Not All Training Is Created Equal: High-Quality eLearning Matters
No matter how you create it and what you spend, training is an investment—and it should be. Training and development is the lifeblood of an organization, especially in industries that undergo frequent change and require ongoing skills acquisition. One way to get the most bang for your buck is to invest in high-quality eLearning. According to ATD’s 2015 State of the Industry report, the average direct learning spend per employee was $1,229. So let’s get real. From an organizational health and bottom line perspective, your goal is to get the biggest return on that $1,229 investment possible. Your learners need to complete the training, and the training needs to stick so that everyone—your employees, customers, and company—reap the benefits.
The Case for High-Quality eLearning
If your training is boring, don’t expect much return on your investment. ATD also reports each learning hour used by an employee costs an average of $84. Multiply that hour by, say, 300 employees, and you’ve spent $25,200. If those employees just hit Next or skim through the training as fast as it will buffer, your investment—or hard work—is gone. Good news, though: high-quality eLearning isn’t something elusive and abstract. There are distinct factors that contribute to an increase in participation, retention, and behavioral change. Think of them as eLearning effectiveness multipliers. The factors are quality, brevity, and realism. Bonus points for humor, too. Let’s take a look at each factor so you feel confident producing your next eLearning or finding the right vendor partner.
Today, a high bar of excellence for visual design isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have. It indicates a company takes pride in its brand, and more importantly, its people. Humans recognize and appreciate beauty. They admire strong craftsmanship and expect a friendly, intuitive user interface. Don’t believe us? Take a peek at what Connie Malamed writes in her article Why Aesthetics Matter to Learning.
One obvious way to influence people is through visual aesthetics, or the appreciation of an appealing design. Thus, the importance of visual design in learning is gaining in stature and will become increasingly important in years to come. Initial research has already shown that evoking positive emotions in learners through an attractive visual design (layout, colors, imagery, etc.) can help facilitate a successful learning experience.
For eLearning, quality goes beyond visual design into the realm of video production. Sound, lighting, and color balancing all matter. Your learners have exposure to high-quality media throughout their daily lives, and they don’t have patience for trite motivational soundtracks and monotone voiceovers. If you’ve ever participated in the 48 Hour Film Festival, you know even the best screenplays fail at the hands of a poor sound technician. If you’re just getting started, an emphasis on design and production quality can be intimidating, but you can start small. Pick a simple look and feel you know you can execute with confidence, or hire a partner and learn from them.
eLearning Industry reports the average attention span of the Millennial generation is 90 seconds, and 75% of the workforce will be Millennials by 2025. Even without these statistics, you know, intuitively, an employee’s time is their most precious asset. Their time off the floor or out of the field is time not spent selling, helping, influencing, or producing. It’s time to realize your learners don’t want to sit through a 60-minute eLearning. Instead, use microlearning to make it easy for them to quickly learn new information and practice new skills in short bursts that fit into the reality of their workflow. Embrace microlearning as part of your strategy. Microlearning in its truest form focuses on one learning objective per module. This allows employees to get back to their work quickly and immediately apply what they’ve learned. To get started, look for natural places in your current content to divide learning into smaller pieces. For example, you can break a three-scenario simulation course into three separate courses. Or, you can train on one product per video rather than bundling multiple products into one eLearning.
As you continue to think about your eLearning design, answer this question: How will my learners relate to this training? Your goal is for employees to see themselves, the products they sell, their customers, and their managers represented accurately in the content. Keeping your training real is easier said than done, and it might require a little more time or money. It’s worth it, though, and it’s a lot more fun. Here are some tips:
- Consult with the experts. Identify the best subject-matter experts and make time for them to teach you what they know. Conduct field surveys, go on ride-alongs, and talk to frontline reps and managers to get to the heart of the matter. Don’t fake it.
- Involve a writer who can create great dialogue. Everyday human-speak is quite different from the too-perfect, rigid scripting we’re all guilty of. If you listen carefully to how people typically converse, you’ll hear interruptions, interjections, and joking around.
- Include objections. If you’re writing customer scenarios, don’t make them too easy. Have the customers raise objections that challenge learners and provide good practice opportunities.
- Shoot on location. Use your true office, field, or floor setting. Fill it with extras and get room tone to give your learners the most realistic, immersive experience possible.
- Hire strong actors who can execute your vision. Audition for your roles and don’t settle. You’ll be amazed at how effortlessly the right professional talent can bring your training to life. If your budget allows, give them rehearsal time to practice, ask questions, and get feedback.
If you nail the first three multipliers—good for you! Want to take your eLearning one step further? Welcome to the bonus round. In the same article mentioned earlier, Connie Malamed writes, “Although instructional design typically focuses on the cognitive aspects of learning, a new line of research is now exploring the affective dimension too. Known as “emotional design,” this research looks at the ways a learner’s feelings and mood can influence motivation and learning results.” Put your learners in a good mood by making them laugh. A Loma Linda University study indicates laughter can lower stress and enhance memory. Dr. Lee Berk, one of the study co-authors, puts it well.
It's simple, the less stress you have the better your memory. Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state. The act of laughter—or simply enjoying some humor—increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward.
Humor can also help learners engage with new material more, according to a 2015 report Learning Through Laughter: New Study Supports Use Of Humor In Online Courses. To get the full story on how humor can benefit you and your learners, read the post Our Funny Theory: Use Humor to Improve Training Effectiveness. Oh, and don’t think you’re funny? Here’s a tip: a little bit of slapstick at the beginning of a live action video can go a long way. (Think “sales reps can’t figure out how to open the door,” or “sales rep steps out of car and accidentally drops large stack of paperwork.”)
The Bottom Line
In the day-to-day shuffle of emails, meetings, and decision points, it’s tempting to take the easy road and animate a PowerPoint in your favorite authoring software and call it eLearning. You’ll get high-fives for being budget-conscious, but you won’t get the career-boosting results you want – nor will your learners. Avoid the hidden costs of low-quality training. A year after implementation, your organization will be back at square one, spending more money. Instead, make it a priority to invest in high-quality eLearning. Remember: quality, reality, and brevity are your eLearning effectiveness multipliers. Bonus points for humor. If you want to know more about our approach to eLearning development, we’d be happy to talk shop. Comment below, contact us online, or give us a call to get in touch.