How to Make Online Training Work for Your Employees

Author Image Sarita Digumarti

As part of our corporate training program division, we deliver hundreds of man-days of training every year to an extensive set of corporate clients, of different sizes, types, and industry sectors. Increasingly, for a larger set of customers, we are being asked for solutions that can address the training and upskilling needs of distributed teams, and almost as often, multiple teams with slightly different needs in terms of tool knowledge, or specific technique understanding, or stage of process understanding, in which case the best option tends to be an online training model.


While online training has many advantages in terms of scalabilty, convenience, and cost, it is also trickier to execute well – in many cases, completion rates are lower, and satisfaction levels of both the training participants and the training manager or lead are not as high as when an in-person session is conducted.


In this article, I want to focus on what training leads and business managers can do to ensure higher effectiveness of online learning models. I am not going to include a discussion here on in-person vs online mode of learning – there are appropriate situations for each, but in general, we are seeing much higher levels of requests for online programs, or specifications that necessitate an online training solution, so it is important that these programs are set up effectively to ensure success. Some of these thoughts and ideas are specific to training on analytics or data related topics, given the highly applied and technical nature of these fields.


The top concern with any training program is learning effectiveness – at the end of the training program, have participants achieved the learning objectives that were (ideally) specified at the beginning of the program?


In the context of online learning, how does one ensure that participants are consuming content and more importantly, learning from it? There are a couple of things that can help – broadly divided into factors required from a content or platform perspective, and factors that are driven by training leads and owners.


Content and Platform Requirements:


1.      Content designed for online learning: Most of us are aware that simply taking content designed for in person training and converting that to video content is not going to work. Training and learning material for online consumption must designed differently – it has to be highly interactive, include a high level of visual design and aids, and be available in reasonably short sections.


2.      Continuous assessment: It is important to constantly evaluate understanding by including assessments, and it also helps with keeping the interactivity levels high. However, it is critical to make sure the questions are meaningful, relevant, and interesting. Many times, badly designed questions contribute to participants’ frustration and lack of engagement with online platforms.


3.      Enabling multiple successes: Having a gamification system that provides positive feedback at short intervals is very effective – it keeps users engaged, and motivated to finish if they can earn or qualify for multiple mini-certificates, or badges through the learning path that they are assigned to.


Training lead and company enablers of success:


1.      Addressing the “WIIFM”:  Online programs are designed to be spread out over a much longer time than in person programs. This leads to lower completion rates. Very often time on training is put off or postponed to a later date, leading to lack of sufficient time to complete when close to program deadlines. Many online training platforms will provide reminders and planning and scheduling tools for participants to plan their time, but more than that it is extremely critical to be able to articulate to every participant “What’s In It For Me?”. Is successful completion linked to formal goal setting? Is there a clear growth path identified and linked to the achievement of the skillsets defined in the training program?


2.      Manager review of progress and milestones: This is a linked point to the previous point about WIIFM. Given the longer term duration of online programs, it is important for the training owner or business manager to periodically review progress for every participant, including completion rates as well as assessment performance. It is important therefore to ensure that there is robust reporting of progress and performance, but also that these reports are reviewed with the participants to emphasize the importance of completing the training on time


3.      Budgeting time for the training: While many online learning platforms provide many ways of planning and scheduling time for training content consumption for participants, I want to emphasize here the importance of budgeting time for the training from the training owner, for the participants. Unlike in person training, where people are physically present in the training and therefore that time is accounted for, in many cases, for online training, there is no specific allocation of time for learning. The assumption is that employees will find time when free, or that they will learn on their own time over weekends or late nights. This is an unrealistic expectation, especially when the training program is spread out over a long period of time. Companies and training leads should acknowledge the time required for participating in the program – not just the online learning time spent on content or videos, but also the time taken to practice, the assessment time etc, and make sure that it is budgeted and accounted for in employee’s time.


4.      Supplement with live instructor interaction: There are many modes of online learning – completely self-paced learning, or a combination of self-paced learning plus instructor led online sessions, or online instructor led sessions only etc. In general, it may be a good idea to include some in person sessions, physically if possible on location, or at least live instructor led online sessions, on a periodic basis. These blended types of programs are very effective because they provide the best of both worlds, but work only if the live sessions are designed correctly. They should not be a substitute for content coverage, but to extend understanding of content already covered in online material, by focusing on application and hands on work.


There are many factors that are critical to success of any training program, but it is important to recognize that there are some critical differences between in person intensive programs and longer term online programs. We have delivered some very successful online programs for multiple clients, and the most important factors of success have been a high level of input to program and delivery design based on specific needs of that company, a clear linkage of training completion to employee growth metrics, and budgeting time for employees to spend on training.


Head to Jigsaw Academy’s Corporate training to transform your teams from a knowing culture to a data culture.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse, authored by Sarita Digumarti.