Online Training – What Works and What Doesn’t?

Photo: Sebastiaan ter BurgIn February, I attended the Training 2015 Conference in Atlanta organized by Training Magazine. When I’ve told this to my colleagues, they often ask “Training what?”. The conference didn’t take a stance on what or who you train, rather it was a conference for all trainers alike.

The conference offered many fascinating learning opportunities. There were classes on eLearning, micro learning, storytelling, learner engagement, best practices, neuropsychology, learning theory, assessment, leadership, and improving retention. In this blog post, I will share what I learned about online training and training videos.

It’s crucial to understand that online training is a completely different way of learning than traditional classroom training. What works in class, doesn’t necessarily work online, and vice versa. The same principles and best practices don’t apply to both methods. For instance, during a classroom training the trainer should talk and progress slowly, so that the learner can digest all the information. Whereas in video-based online training, the learner can watch the same video over and over again as many times as he likes. That’s why it’s a serious sin in online training to be too slow!

Another significant difference between these two approaches is the length of the training. Where traditional training takes at least an hour or in most cases the whole day, online training should be chopped into smaller pieces.

Microlearning is one of the hottest topics in learning at the moment, although I didn’t buy the whole idea yet. Microlearning basically means that online training videos should be really short, under one minute in length. One of the lecturers told us that in 1998 the average length of our attention span was 12 minutes and in 2008 only 5 minutes. Other lecturer strongly argued that over one minute long videos are too long. It’s of course true that if I happen to bump into a video that’s only mildly interesting and “dryish”, I won’t watch it for long.

However, it seems that people still prefer slightly longer instructional and training videos. According to Matt Pierce’s research, the desired length for instructional and informational videos is around 5–10 minutes.

Regardless of the length of the video, every 3–5 minutes there should be something to activate the learner.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind, when you are designing online training:

  • Be even more articulate than in classroom training
  • Keep the training light
  • Short and lively VS. long and boring
  • Use humor, but only when it’s approriate
  • Make it humane

=> If you’re talking on the video, don’t hide your own face! You can show your face, for instance, in a small box on top of the presentation.
=> If you do an animation, use as much human figures as you can.
=> Use well-known expressions and words and avoid unnecessary jargon.
=> “Negotiation skills are important and needed on a daily basis” VS. “When was the last time you had a negotiation?”

  • Tell great stories if you want your message to stick
  • Explain instructions step-by-step and explicitly show, what should be done
  • Don’t patronize – you’re dealing with adults here!
  • Avoid monotonic and dull speech
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition
  • Make sure that the title and the description of the training equals the actual content. Deliver what you promise!
  • Engage the participants by giving them tasks
  • Activate the participants: ”Now that we’re done with this… Click next to move on to the next topic…” VS. “You’re only a step away from… So click NEXT to test your skills…”
  • Make it shorter: cut down information and focus on the doing!

This article is brought to you by – online business coaching and training service that turns learning into action.

Information Worker Has a Lot to Learn But Never Enough Time

“Learning is a new form of labor.”
– Shoshana Zuboff

Information worker’s chaotic desktop fills up with problems which don’t have a simple solution. There’s just a huge amount of information: e-mails, meetings, tweets, opinions, text, images, videos, good news and bad news, strategies and definitions of policies. And we shouldn’t forget the Excel-tables. Using your best analysis skills and creativity you should be able to give birth to something new and innovative from this cornucopia of sources. That is, you should find a solution.

It’s impossible to separate learning from work in today’s world

It’s impossible to separate learning from work in today’s world. Studying isn’t anymore a strictly defined part of life, which precedes working life. Especially in information work, executing tasks successfully requires constant learning and adoption of new things, because the problems at hand seldom are similar in content or even by nature. For example, consultant’s every project assignment is different, economist has to keep track of the changes affecting economy and development manager has to know the latest technology and business trends.

“I’m in a hurry, I don’t have time for that.” Does it sound familiar? One of the reasons why we are not actively developing our own competencies even if we want to, is that we simply don’t have time for it. We spend our working hours and maybe even a bit of our spare time doing routine tasks which leave us no time for learning, although the manager has given us permission to use working hours for studying during the mandatory development discussion. “We’re really investing in our employees competencies. We’re expecting you to actively find ways to develop yourself, even during the working hours.” When your calendar is full of client and in-house meetings and your ToDo-list is longer than an old man’s beard, developing your own skills and competencies is not the first thing to spring to mind. How to find time for learning when you don’t have any time left?

In network society, knowledge is fragmented and the production of knowledge scattered. The efficient use of knowledge requires close collaboration with different experts and professionals. The amount of data is expected to tenfold by 2020 to a staggering 44 billion gigabytes. Analysis of this vast information mass can’t be done merely by one Analyst, not even if you’re a Senior Analyst. Knowledge doesn’t reside just in one person’s head, rather knowledge is being made in interaction with others. On the other hand, the competition on labour markets is fierce and you have to be proud of your own skills and competencies and try to stand out from the crowd. How to build productive collaboration but still stand out from others?

What about motivation? Anu wrote in our previous blog post that motivation plays a big role in learning. Learning results of a motivated learner are noticeably better than of learners’ who consider learning as just a necessity. Daniel Pink proves in his widely read (yet very little understood) book Drive: The Surprising Truth About Motivation, that money and rewards boost better performance only in simple, performance-based work, whereas using such external motivators in tasks that require problem solving skills and creativity may even deteriorate performance levels. Information worker’s motivation for both work and learning can be found somewhere else: namely in Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy.

Time management, collaboration, motivation. How can you use these three elements to enhance learning in your organization? Here are some tips:

  • Make self-learning as easy as possible, for example short videos work well as learning material
  • Guide the learner and ensure the learning process is ascending and goal-directed
  • Let the learner monitor his own learning progress, so that he remains motivated
  • Give the learner instant feedback
  • It’s more fun to learn together and it also increases learning motivation and results
  • Make learning possible wherever and whenever by offering learning materials for mobile phones and tablets

These remarks have lead to the development of our own gamified Habit for eLearning concept. What do you think? How can we make it easier to develop our own competencies in the workplace?