By Theo Gilbert-Jamison
Using web-based training has been found to be an excellent way to reinforce and supplement learning and development initiatives; especially when a slowing economy makes it difficult to offer traditional classroom style training on a regular basis.
For some organizations, web-based training is not every effective, while for others it is thriving. So I have outlined ten best practices to ensure you get the "bang for the buck," should you implement a web-based training strategy.
- Limit online workshops to no more than 10-20 minutes in duration. In today's frantic work environment, it is almost impossible to sit in front of a computer for more than 20 minutes without being pulled away by a telephone call, another employee or customer needing something, or an urgent request from a boss. So minimizing the time helps! I can't think of anyone who enjoys online classes that are 30 minutes or more. Secondly, the attention span as well as retention rate of online courses that are longer than 20 minutes is extremely low, especially when no specific rewards like certification or CEUs are linked to taking the class.
- Limit the number of online workshops that are rolled-out each month or quarter. Typically, when a multitude of online workshops are available at one time, the level of participation and interest drops. Years ago, my previous employer rolled out a robust web-based leadership development program that offered over 100 workshops, which appeared to be impressive; however, less than 10% of managers participated because the selection of topics was just too great. Organizations that realize a 100% ROI with web-based training strategically introduce 3-4 new workshops each quarter.
- Develop a marketing campaign to roll-out the program. Two months before the online program is launched, it should be marketed to communicate its purpose, while gaining buy-in and support. The marketing campaign should outline how the program will enhance the effectiveness of participants, and impact organizational success. It should also outline the types of courses that will be available, when and how they will be accessible, and how participants who excel in the program will be recognized.
- Reward and Recognize successful completion. Publicly recognize participants with certificates of completion, photos in the company newsletter or on your "wall of fame," in leadership meetings, or with handwritten congratulatory notes from your CEO, HR Director or CLO (chief learning officer). Organizations that experience success with web-based training program don't perceive it as a waste of time, but an opportunity to recognize employees who take self-accountability for enhancing their professional development.
- Outsource the development of the program. Creating engaging, value-adding, web-based training content enlists the expertise of many people (a project manager, several subject matter experts, an instructional designer, IT specialist, etc.). Outsourcing the development responsibility frees you to run your business with little interruption of your time. Be careful to select a vendor/supplier who can customize the program to meet your unique business needs and not just sell you off-the-shelf content. Not all online courses require customization, but if you want this it should be an option that does not cost you millions of dollars to do.
- Allow participants down time at work to complete online classes. Research shows that in organizations experiencing the most success with web-based training, 61% of participants are allowed downtime to take the courses while at work. Even though web-based training makes the information accessible to learners 24/7, it should be strongly encouraged that they use work time for this level of professional development.
- Define in advance what success will look like. Keep in mind, online training is not for everyone. The most successful organizations have about a 30% participation rate. And that's fine taking into consideration that still 40% of learners would prefer in-classroom training the first time they are learning something new, and another 30% could go either way. However, for recurrent training the overwhelming majority of learners are pleased with online learning as an alternative because it saves time.
- Regularly measure success. Send out brief surveys to participants in the program to ensure it is meeting their expectations and impacting key business priorities. Your survey should not only ask how participants felt about the online workshops, but also how has it helped them become more effective, and what have they applied.
- Link the program to business objectives. Like many others, I am sure your organizational goals include increased: growth and expansion, bottom-line profit, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and product or service quality. Integrating online training that will contribute to these key business priorities is vital to its success. Online training topics that focus on business and financial acumen, coaching and counseling, attracting and retaining top talent, sexual harassment prevention, diversity awareness, and strategic planning, all contribute to achieving common business objectives.
- Keep senior leadership involved and abreast. Periodically communicate results of the online program to senior leaders. Solicit their advice on how to improve the program, topics they would like to see covered, and their involvement as subject matter experts. Anything that can be done to get them on-board as champions of the web-based training initiative should be considered, because if they believe in the program and can see its success, it will be sustainable for years to come.
In the final analysis, web-based training is a great component to add to any learning and development strategy because it not only can help reduce training time and cost, but also increase the accessibility of training programs and enhance the skill and knowledge of your staff.
Theo Gilbert-Jamison is CEO of Performance Solutions by Design, a global performance consulting firm that caters to luxury and premium brands with an emphasis on transforming organizational culture. She is also the author of two books, The Six Principles of Service Excellence (2005), and The Leadership Book of Numbers, Volume I (2008). As the creative force behind Performance Solutions by Design, Theo is a highly sought after speaker and consultant to CEOs and senior executives in high profile organizations.