Custom eLearning Development

The Most Effective Uses of E-Learning, Part 3

Readers of this blog know that the focus is on e-learning with an emphasis on business.  We develop e-learning applications for businesses not for academics.  This post is the Third in a Series titled The most effective uses of E-Learning based on experiences with our clients.  These use cases are presented based on the business result they achieved for our clients.

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Software Training

Software products can be complex and have a steep learning curve, using e-learning as tool for software simulations and training is one of the most effective uses of e-learning in a business environment.  Software products have a wide spectrum of uses and applications, which is why the flexibility of e-learning is such a great training tool for software.  There are three primary areas where e-learning shines as a software training tool.  The first is the ability to work hands on with the product, second its use as a job aid and finally its ability to create a powerful value added service or revenue tool with customers.

Complex software must be learned hands on, simply reading about it or listening to a lecture will not suffice.  Expertly crafted e-learning courseware designed around the product allows for hands on learning.  The ability to simulate actual screens and input data in a consequence free environment provides users with piece of mind along the learning curve.  The ability to include step by step tutorials through voice, on-screen cues and text on-screen provide user engagement based on their specific learning style.

Learning never stops, and there is no situation where the initial training period will be left without ongoing questions.  Tactical, bite sized e-learning modules designed to be used as a job aid ensure the user has assistance along the way as the navigate through the live application in their daily work environment.  Simple tutorials built around the daily application of  software provides the user with a “live” resource when needed.

If you are a business providing software solutions to other businesses e-learning presents a huge opportunity for your business to provide value added services and potentially add an additional passive revenue stream for your business.  Customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal when delivering software solutions for your clients.  Their ability to effectively use your product to meet their business objectives will determine its success.  This make training crucial.  When clients are not properly trained on software solutions they get frustrated and eventually stop using the solution, or move to a competitor’s product.  By providing an on-demand e-learning solution as an on-boarding tool and for ongoing training and job aid you create sticky customer relationships.  Additionally, exceptionally good training can be viewed as an asset worth paying for as as add on service to annual maintenance contracts creating an additional passive income stream for your business.

Software training and simulations are by far one of the most effective uses for e-learning technology.  The flexibly of the e-learning medium provides unlimited hands on training tools, ongoing job aids and can provide an additional revenue source for software companies.

Know Your Business Objective if you want a Business Result

My friend and fellow Toastmaster Mike Hayes, wrote an article this week titled, Strong Opinions Make Your PR Campaign Great!  The basic premise being that you need to take a stand and have a position in order for your message to be heard in a crowded marketplace.  This got me thinking about how this basic premise should be applied to online training application for businesses.  The e-learning world tends to be run by academics and instructional design theory.  Those principles certainly have their place, but without focus on a sound business objectives results may be hard to come by, much like having your marketing or PR message heard when you fail to take a firm stance or have an opinion.

E-learning, whether you are looking at it from a big picture view or down to a specific course must focus on the business objective in order to achieve a business result.  Resolutions has had the good fortune of working with many different types of clients all of whom have different objectives when it comes to the development of online training applications, but the constant message we preach to them is, “what is the business objective ?”  It seems like a simple question that should warrant a simple answer, but that is not always the case.  You would be surprised how difficult it can be to answer if it was not the focus in the first place.

When I talk about a business objective I am not talking about the specific learning objectives of a course.  Every online training module has its learning objectives, I am talking about the big picture.  The things that keep the CEO up at night like major citations, fines, accidents, bad press, declining revenue… the list goes on.  E-learning applications built for a company should consider how they can positively affect the actual BUSINESS of their business.  If a client comes to me and says, “I need to build a course on ladder safety.”  My first question is, “What happened?  Did someone get hurt?”  Chances are their is a hidden business objective behind the launch of a ladder safety course that the person put in charge of execution may not have been made aware.  My guess is there was an accident, someone got hurt and either sued the company or made an extremely costly insurance claim that leadership would like to avoid in the future.  Simply understanding that will make a dramatic difference in the development of the training.

Think about it.  If you go to work and all of a sudden you are asked to take a course on ladder safety, what is your first thought?  Most likely, “This is ridiculous  I know how to climb a ladder.”  You are probably right, you do know how to climb a ladder, but if the person developing the training presents ladder safety with an clear understanding of the business objective it can be framed in such a way that is valuable to the user.  When you present something of value there is a much higher likelihood of retention and behavior change over time.

A clear focus on the business objective can help trainers and e-learning developers build training that can have a real impact on their company.  Take a stance, have an opinion and meet a specific business objective.  It will help the company and the user achieve and actual result.

Compliance or Behavior Change?

You are busy, your business is required to produce results, and you rely heavily on your employees to help produce those results.  Training is probably seen as a necessary evil, or considered an afterthought.  Something that sounds good in theory, but not something that is going to help your business get Results!  What if you took a different approach to training and use it as an opportunity to change behavior and create a company culture.

It all starts with one simple question, “What is the terminal objective of my training?”  Typically there are two answers, but how you answer can dramatically the result you get from the training.  Many times we see the answer to this simple question fall into one of two categories.

  1. Meet Compliance:  Employees should be able to pass a test in order to be in compliance with some sort of regulation
  2. Change Behavior:  Help my employees understand the consequences of the actions on the job and ultimately transfer that knowledge to their job performance.

Your answer will dictate the type of training you develop for your organization and ultimately make the difference in the return you see on your e-learning investment.

A look at the use cases for each will give you a better perspective on the differences in the two answers. Many times training simply to meet compliance results in training with little to no interactivity, media stimulus and is primarily text and graphic based.  The positive is that it will most likely be relevant to the users job function since it is of a regulatory nature and in most cases the employee’s job will be dependent on staying in compliance.   The outcome for this type of training is for the student to be able to recall information for the test and pass.  The return on investment is the employee keeps their job and the company does not incur penalties or fines for lack of compliance.

Changing behavior requires a different approach.  In order to successfully change behavior the employee must successfully transfer knowledge learned to on the job skills.  There are some key points to remember when delivering training for behavior change, deliver in small easily digestible learning chunks, relevant, easy to use interactive content.  Appropriate use of media and you are much more likely to develop engaging and effective e-learning which maximizes ROI.  Returns could be a safer workplace, consistent customer service, a defined sales process and of course compliance, on paper and in practice.

Before you begin your next training project ask yourself, “Is my goal to simply be compliant?” or “Do I want to change behavior?”  You answer could change your business.

The Gen Y Effect on E-Learning

Generation Y is now a major player in the workforce.  Baby Boomers are starting to ease their way into retirement and many businesses are going to rely on the Gen Y to fill the void.  This poses a problem because Gen Y doesn’t approach the workplace in the same way as the Boomers have for the past few decades.  Y has grown up in a different era, an era with unlimited access to information, media and entertainment.  Baby Boomers struggle to program a VCR, their Gen Y children have access to and a mastery of technology never seen before.  What does this mean to our business owners and large corporate employers?  They have the responsibility of luring young talent and teaching them how to operate in business environment, Gen Y beats to the tune of a different drum, if you think they are going to respond the with the same grind it out mentality as their boomer parents you are mistaken.  Creating a company culture that appeals to this generation is the key to unlocking their virtually unlimited potential.  While Y may seem to lack some of the traditional traits employers loved in the boomers, they will find that if you peel back a few layers that Gen Y is certainly capable.

Gen Y has grown up in a world of instant access to information.  They want it fast, interactive and accessible.  E-learning technology and course development has grown tremendously over the past decade as the internet has evolved.  E-learning technology has been embraced by many large corporations, and is a tool to help define and develop a company culture.  There is however an opportunity for small to mid-sized businesses to capitalize on the swift moving technology in the e-learning world and is it as an advantage is luring and keeping top Gen Y talent.

The downside to being a large Fortune 1000 type corporate is that change rarely happen quickly.  Multiple layers of management and department heads make it tough for big sweeping decisions to happen.  This is where the mid-sized company can take advantage of being smaller.  E-learning technology is moving changing daily as Gen Y is staring to make its mark on the industry.  The advantage for smaller business is that it will take time for the larger companies to embrace the new technology.  As is the case with anything technology related the price starts to come down as the technology improves.

This article is not intended to cover the benefit of e-learning for business, rather to point out that the evolution of the medium has made it more accessible than ever for companies of all sizes.  Gen Y understands and expects e-learning technology.  Some may have never set foot in a traditional college classroom, opting to learn completely online.  There are a couple key factors to leveraging e-learning successfully with Gen Y that will help set your business apart and create a culture that attracts top talent.

Embrace BYOD.   As I stated earlier, Gen Y wants to access information on their terms.  That does not mean being tied to a company computer.  BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has become a popular term in the e-learning world because it embraces the mobile nature of the workforce.  Mobile learning is evolving daily, but is certainly a big plus for the Y workforce.

Be Laser Focused. The traditional page turner, seat time based model of e-learning is dead, or a least should be.  Unless you are offering continuing education credits to fill a requirement for a specific industry certification you should not be delivering online learning to your employees that is more that 15 minutes long.  Attention spans are shorter than ever, this is especially true with Gen Y.  Understand your objective and focus on it and nothing else.  Short tactical learning modules are proven to increase retention of online learning material.

Use media wisely.  I advocate using multiple forms of media in your e-learning development, but you must be aware of the first two points when using media.  Mobile access puts some limitations on the use of certain types of media and you must be certain that whatever media is being used is only done to enhance the focus on your specific business objective.

E-learning technology is a powerful tool for developing employees and company culture.  The constant evolution of e-learning technology has made it more accessible that ever for small and mid-sized business.  This accessibility is a key for these businesses to attract and retain young talent entering the workforce.  Understanding that young talent and the tenets of Generation Y will help set your learning initiatives apart and create a competitive advantage for workforce development.

Humor, A Powerful Training Tool

A a solid majority of the training material developed in the corporate world is based on a regulation or technical specification and must be very straight forward and matter of fact due to the subject matter, but not everything needs to be quite as staid.   Many times the way we train our customer service and sales reps is the way we develop our outward persona to our customers.   This is an area in e-learning development where a little humor can go a long way.

The goal successful e-learning is for the learner to retain the information being taught and ultimately transfer that knowledge to on the job skills.   Effective and appropriate use of humor can go a long way in keeping your employees engaged with online training initiatives.  Sales and customer service reps are on the front line dealing with customers every day, e-learning targeting those groups should to reflect your corporate culture.  One of the best ways to teach sales and customer service skills with an online course is through the use on consequence based video simulations.  This type of simulation based training is a prime opportunity to introduce a little humor into your e-learning.

In the simplest sense consequence based training gives the user the opportunity to do something the right way and the wrong way.  One way to broach the wrong way with impact is to take it to an extreme.   Setting up your wrong way scenario in a manner that makes the user laugh it also makes them realize they do not want to put themselves in a laughable situation.  You have created a tool that makes your employees think about what they look like when they are in a similar situation, and how they can avoid looking like “that person” who made a fool of themselves in the course.

In order to use humor in your training you must first have appropriate subject matter and second it must fit into your corporate culture. Make sure when you push to use humor in your training it is in good taste and fits within your company guidelines.

How have you used humor in your company training?  Online or classroom based.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/1291332

The Mobile Monster

Smartphones and tablets have changed the game in the business world.  The consumer’s expectations of accessibility and connection to product and services online are through the roof.  Everything must work on every device and every browser or you are going to lose customers.  This challenge is no bigger than in the e-learning world where the industry standard for the past decade plus has gone by the wayside due to the mobile market.  Flash is not only an animation tool, but also a programming and development tool that has been improved and developed by thousands of users over a significant period of time.  In no time at all it has been removed from the mobile marketplace.

At least once a month I get a call from a client that asks me if the online training courses we built for them will work on an iPad.  The majority of the time I have to say no, mobile delivery was not in your statement of work as a final deliverable.  Without fail the next statement is, “Well our Senior VP, President, Executive X, called me and said he/she absolutely must be able to access the courses from their iPad and it is not working.”  My explanation of why it is not working makes perfect sense to the person I am speaking with, but the bottom line is Executive X does not really care, they just want it to, more importantly, expect it to work on their iPad.

What is the solution?  Simply making it work on an iPad, or any tablet for that matter, is going to cost money, take time and the course as the client knows it will be substantially different due to the  limitations of mobile delivery without Flash.  My solution is to speak their language.  That means working with them to make a business case for mobile delivery of their online training.  It may make perfect sense, but it may make no sense at all.

The first step is to ask them to look at their user base.  Where will the majority of users be accessing the training?  If it is a large corporate environment they may only be accessing on a company computer limited to a certain browser.  In that case, rebuilding or initially building a course for mobile delivery probably does not warrant the investment.  Many of our users are in retail type environment where the only computer is a point of sale system which should never be occupied for training.  The primary purpose of that computer is to complete a sale!  This is a perfect use case for mobile applications, many times a tablet or two are purchased for the store for that purpose.  It is a cheaper alternative to adding computers.  Designing online training with mobile use in mind makes perfect sense in this case.

The next step in the mobile learning qualification process is the WOW factor.  This is a bigger issue with existing clients who already are accustomed to a certain level of course development.  One differentiator as a company is our ability to visually bring complex, non-visual, messages to life through custom graphics and animation.  Our ability to accomplish this is severely limited in the mobile world without the ability to use Flash.  The combination of HTML5, JavaScript and CSS needed to create a mobile learning environment has not yet come up to the level Flash for those types of applications.  It will in time, or a Flash-like tool for mobile will be created, but until then that is what we have to work with.  The client needs to understand that the same level of interactivity and on-screen flexibility is not possible for course built for mobile.  This may or may not be an issue.  In some cases we build a computer based version and a mobile version with code written to sniff out what type of browser and device the user is accessing the training from, other times the decision is to stick with the desktop version based on the user demographic.

One thing I do like about the current limitations of mobile learning applications is that is truly forces the the client and the developer to focus on their business message and the desired business result.  Mobile training can not be complex.  It must be easy to navigate, tactile and laser focused.  Without the unlimited tool kit of Flash developers are forced to hone in on the business objective and the user.  Sometimes simplicity makes a better learning experience.

Mobile technology is rapidly changing, but I think it is here to stay.   It is our job as a technology company focused on our clients, their workforce and their customers to be able to provide them with the best tools to deliver their message.  You can’t be married to one technology or platform, it could crush your business.  Mobile learning is in a state of constant evolution, we must evolve in order to meet the expectations of our clients.

What is your experience with Mobile Learning?  Here is an example of a consumer facing web application we built for a client which required us to develop completely cross platform and cross browser.  This is a consumer facing training application.  It was a challenge, but in the end I think the user experience is one of a kind.

Build It and They Will Come!

Build it and they will come!  If it were only that easy.  Resolutions develops e-learning courses for a variety of clients in a number of different industries, one major challenge for all of our clients, regardless of industry, is user compliance.  Our focus as a company is building e-learning content that achieves a business result.  That can be hard if the intended audience is nowhere to be found and the company has spent thousands of dollars to develop the course.  We have come up with a few keys you should keep in mind for any e-learning initiative to help drive users and ultimately ROI.

1.  Identify your Objective – If you want to develop training that gets results, know up front what results you want to achieve.  Be specific, how does a particular employee group learning this material affect the bottom line?  How will it affect your customers?

2.  Focus – Once you have identified your objective focus on it!  Don’t take the, “While we have them here” approach of throwing in random topics you would like them to pick up while they are here.  Keeping your online training focused will help keep users attention.

3.  Tactical – You have set your objectives and are focusing on them, know turn your attention to the user.  What is in it for them?  Present useful information that will help the user be better at their job or possibly advance their career.

4.  Short – Your employees are busy, and honestly how much time do you want them away from their actual work?  If you are laser focused on your business objective you should be able to deliver effective tactical training in 15 minutes or less.  Coffee break anyone?

5.  Engaging –  User engagement can be defined a number of different ways, but in its simplest form make the learning active.  It is proven that passive learning is far less effective than active.  Make use of media where appropriate, discovery learning is always a winner and decision based learning paths will seal the deal.

These are a few short tips we try to pass along to our clients.  Every situation is different, each company and industry segment has a different level of acceptance when it comes to online learning.  The best clients incorporate it into their culture and make it a part of everything they do.  Not everything goes as planned, but if your build your online training content with these the 5 simple tips in mind, then they surely will come!

What rules do you follow in your company training?  What has been the result?

Get down to business

Let’s face it, the majority of the e-learning industry is based upon academics.  I get it, the concept of e-learning was built out of universities offering classes online, it was only a natural progression for corporate and business based learning to follow suit.  It makes too much sense, reduced overall training costs, on-demand, tactical, etc.  Elearningindustry.com explains this far better than I can with this infographic, check it out, it confirms the true benefit of e-learning in a business setting.

My focus here however is on the execution.   Online learning in a business setting should not be academic!  Quite the opposite, the learning should be focused on one thing… achieving a business result, any deviation from that stated result should be left behind.  I am a firm believer that any web based training built for a business application can be accomplished in 15 minutes or less.  Short, tactical and to the point.  For example, one of our industry niche businesses is in the insurance industry.  The objective for any online training we build for our clients is focused around a single business objective, reduce claims in a common area of loss.    Let’s say the the insurance program we are working with has driving risks, chances are they see high frequency claims due to distracted driving.  We have built a simple online training module designed specifically around that area of loss covering the most common driver distractions using simple scenarios the learner can relate to in their daily driving.  This entire course is 12 minutes long and the content does not deviate from it’s objective.  Raise awareness of distracted driving risks with the goal of reducing claims as a result.  Simple, to the point and focused around our clients business objective.

The bottom line is people in every business are busy, anything that does not help them achieve a business result is simply wasting their time.  Short, tactical online training is the best way to get busy people trained and focused on the desired result for your business.

How do you get down to business.  I would love to hear your examples.