Here’s a little secret: Online trainings can be just as effective as in-person sessions, but the strategies involved will look a little different.
This past winter, I helped create an online training course for employees learning Spanish. Despite my initial reservations, the course turned out well. It filled in a gap in our training offerings, and it let people practice Spanish when and where they wanted. What surprised us, though, was the chance to re-think some of our training strategies. Transferring training materials from an in-person to an online format let us be more creative, which ultimately made our other workshops better, too.
Here are some simple tips for creating online trainings that are every bit as effective as the in-person trainings you’re used to.
Organize, organize, organize
So, you know that nightmare where you show up to a meeting or a class, only to find out there’s a big, important assignment due, one that you knew nothing about? That’s the feeling we want to avoid.
Most of your learners are probably taking this training on top of many other job duties, to say nothing of their lives outside of work. As much as possible, see things from the participants’ point of view and try to anticipate how they’ll navigate everything from course modules to training workload to email reminders.
- Set up all major training projects and assessments before you invite learners to the course. If your learners can plan around training tasks from the outset, everyone will be happier.
- Make it clear when and how you’ll communicate with learners, and stick to those parameters. Maybe it’s a weekly reminder email about upcoming projects or advance warning for a specific assignment. Most online training software will let learners customize how they want to receive messages, so make sure your learners are–literally–getting your messages.
- Create one spot where participants know to check for new things, whether that’s an email reminder or a specific part of the online training software.
- If your online training software has a student view, use it. Some platforms have flexibility in how users set things up, which is great, but can lead to confusion when your carefully organized course isn’t set up the same way for everyone.
Set clear training objectives
This is really another way of saying that your goals should match the realities of the online format.
Maybe an online training isn’t the best way to practice, say, interpersonal coaching skills, but you can still identify the key takeaways from a given module and figure out ways to give participants a means of developing those skills.
For example, in the online Spanish course, we wanted the participants to have a chance to practice speaking and listening to the language. We worked within the online training platform to develop activities that asked participants to record themselves and watch and comment on links to video content. Although this kind of speaking practice is very different from what they’d get during an in-person workshop, the participants developed communication skills in Spanish. In another bonus, these digital communication skills are increasingly relevant in today’s world.
As you’re designing training materials and setting objectives, make sure to talk about these goals in ways that make sense to the participants. For example, managers and employees alike may want to improve workplace safety, but they’re probably going to talk about the reasons why and the strategies for achieving that in very different ways.
Always make sure that the point of the training is as clear to your participants as it is to you!
Think beyond the PowerPoint
We’ve all sat through those boring presentations where someone reads from their notes, which essentially repeat whatever slides they’ve thrown together at the last minute. Don’t be the digital version of that presenter!
Keeping learners engaged in online courses presents a different set of challenges, depending on the type of course and the learner’s motivation. Once you’ve thought carefully about how to organize training materials and can explain how the course’s learning objectives will benefit participants, don’t just throw up some PowerPoint slides and attach a quiz at the end.
Just as you would in person, find ways to interject personality, whether that’s on the slides themselves or in other course components such as videos. Online training software also makes it easy to add in links to external content and for participants to communicate as a group.
Forums and other features can help avoid the sense of isolation that many people associate with online trainings. No one’s saying your training needs to look like Facebook or Instagram, but borrow a few of the ideas that make those platforms so addictive, such as person-to-person interactions and content people actually care about.
Whether you’re a veteran trainer who’s just branching into teaching online or you’re someone who’s been roped into setting up an online training course because you’re in an age group expected to get all that “tech stuff” like it’s second nature, I promise that online trainings can be just as effective and engaging as in-person trainings. Feel free to share other tips in the comments!
I'm endlessly fascinated by how people learn, and I'm happiest when I'm in the process of learning something new myself.
When I'm not working on marketing for Avizr, I can be found teaching Spanish, working with my student teachers, hanging out with my dogs, and exploring the many trails around Bellingham.