As head of training at Rhythm Systems, I’ve had a busy year creating all the training content to accompany our latest software release - Rhythm 4.0. We’ve got two great online learning platforms for clients, Rhythm Certification and Rhythm University. As part of updating our content to bring the latest and greatest information to our clients, I also did some research about online learning in general. For those of us used to the more traditional classroom learning environment, shifting into the online learning landscape requires a bit of a paradigm shift.
There are actually quite a few benefits for online learning over the classroom setting. Rather than having just one instructor, online learning allows you to pull in subject matter experts on different topics. Also, instead of having one time-limited session, online learning allows learners to go at their own pace. Spacing learning out over time gives the added benefit of more time to practice and develop new skills. It’s also easier to keep each person engaged in online learning rather than a marathon session of one person talking/training for hours at a time. Plus, each individual has to answer every question and think about every topic; in a classroom, you might hear from the same handful of people over and over and others won’t get the chance to synthesize the learning by participating.
As you design training for your own team or customers, you may be able to apply some of these online learning best practices:
- Meet people where they are. I recently watched a webinar from our friends at VitalSmarts where this point was strongly emphasized. Most traditional learning applies a content-based approach where we take learners from beginners to competent to experts. But, in reality, learners don’t all start at the same place or have the same needs. When designing your content, consider the different skill levels of your learners as well as how they are likely to respond emotionally to the task of learning. For example, something simple like telling a learner how long an online course is expected to take to complete can help them feel less stressed and more engaged in the learning process. Design content that will make learners curious to find out more, and try to minimize emotions like confusion, frustration, and boredom in your online learning experience.
- Consider your audience. What are the different personas who will be consuming your online learning? Are they brand new to your company or product? Are they executives with little time to spare? Are they mostly millennials or baby boomers? Any information you can gather about your audience will help you tailor the learning experience to their preferences. If you have to talk to multiple audiences with your online learning offering, spend some time thinking about the experience from all the different perspectives. For example, if you know your audience is mostly millennials, you might incorporate a social media-style message board where learners can share comments and ideas as part of the online learning experience. You also might include the opportunity to earn badges or points if this would appeal to your audience and make learning more fun.
- Design shorter bites of content. Online learning components should be short and engaging. When I analyzed the data on our previous version of Rhythm University, I could see that people stopped watching videos after 3-4 minutes. Breaking learning up into “micro” sized pieces allows learners to take the shortest path to competence, and having micro-learning modules available also helps you reach people where they are. If they’ve already mastered a concept and just need to be updated on one change, don’t make them sit through the entire course again. Offer a bite-sized module that delivers the information they need.
- Appeal to different learning styles. Using different media in your online learning can help you appeal to different learning styles. In Rhythm Certification, we’ve got software tutorial videos, videos with consultants teaching concepts, gifs, blogs, webinars, slide decks, infographics, and screenshot examples to keep learners engaged. As you design your online learning, make different kinds of content readily available for people who learn best in different ways. You might also consider blending online and in person learning if that makes sense or even incorporating opportunities for live interaction, like through a live webinar or question and answer session.
- Make it active, not just passive. A big part of making online learning engaging is including elements that are active, not just watching a video or reading an article. At the end of each of our short Certification courses, we have a quick test so learners can apply their new knowledge and skills right away. Our Expert Certification also includes a practicum call where learners have to demonstrate their knowledge and can ask questions from one of the Experts on our team. Including activities for learners to practice what they are learning and upload videos of themselves using their new skills might also be appropriate. There are lots of ways to make the online learning experience come to life so be sure you sprinkle in a healthy amount of active learning to keep people interested and practicing their new skills.
I hope some of these tips can help you design successful online learning for your employees or customers. And, if you want to check out our online learning offerings, our Fan Certification is free and available to anyone!
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images