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.

Not All Training Is Created Equal - High Quality eLearning Matters

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.

Quality

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.

Brevity

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.

Realism

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.

Humor

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.

Wishing You A Holly Jolly 2014

What a whirlwind 2013 has been! We’re celebrating a lot of big wins, and we couldn’t have done it without your support. Hats off to our clients, our partners, our families, and our friends for all that you do. There would be no “Unboxed” without “U.”

So, kick back, relax, and get ready for good cheer with a video retrospective of this very awesome year.

What’s your favorite Unboxed memory from 2013? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #twastheyear!

Mobile Offers Employees the Learning Experience They Want

It’s now a well-established fact that employees want to perform tasks and get information on the go. They don’t want to be tethered to the desk or—gasp—the landline. Just as mobile devices have lightened students’ backpacks and changed our ability to read on the move, they’re also changing how employees learn and get things done.

Mobile training tools

You can make powerful improvements to your customer experience when you offer your employees mobile training. If employees can access learning materials on the go—in between customer interactions—you maximize the time they have to pick up new skills that will help them build relationships and sell your products.

  • By 2015, the US market for mobile learning products and services will reach $1.82 billion.1
  • By 2016, the installed base of mobile PCs and smartphones will exceed that of desktop PCs.2
  • “Mobile devices are going to be the majority of the way people get information.” Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google3

At Unboxed, we’re always looking for opportunities to bring the best of UI (user interface) design into our learning products. We offer just-in-time training on mobile platforms, ensure its real-life relevance to the front line, and provide content that entertains as it instructs.

In the July 2012 issue of Training + Development magazine, UPS Chief Operating Officer David Abney shares that UPS routinely sends training materials to the handheld devices its 90,000 drivers use daily. This is a big time-saver because employees don’t need to travel to a workstation to input information. Their training portal travels with them.

UPS Chief Learning Officer Anne Schwartz discusses her desire to leverage the benefits of both newer technologies and proven, tried-and-true methods such as classroom training. She explains, “Our new model offers a more flexible and customized approach to individual development…[and] capitalizes on more cost-effective and progressive methods of training delivery.”

Just as the right mobile app, paired with seamless analytics, offers vast improvements for the customer experience, smart mobile learning complements your employee training program. But a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Look for a tailored, cost-effective app that meets the specific needs of your organization.

1Ambient Insight: The US Market for Mobile Learning Products and Services: 2010-2015 Forecast and Analysis
2Jacada: Mobile as the New Engagement Channel
3TrainingIndustry.com: Mobile Learning: Starting a Training Revolution

Enlist Your Best in Culture Change

What’s Talked About Vs. What’s Lived

Okay, we’ve all been through it—the interview where we really wanna land the gig. We’ve arranged ourselves methodically in our chairs to convey a sense of our openness, our approachability, and our utmost competence. We’ve not chewed gum, we’ve not bitten our nails, and we’ve not deprecated our former employers.

Our boss-to-be (fingers crossed) seems pleased and starts to let us in on her vision: the company is changing to be more innovative and light on its feet. Employees spend time each day reviewing industry trends, scanning blogs, and brainstorming new solutions together. Calm and collected we say, “It sounds like a great fit.”

Warp ahead. It’s the first day, and we are ready to roll. Our supervisor introduces us to Jerry—he’ll help show us the ropes. We’re alert and excited—until Jerry tells us, “Oh, about that (fantastic-sounding initiative that inspired us to even start flossing again)…Yeah, well, we don’t really do it that way. We do it this way…” Tires screech.

Chances are, we’re all too familiar with this situation, where we perceive a difference between what an organization says about its culture and how its employees actually live the culture. What gives?

Where Employees Get Their Training

“Too often, CEOs hand over responsibility to people who may seem to represent them well on the surface but rarely do,” says Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot in an Inc.com article called Creative Employee Training Ideas.

According to Leadership IQ, a research and management consulting firm, 67% of employees learn about their jobs from coworkers rather than their bosses. Paul Glover describes this as a “disaster waiting to happen” in a Fast Company blog entry titled Training New Employees.  Apparently, coworkers have the power to significantly undermine the culture leadership seeks to build. Yikes.

Glover writes, “The training of new employees is one of the most critical functions in any organization! Not necessarily for teaching the skill set new employees need to be able to do the job, but for the proper inculcation of the new employee into the organization’s culture.”

“Core Employees”

So what can an organization do to advocate proper inculcation (or however you say it)? Put training in the hands of the “Core Employees,” the ones with abs so firm they can walk a tightrope without a flinch! Or rather, those individuals who are doing the best work in the company. Inc.com notes how SnagAJob.com’s Snagger U program ups employee engagement by enlisting in-house experts to teach classes on a variety of topics.

At Unboxed, we’ve seen in real time how the majority of our clients’ employees learn largely from their colleagues—regardless of the size of the company. From Day One and throughout their careers, employees work closely with peers by asking questions and sharing best practices. Think about how many times you’ve been told, “Go watch how that guy does it.” Let’s hope that guy is actually doing it well. He might be a Jerry.

Training should supplement, encourage, enhance and give structure to who’s and what’s already working in an organization. That’s why we partner with our clients to identify mentorship and peer training opportunities within the learning journeys we create together. And that’s why we help our clients identify those Core Employees who will be champions of positive change, and then empower those associates to both lead by example and help others understand the value of it.

A Caution and a Kind Hand

Glover warns, “If you don’t have a Pre-Boarding Program, and an Onboarding Program and are not using Core Employees as trainers, expect high turnover and a dilution of your company’s culture in a relatively short period of time.”

Why have your Jerrys do your most important work? Instead, you could enlist your trusted Core Employees to win the culture war—and not only that—you can even engage them in building your training content, since they have the experience and the right moves. Not sure how to do it? We can help. Send us a note or give us a call at 804.888.6222.