Online training has come a long way in just a few years. It doesn’t have to be the clunky, ineffective, and painful process many of us have experienced. Technology, bandwidth, user familiarity/readiness, and lower costs have all converged to make today’s online training an integral part of any credible employee development program. The savvy contractor is aggressively integrating online learning into their training curriculum. This goes far beyond the now-expected online compliance programs in safety and other mandatory subjects. Previously hard-to-teach subjects, such as supervisory skills, are finding a new home online. The payoff is having a better-trained employee while maintaining production because you don’t shut the job site down for a few hours to bring the leaders in for training. While online training doesn’t replace face-to-face, it can reduce it and augment it.
I knew that the landscape was changing, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know about the landscape. In the past few months I embarked on a research effort to understand what is out there from a technologyc perspective and what is actually being used by contractors. I did user demonstrations on nine different online delivery platforms. I interviewed over twenty contractors across disciplines. My research with contractors and my experiences with the demos led me to the following conclusions. Let them be a guide for you as you consider bringing online training into your company:
1. It is Not About the Technology. I admit, that sounds contradictory to the intent of this article. However, technology is rarely about the technology; it is about what it enables us to do. It is about the return on your investment. The technology you select to meet your needs should actually train people and improve performance. Just as you make any purchase decision based on the value you receive, so too, you should make this decision. In other words, this is not an IT or Ops decision, nor an HR or Finance decision. It is a corporate decision based on the needs of the organization.
2. Full-Motion Video – Is the instructor talking to you directly? Most online learning I have been subjected to is mind-numbing voice-over-powerpoint or a bad recording of a live presentation someone delivered. That is so 2010! Best of Class today features the speaker delivering content directly to the user who is consuming the program from their laptop or tablet.
3. Interactive Questions- What would it be like if the presenter asked you a question during the training that required an answer for you to continue? It would certainly be interactive and engaging. Just like in a live classroom where the instructor asks questions, in the best virtual classrooms the instructor asks questions, too. The way you answer the question would then determine the response you get from the instructor. For example, the instructor might be talking about planning and then ask, “Are you a Senior Manager or a field leader?” If you select Senior Manager, the instructor then tells you about the planning tools, such as strategic planning, used at that level. If you select Field Leader, the instructor then talks about the daily huddle, for example.
4. Progress Quizzes – One of the best features of online learning is the ability to quiz the student in real time and assess progress. If they don’t fully grasp a concept, a good system will immediately take them back to the content they’re not strong in, so they can see it again and learn it. Imagine giving a quiz after every learning module in a live training session. Handing out papers, having people progress at different rates, and grading papers make this rather impractical. Not so in the best online systems. In fact, quizzes are just part of the assessment process. A good system will allow role-plays and other progress checks as well.
5. Content Structured for the Adult Learner in the Online World – We now know that the way we consume data and information in the virtual world is quite different than the real world. Yet, trainers continue to ignore these truths and structure their programs just like they have always done. The resulting courses are long and boring, which results in poor user satisfaction, a high abandonment rate, and no actual learning. The platforms that simply take the old and try to “make it new” simply by putting it online without conforming to the demands of the internet are a waste of money.
6. LMS for Users to Track, Measure and Monitor Progress – Most systems allow the user to track their own progress in the learning management system (LMS). This is helpful when a student needs to take a series of courses as part of a larger curriculum or certification. Seeing all your grades in one place is convenient, also.
7. Other Language Subtitles – In our increasingly diverse society, it is important to make training available to students who are not fluent in English. Subtitles in their native language is the logical answer but one most programs do not support. If they do offer subtitles, it may come at a premium price. The best programs feature a simple “CC” button on the screen to allow a user to toggle on training in their native language.
8. LMS for Managers to Track, Measure and Monitor – We talked about the importance of the LMS for the user, but what about for the manager? Just as a manager wants to know how their employee is doing in the real world, they want to know about their success or struggles in the virtual world, too. Not all systems feature an LMS that allows managers to track, measure and monitor progress. But with this capability, the manager can insure that the employee is in a Review, Repeat, Rehearse, Retain, Remind and Reinforce mode—rather than the more traditional Watch and Forget mode.
9. You Run Your System, if you want to – The ideal platform lets you choose how you want to interact with it administratively. You may want the provider to enter names of your employees, run reports, etc. Or, you may want to retain that for yourself as it allows you to be more flexible and responsive, rather than waiting for it to get done. With that said, should you decide to take on the administrative tasks of entering employees into the system and running reports, it has to be user friendly. A forty-five minute tutorial with accompanying fifty-five page workbook should be a warning sign that you are using a program that is not user friendly.
10. Cobrand platform – Employees like knowing they are using something that was created for them. Using the generic off-the-shelf version that everyone else uses sends the subtle message that neither the training nor the employees are very important. Does your online platform feature a welcome screen custom-designed for your company? Is your logo there, along with a greeting from the trainer that welcomes your employees? It is possible, and it sends the message that this program is going to be different.
11. Optimal Streaming – Okay, I know little about this but I do know when it takes forever for me to watch a video that keeps buffering. Then there are the ones that never buffer and lock up after a few seconds. I don’t know how Optimal Streaming works, but I know that it works and you want to ask about it!
12. API Integration – Does the system allow you to interface with the data? Perhaps you have your own LMS already, and you want the training system to share data with it. This way you won’t need to deal with two LMS’s. Not all systems allow you inside. Maybe the best you can do is an exported report which you then need to format to import into your database or, even worse, you might need to enter the data by hand. Doesn’t sound like much right now but it can create big headaches if you don’t get this feature.
13. Demo Without Calling a Human – In doing my research, I found that every time I wanted to do a demo of a platform, I needed fill out an online form and then wait to be contacted by a human. I was then walked thru a 45-60 minute webinar, at some time that was convenient to them, which was actually a sales presentation. I prefer kiosks and self-service. I don’t like sales presentations when I am not ready for them or don’t want to buy. A good system will let you take a test drive. It may not give you access to the entire online library of learning, but it will give you temporary access (a day or so) to get in, “kick the tires,” and experience the platform.
Are you wondering if your competitors are delivering training online? Of the contractors I interviewed, forty-percent are doing some compliance training, like safety. Two of twenty, only ten-percent, were doing anything beyond compliance training. And these were just beginning to create programs. This is a huge opportunity for you. While all expressed knowing they needed to do something in this arena, most hadn’t done much. Those that did were on the bleeding edge of cost and often reinventing the wheel. You don’t need to do that. I do think you need to make the move soon. First of all, the employee of the 21st century is ready for it. New employees will view you as a progressive firm that invests in people. Second, the cost advantage gained from effective implementation of a blended employee development curriculum is compelling. You train more people for less money. You maintain production while getting them trained. You make yourself more attractive to the next generation while educating all of your leaders. We are finally at a time where new technology is creating real value in employee learning.
Your key to recognizing maximum value is to get the right system. The tips outlined herein will point you in the right direction. Ask your training provider, or the potential technology provider, if they have these features. You may decide that some of them are not important for you. Any buyer would do that. The savvy buyer recognizes the payoff delivered from these features and reaps the benefits.
"I've had some very positive feedback from many of our employees and you definitely made a very constructive impact on our organization. I'm confident the day we invested with you will serve as a catalyst for an outstanding year and beyond!"
Wayne E. Clayton, CSP
Stark Excavating, Inc.