Conducting employee training can be costly and time-consuming. Hiring internal or external trainers, finding facilities in which to hold training sessions, and assessing the value of attendees’ time can add up to a significant expense.
Additionally, the logistical challenges of coordinating live sessions with large numbers of staff can be significant, given conflicting schedules, as well as the possibility of staff located across multiple sites and separated by large distances.
Online Training Growing in Popularity
For this reason, many companies look to online training to reduce both time and cost. Online training courses remove the constraints of in-person sessions, such as room capacity and physical distance. Additionally, offering online courses on demand eliminates the need to identify workable time slots for large numbers of attendees and also allows each session to be played repeatedly, both as a refresher for previous participants and as fresh training for new participants.
But unlike in-person training sessions, the online environment doesn’t lend itself to interaction. Even with live online sessions, participants are more likely to only partially listen to the trainer, multitask by doing other work during the training, or ignore the training entirely, unlike when face-to-face with an in-person trainer.
Participants might also ask fewer questions in online formats than in live settings, reducing both the participant-to-trainer interaction and the cross-participant discussion that can improve the collective comprehension of and appreciation for the training material.
So, how do companies take advantage of the time, cost, and logistical advantages of online training while still encouraging maximum participation and engagement? In this feature, we’ll discuss some strategies, including input from industry experts and practitioners.
Make It Solid: Content Counts
Captivating material is important for any type of training, whether live and in person or online and on demand. But solid material is especially important for online training, as it must compensate for the lack of engagement that a strong presenter could provide. Material that is relevant and valuable to the audience will help keep them focused even when verbal or visual cues from a live presenter aren’t being grasped.
Focus on Captivating Delivery
Garrett Heath of MaketingBytes.io argues that in addition to quality content, strong production is useful in online presentations. Production can mean anything from the quality of video, images, and sound to interactive features.
Tres Roeder, Founder and President of Roeder Consulting, agrees that thought-provoking content is important for keeping participants’ attention and emphasizes that the presenter’s delivery is also crucial in online training. Again, this attention to delivery can make up for the presenter’s being in a different location.
Online trainers can keep participants engaged through personal presentation style, including body language, hand gestures, and voice inflection. Not all trainers are experts in online presentation to fully engage an audience, but considering the cost savings gained by increased participation with online training, companies should consider spending a bit more, if necessary, on trainers with polished and engaging presentation styles.
Ensure Regular Feedback
One of the primary advantages of live, in-person training is the ability to actively engage participants in real-time discussions of the course material and its applicability to their work and job functions. When possible, regular feedback should be provided to online training program participants as well. This means both real-time feedback during the training and prompt post-session and post-program feedback. This feedback can and should stimulate a two-way discussion.
Feedback in live online courses can be conducted through instant messaging and voice communication technologies. Although on-demand courses do not provide this same capability, prompt responses to questions from recent viewers of the program and FAQ resources can help. In general, if you want participants to be engaged and ask questions, you must be ready and able to quickly respond to those questions or they’ll simply stop asking.
David Lewis, President and CEO of OperationsInc, recommends using prompts to verify participant engagement in online sessions. This can include entering codes provided by the presenter at certain intervals or incorporating mandatory short assignments that must be completed in order to verify attendance.
Stay on Top of Technological Improvements
The Internet has made online training possible, and increased voice and video technology continues to bridge the gap between live trainers and online courses. Still, Lewis argues that online training simply can’t replace in-person training at this point.
“Online training is not live training. You can spin all the ideas and strategies you want, but until AI is in place to dynamically engage the student, the product is going to be significantly inferior to a live training program,” he says. “If you want to check the box, meet a compliance need, etc.—great—online is for you. If you want to reach your student, change behavior, send a message, move the needle, and any other metaphor—live training will never be beat by online … in 2019. Maybe in the future.”
There is agreement in the industry, including among the experts we polled, that online training is not as captivating and engaging as in-person training. However, organizations must balance this engagement disparity against the cost and time benefits that online training can bring.
Finding ways to improve engagement will continue to make online training an appealing option for companies’ needs. The content, delivery, and feedback elements of online training are key to promoting increased engagement. As telecommunications technology continues to improve, L&D professionals will, hopefully, have additional tools to help bridge the gap between online and in-person formats.