Learning and development experts have advised implementing at least some digital learning as part of any organization’s training strategy for quite some time. The pandemic has shown that many organizations have not taken that advice seriously, as many scrambled to find training solutions that work in a remote workplace. I recently spoke to an expert about where we all go from here.
Joe Miller is a digital learning expert and the Vice President of Learning Design and Strategy at BenchPrep, a cloud-based learning platform. The first thing I asked him was why everyone wasn’t ready with a digital learning solution before the pandemic hit.
Miller admits that when the coronavirus started heating up in China, some “people had it on their plans. But they had other priorities first.” Indeed, rolling out a digital training program, or any training program, rarely happens overnight—at least not usually.
A few months passed, and suddenly, the coronavirus was running rampant in the United States, and everyone was being sent home. That’s when the phone started to ring for organizations like BenchPrep.
Engagement Advantage of In-Person Learning
One of the reasons organizations were reticent to switch to an online learning environment was because “one of the advantages of working with in-person learning is you can almost ensure an engagement level of someone being present and working,” says Miller. He adds, “Whereas nowadays online, you’re probably not quite sure.” You don’t have the advantage of seeing whether attendees are engaged or not, so without the right tools, you’ll never truly know.
However, when digital learning is rolled out correctly, you can compensate for the advantages of in-person learning. Miller mentions the best way is to go beyond just shifting content into a learning management system and “create learning experiences that use learning design and other principles to affect a better onboarding experience.”
3 Phases for Successful Online Learning
1. Design backward from your goal. Miller learned backward design by coaching youth soccer. He realized you can’t just unload everything onto your learners on the first day.
“I had to think about what the objective I had with those particular kids was,” he says. In this case, it was to make sure the children understood the game and had basic skills. Once that goal was in mind, he started creating a pathway to achieving that goal. And once a goal is achieved, you begin with the next goal.
It’s the same for digital learning. He used a work example of creating an onboarding training program. If you try to teach a new hire everything all at once, the person will get overloaded and simply stop absorbing information. However, if you set a basic goal of “understanding the overall company,” says Miller, it helps you map out what pieces you need to put in place to accomplish that goal.
Designing courses and training for digital consumption follows the same principles. Decide on the outcome you want from each course, then construct the parts and pieces that crate a pathway toward that goal.
2. Keep the learner in mind when creating courses. The user experience has become a cornerstone of so much about how organizations operate, including everything from customer service to employee engagement. The same reasons for creating a quality user experience in those circumstances apply to creating a great user experience in a training situation.
One unfortunate tendency when it comes to online learning is to just drop learning of any kind in employees’ laps and say “go do that now.” While you have technically just delivered learning, the impact of that learning can be impossible to decipher. Without training professionals’ involvement, you’ll never truly know much more about trainees other than that they were able to pass a simple multiple-choice quiz.
Miller and I discussed the specific example of sexual harassment training. Unfortunately, many organizations that are mandated to offer such training opt to do a self-guided version. Such methods have never been shown to be particularly effective.
Just because that training is being delivered online does not mean you cannot take an instructor-led or a guided approach. Miller says that “there are virtual instructor-led approaches that allow some interaction, like a webinar style.”
“Just having someone read a few paragraphs and answer a few questions isn’t quite cutting it,” says Miller. He hopes that employers can find other ways to engage employees on critical topics like sexual harassment.
One way is to use a webinar approach but break it up into sections with some kind of interactive experience in the middle, like a simple game or pop quiz with rewards. “When people realize they can win swag, the engagement over the next few sessions will go up,” remarks Miller.
Some might find that using incentives like gamified quizzes doesn’t match the tenor of sexual harassment training, but if it gets people engaged with the content, your learning will be more successful and effective.
3. Evaluate and gather data. It’s obvious that gathering data should be a part of any training scenario. Unfortunately, as we found in a recent survey we conducted, most organizations do not have benchmarks or collect data on their training programs. There are many reasons for this, from budget issues to a lack of proper software and knowledge on which metrics to capture and how to interpret the results.
However, when the costs of employee training are considered, never mind the cost of poor training on your employees’ work, having a method for capturing and evaluating data becomes an obvious choice. One of the extreme advantages of online learning, according to Miller, is that even the most basic online learning platforms gather some metrics.
Of particular value, says Miller, is user feedback. “Getting that feedback helps you understand the user experience. Are they getting hung up on certain areas and not making choices?” he remarks. Without such feedback, you’ll have a lot of trouble knowing if your training has issues, and you’ll certainly never be able to fix those issues if you don’t know they exist.
Miller cautions that when it comes to feedback, you have to use it. He says, “If you’re not continuing to evaluate and understand your learners, then your training is going to be stagnant.”
Digital learning may be a brand-new territory for many organizations. For those that have always struggled with training in general, here is your chance to get some guidance. When you purchase a digital platform, you often get the resources of the provider. The provider knows what works and doesn’t work very well when it comes to its learnings, and it can pass that experience on to you.
For more training-oriented organizations, remember that it’s not enough to just throw your existing content online and call it digital learning. You really do need to consider factors like deliverability, user experience, and methods for gathering data before you roll out your online learning.