lets you manage your courses, course progress and students. That’s why I’m a fan of using something like WordPress – as it serves the purpose well!
There are numerous examples of popular LMS that you can use though. Other examples include:
- JourneyX LMS
- SAP Litmos
- Canvas LMS
- Bridge LMS
- iSpring Learn
Tips on Delivering Courses Effectively
Creating the course might just end up being the easy part! Delivering the course can actually make or break the effort put into developing the courses them selves.
Delivering courses to end users, requires a strong communication process. You want employees to know about the course, start the course, and just as importantly, complete the course. This doesn’t happen by chance.
That’s why having an LMS alone is actually not the most important part of the learning experience. How you communicate about the course, follow-up with learners, track progress, and your actual course content itself has a bigger impact.
Rather than asking how do you deliver a course? the more important question is how do you manage the overall learning experience so that the learner benefits?
One metric that people end up using to track success is course completion rates.
Assessing course completion alone, without any learner feedback may provide incorrect feedback – your learners may not be learning! It’s actually very typical for learners to do a course for the sake of it or because it’s on their to-do list i.e. just to get a tick. Whether the course was effective or not is a different story.
Course completion rates depend on a number of factors. So understanding the right reasons behind the rate is important. These reasons can include, and is what goes through the mind of the learner subconsciously:
- Is the course not too boring and not too difficult?
- Is it relevant to the me?
- Will the learning I get be useful in what I do or what I want to do in the future?
- Is there a reward that I get at the end of the course (the reward can be new knowledge gained)?
- Is the course engaging?
You need to answer yes to most of these. But remember that course completion doesn’t necessarily mean course success.
Course success comes from meeting the key objectives you define at the start. If the courses help achieve the financial objective and the learner objectives, and if employees are completing the course -then that is the result you are after.
Are online courses effective for employee training?
There are two categories of learning – structured and unstructured learning. A structured way of learning is for example a comprehensive on-boarding program, or a learning and development program that you put together for employees.
An unstructured form of learning is more ad-hoc, varied, and informal way of learning.
There is no right or wrong here, and we actually learn best by making the most of both approaches. When starting out, a person needs a structured approach to learning. They need to be guided through a learning path so they can understand the topic to a certain degree, become proficient enough or obtain the relevant skill level.
However, once a certain level is reached, a structured approach may no longer get the best return on investment. The employee may look for answers through others, knowledge bases, even online- through Google or YouTube. Learning becomes ‘just-in-time’. That is, the employee will learn when and where they need to.
The above diagram shows how structured and unstructured learning is required as a learner progresses from Novice to Expert. As you can see, as the level increases unstructured learning starts to increase. The expert will start to seek out their own answers and knowledge in order to gain more expertise and skill.
Is the effort worth it?
As noted above, there is definitely room for structured training programs. However creating a tightly knit structured training program requires more work from the course creators end and may not necessarily create the ROI they need. It’s also interesting to note the top trends for learning in the workplace, which can be summarized below:
Self learning actually plays the biggest part in the learning experience for an employee. Structured approaches e.g. Classroom training and E-learning are the lowest!
So this does suggest that putting all efforts and relying on providing online courses for employees is not the be all and end all solution to providing effective training outcomes. Instead you may need to provide a range of ways for people to learn. These will include initiatives or methods that create:
- A simple way for peers to share knowledge
- Allow employees to reach out to communities (internal or external) to enhance their knowledge or skills
- Provide micro learning through dedicated systems or knowledge bases where employees can quickly get answers from when and where they need it most