Thinking about moving your current training online? No way around it – this might just be the biggest decision of your career. You’re possibly going to upset the applecart of “we’ve always done it this way” and have to make applesauce that everyone in your company will want to consume. Having said that, if you have thought, “I should move our training online” more than once – then it's time to get started.

What if I told you that your move to online training would only take five (count’em five) steps to implement successfully? Would you believe me? Notice I didn’t say they were baby steps, in fact, some of them are significant projects in their own right, but when you follow this process, you are well on your way to having award-winning applesauce, I mean engaging, effective online training. 

Here’s the organic sweetener that online training promises to deliver. When you deliver effective online training, learners do far more than “just” complete their training to tick the box as done  — they retain the information, apply it on the job, and change their behavior, leading to improved performance and better business results.  I know I want better business results, and I’m confident you do, too.

The five-step approach to moving to online training

Let me take you through the five-stage approach to moving from offering little or no online training to operating within a robust, performance-driven online training ecosystem.  We use this process when working with our clients here at Neovation, and we’ve seen the results.  Are you ready? 

Here are your five steps

  1. Perform a training audit
  2. Move from instructor-led training to eLearning modules
  3. Implement workflow learning
  4. Build long-term knowledge retention 
  5. Implement a performance-driven training strategy 

Let’s start peeling those apples. 

Step 1: Perform a training audit

Here’s why. Training does not solve every organizational problem; some are solved with performance support or by encouraging collaborative brainstorming. That’s why we recommend performing a training audit and strategically planning online training, performance support, and other resources rather than reflexively ordering a new training course whenever a problem arises. 

A training audit and a strategic online training plan can identify and address all of your organization’s knowledge, performance support, upskilling, and reskilling needs logically and effectively. 

How to perform a training audit

Sometimes, it’s great to have a pair (or two) of outside eyes take stock of your resources. We all get too close to the work we do every day. We come to work armed with prior knowledge and assumptions – and we forget how much information is inherently “in our DNA” and not obvious to everyone.  We overlook the weak spots or miss the gaps because we’ve always just worked around things.  And if you’re reading this thinking, “that doesn’t mean me,” – then I’m here to tell you that it absolutely does mean you. Yes, YOU. 

Why an external consultant is worth the expense

We recommend calling on an external learning consultant to perform a training audit rather than conducting one with in-house personnel. This professional should have a proven track record of successful consultations. They may be part of a company that provides some form of eLearning platform or service, or they may be a stand-alone consultant. The thing to watch for is that they provide you with a fair, balanced, and AGNOSTIC report – not recommending themselves as the only solution to your current project. 

A professional consultant will examine your needs and existing training, bringing that valuable, insightful, outside perspective that captures a big-picture view of your organization’s needs. By figuring out what is working and what is not and inventorying your content, the online training consultant is able to create tailored recommendations for your organization.  Beware anyone that wants to present a cookie-cutter approach. Make sure they give you good answers to your questions and dig deep into the corners of your human capital development programs. No stone unturned.  Also, challenge their assumptions – you need to ensure they have all the facts and that any differences of opinion or information they may encounter are revealed and resolved. 

Transparency and strategy – the cornerstones of a successful audit

A good consultant offers a fair and balanced approach to their work. They may find things you are doing well – pat yourself on the back. They will no doubt encounter things you could have/should have been doing better – that’s okay.  A sacred cow or two may be put out to pasture.  Wave goodbye with a smile. A consultant will present ideas that challenge the status quo, the operational flow, and more. Everything has to be on the table and open to investigation and consideration. True transparency ensures you will get value for your consulting investment. 

Stack of 6 blocks in a pyramid shape, each with an icon and piece of text. Bottom row: icon of an eye (Transparent), three simplified sparkles (Fresh perspective), and a target with an arrow (Strategic). Tiddle row: a set of tipping scales (Balanced) and a circle wich a checkmark (Actionable). Top  row: a trophy with a star (Success).

A professional external training auditor will create a strategic plan that speaks to your company's unique needs while aligning with best practices that make sense – once you understand how those new ways of doing things actually fit and deliver on the promises of online training. The consultant may recommend the purchase or creation of specific training materials but will also consider performance support and knowledge retention needs, including recommendations for nurturing a learning culture and more. 

It’s true that in larger organizations, the Chief Learning Officer “could” conduct an audit of the organization’s training program and create a strategic plan. However, a consultant's outside perspective is often helpful, as they have the freedom to explore new solutions due to their lack of history with the organization.  This becomes your organization’s opportunity to step away from the same old and reinvent your training and development program from the ground up.  Don’t miss this!

To sum it up – your consultant should have deep knowledge and experience in adult learning and online training and be able to provide the big-picture view essential to creating a far-ranging strategy that will serve your organization for years to come. They must deliver a plan that you can action, is affordable, and makes sense for your organization.

Step 2: Move from instructor-led to eLearning modules

Most organizations, especially pre-Pandemic, relied on instructor-led training (ILT), either in live face-to-face sessions or video meetings, for your onboarding and compliance training and to teach product knowledge, power skills, or any other topic. Some companies would fly trainers out to the field to offer onboarding, upskilling or everboarding training to employees located beyond the head office catchment.  You’ve likely got years of training materials squirreled away everywhere in your company. 

Paper-based training lives forever in the form of training binders, newsletters, SOPS docs, recipe cards, and post-it notes. Some of these assets may be digital versions of the same. Other digital assets include PowerPoint™ presentations, recorded webinars, training videos, and conversations on company social channels like Slack or Teams. 

Let’s not forget the human capital component – the SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) – usually tenured employees who know how to “do to the thing,” or many things, or all the things. Their institutional memory is the ultimate “track changes” for how your company’s training material has evolved because they’ve learned how to do “the thing” a different way multiple times as part of reskilling or evolving training needs. Your people can be your most valuable resource – because when they retire – they take all that knowledge with them – and suddenly, there is no one to teach the new person how the thing needs to be done. 

Capturing expertise and codifying knowledge

Two rows of two donut charts. Top row: 54% of boomers share all or majority of their knowledge, so successors can perform their job when they retire; 83% of businesses consider it a "big loss" when older employees retire without sharing their years of knowledge with younger staff. Bottom row:  41% of succeeding employees have felt that they have experienced this first-hand; 59% of respondents believe their employers are taking the right steps toward knowledge management. (Source: https://www.hcamag.com/ca/specialization/employment-law/only-half-of-retiring-boomers-passing-down-company-knowledge/407480)
Click image to zoom in.

The Boomer/Gen X Brain Drain is real. Where I live, a recent study by the Express Employment Professionals says that only  54% of Boomers share all or the majority of the knowledge their successors need to perform their job once the Boomer has retired.  The supporting article talks about mentorship as the solution, but I disagree.  Extracting their knowledge into training materials is the only way to ensure that knowledge survives. (and can be fact-checked that it is current, correct, and consistent.) 

So you’ve got a lot of analog, digital, audio, video, and SME content. Now what? It’s time to plan the conversion and curation of some or all of this instructional material to eLearning modules – giving it everlasting life as it moves from synchronous (live) training to asynchronous (anytime) learning that can be accessed by everyone who needs it. It’s a training miracle! 

How do I migrate my training content to online learning?

Start by truly curating the collection of materials you have amassed, and think about the desired or required training outcomes. This is where your training audit provides you with deep insight into the gaps, redundancies, and opportunities to update and improve your existing training material.

Mature, grey-haird woman smiling at a younger, long brown-haired colleague at a desk with an open laptop.

Time to build your new online training content. You’ll likely use an eLearning authoring tool to create online training modules. Your eLearning modules can consist of so much more than just text-based course material! Your online training can contain:

  • interactivities, 
  • knowledge checks, 
  • videos, 
  • eBooks, 
  • animations, 
  • immersive branching scenarios
  • And more. 

Including content in various formats and activities where learners can apply what they are learning provides a rich and effective learning experience.

You might use an on-site or cloud-based learning management system (LMS) to house your online training modules. An LMS can also manage the manual or automated enrollment of learners into their learning plans, as well as the learners' engagement and progress. Learners might select training courses or be assigned, either by their managers or by training administrators, to training that is required or helpful for people in their job roles or for certain responsibilities that are not defined within a role.  Your LMS might support internal certifications, learning paths, career pathing, and competency management for succession planning.  LMS technology, features, and functionality have evolved greatly in recent years, so make sure you do your due diligence when looking for an LMS in order to purchase the system that best suits your needs. 

Step 3: Implement workflow learning

Nope. You’re not done yet. Yes, your first priority is to get your training content assessed, built out for online delivery, and assigned to your trainees. That might take a bit of time (so many variables); however, once you feel like you’ve got your wheels under you and the training ball rolling (to mix a metaphor), it's time to work on the third step.

Sometimes, when you add a new tool to your kit, you realize that it can do more than you realized to help you manage your process or your business. Your shiny new LMS might be able to do other things to develop and support improved worker performance.  Maybe you want to introduce your learners to additional training through self-directed learning activities within the workflow rather than relying on scheduled training sessions. 

You can empower your learners to “choose their own training adventure” by creating a culture and practice of continuous learning or encouraging collaborative and social learning among colleagues and teams. When your team members recognize a need for refreshers and problem-solving outside formal training courses and events, you can use workflow learning practices and provide resources and tools to support this informal and ongoing learning. 

How to implement workflow learning

Ever need to look up the meaning of a word but can’t find the site’s glossary or help system? Ever been performing a task and wished you could take a look at the plan/drawing/schematic/source doc quickly, where you are, to make sure you’re doing it right? Now you have to find an online dictionary (that may not be industry-specific), and you might have to head back to your desk or cube from the shop floor just to check your memory – feels so unnecessary.  Imagine if you had all the performance support you needed right in the palm of your hand (assuming you’re allowed access to your mobile phone during the work day). If you don’t think your team needs their phone while at work, we suggest you read why we think banning smartphones at work is a bad idea

Left side: A smiling female baker in an brown apron, standing in front of a tray of bread, looking at the smartphone she's holding. Right side: A man in a yellow safety vest and hard hat, looking intently at his phone with colleagues working in the background.

You want to deliver learning and performance support materials in a way that has them available to workers when they need the resources – that’s what “ in the workflow” means. Workers can access performance supports when the information is needed – while they are working on their tasks, with minimal interruption.

Doing this well requires a different approach.  Many organizations implement workflow learning using mobile training platforms and formats like microlearning that deliver short, focused lessons rather than 30- or 60-minute training modules or webinars.  Others rely on a mobile version of their preferred LMS to give their learners access to a knowledge base, online glossary, or other resources. 

Understanding how your team learns and interacts

Some companies encourage a self-directed, collaborative, or social learning approach. They might provide a knowledge base, a curated content site, social and collaborative learning platforms, such as Microsoft Teams or Slack, or discussion boards.  The choice of tool or platform may depend on broader company policies about access to social media sites or third-party chat tools, like Slack. 

Support your employees' productivity and engagement by identifying and developing the performance supports, job aids, and other focused, on-demand resources they need. Different departments will need different performance supports the way they need different courses. Choose a delivery method (LMS, microlearning, social learning, knowledge base, etc.) that will support your team by giving them immediate access to the resources they need.  Help them remember how to do those infrequent tasks and processes or find out what this or that policy is without having to ask someone – no one wants to admit they forgot “how to” or “where to” or “why they ” do something important, right?  Support your team by allowing them to review the core concepts of their training content quickly – without having to go through the course material again.  You’ll look great in that superhero cape!

Step 4: Build long-term knowledge retention

Last but not least.  Think about all the training you’ve taken over the years. How much of it do you remember with granular accuracy? How much have you forgotten? You won’t know how much you need that forgotten knowledge until you actually NEED to use it – and that brain cell is sleeping and not waking up.   Learning is easy, but knowledge retention, well – that can be more of a struggle, especially if your training model is the infamous “One and Done.”  And for industries that rely on compliance training metrics for recertification – retention is a prime metric that ensures the continued certified work of your team.

So, you’ve got your initial training being delivered, and you’ve added upskilling and reskilling to the mix. You've built out amazing performance supports that can be delivered as part of workflow learning, providing your learners with easy access to the training and resource materials. Now, it's time to eliminate the dreaded knowledge gaps and improve on-the-job performance! Welcome to Everboarding – or building and delivering ongoing training that builds long-term knowledge retention. This stage is a sign of maturity as a training-culture-driven company because you are embracing an ongoing “continuous learning” strategy that solidifies a second cultural shift as you move away from the more common  “onboarding plus annual training” model.

Here’s the secret – building retention requires your learners to have repeated exposure to content essential to their work over time – so that learners remember what they have learned and can recall and apply it on the job.  Think of it like “an apple a day” vs. the one-and-done model.  See what I did there? It all comes back to apples.

Implementing retention training 

I’m going to assume that the bulk of your long-form onboarding, upskilling, and reskilling content is delivered through a learning management system.  When it comes to retention training, many companies are embracing a more adaptive delivery platform that can deliver daily training content in small manageable, engaging bites.  This is commonly known as an adaptive microlearning platform. 

Let’s break this down a bit more and talk about adaptive training first. 

Introducing adaptive training

Adaptive training delivery recognizes that each learner has a unique combination of background knowledge and experience, as well as individual job goals and varying needs to do their jobs to the best of their ability, using their expertise. Adaptive training uses an algorithmic approach to deliver content to each learner based on what that individual learner “needs to know, needs to remember.” 

Comparison of regular training versus adaptive training. Regular training says, "identical distribution of content for all learners" with 2 rows of evenly-spaced, identical circles below. To the right of Regular training is adaptive training, which reads, "distribution of content based of individual learner" with one large circle, followed by 2 rows of circles that are vary in size below. Beneath both sections is a line with evenly-spaced sections, and is labelled with "time spent on training module."

I know, Mind Blown, right? If you’re thinking that this is a significant shift from the way online training is typically delivered – where courses are assigned to a cohort of learners en masse delivering the identical content to all learners regardless of their current level of knowledge – you would be right!

By magically matching up the content a learner needs to know on such an individual basis, adaptive training delivery produces two outcomes. It increases learner engagement – because the learner can relate to the material they are (re)learning. More engagement increases learner retention as well because learners want to spend more time learning. Adaptive training also increases retention, especially if the microlearning tool can surface material before the learner’s forgetting curve kicks in. Higher engagement and improved retention improve job performance. 

Microlearning can deliver daily adaptive training with ease

Let’s focus on the “microlearning” part of adaptive microlearning.  A microlearning program delivers short, focused training content targeted to each learner. Each learner's specific lessons and activities will be different in every session a learner takes,  and the material is highly relevant to the learner.  Some adaptive delivery microlearning algorithms dynamically change the mix of content based on performance, recalibrating each time the learner completes a training session.

Then there’s the fun aspect of microlearning. No, seriously. Who doesn’t like topping the leaderboard or beating the office know-it-all in a contest of smarts and retention? Some adaptive microlearning platforms build engagement using gamification: applying game elements and mechanics — levels, points, increasingly difficult challenges, leaderboards, or contests — to learning content.  It feels more like a video game than sitting through a lesson. These gamification elements really do motivate learners to constantly improve, whether through competition with colleagues or “competing” against their past performance.

Step 5: Implement a performance-driven training strategy 

Finally, here we are at Step 5. We’ve covered a lot of ground – and some of the previous steps take time to implement and gain traction.  Fortunately, Step 5 can help you pull it all together as you build a performance-driven training strategy and invest in creating a true corporate culture of continual learning.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure, right? And measurement is the key to demonstrating that your investment in your corporate training plan is exactly that – a true investment and not an expense.  This means identifying something called key performance indicators (KPIs) that you want to improve. You then must target your training to move the needle on those metrics and use your ongoing data to determine whether your training interventions improve those KPIs. 

This data-informed strategy might use analytics to understand what is happening and why, to predict what might happen, or to prescribe solutions that could steer outcomes in the desired direction.  

How to implement your strategy 

There are several steps you need to take to successfully implement and sustain an analytics strategy to measure your ROI.

Pie chart split into three equal sections: Identify, determine, and develop. Circling the chart are two arrows in one continuous loop that read "ongoing audit".

First,  you must identify and track KPIs that impact your business success, such as sales data, customer satisfaction scores, or health and safety incidents. Make yourself aware of how any of these numbers might have an impact on another. For example, low customer satisfaction scores might directly correlate to customer churn as a leading indicator of client dissatisfaction.  

The second step gets you to take that process further. You need to do three things with the knowledge you gain from your high-level business analysis of learning-related KPIs. :

  • Identify which KPIs you want to improve that can be influenced by online training.
  • Determine which behaviors are related to those KPIs that require change or consistent application to achieve or maintain your new standards and improve your metrics.
  • Develop training to align those behaviors to best practices.

Finally, commit to an ongoing training audit process. This step takes you back to the top of this article, but from a more evolved perspective – your ongoing training audit to make sure your training content is meeting your learners’ needs.  From there, you build, deploy, retrain, and measure the KPIs in a perpetual cycle of improved online training. 

Do your research, ask hard questions, and choose wisely

When choosing your LMS and microlearning platforms, investigate their capacity to deliver performance-driven analytics that are easy to extract, work with and understand. Additionally, you can use a business intelligence (BI) platform, such as Microsoft PowerBI, to create easy-to-understand dashboards and visualizations that display  the KPIs and your training data in a more graphical format (charts, graphs, etc.) A good BI platform will also show you any correlations within your data.  

One of the best things about a good BI platform is that it will likely allow you to create reports and share those easy-to-understand graphs within your reporting structure.  You may live and breathe your data and can drill down into the details easily, but the Executive Suite will appreciate the Executive Summary, and your supervisors and training managers will get more from data that immediately makes sense to them without a lot of cognitive load.  Graphs, charts, etc., with concise explanatory supporting text, can demystify the complexity of your training strategy and do the heavy lifting to illustrate any correlations between training progress and job performance. 

Make your training move step-by-step

Well, that was a lot. Time to plan your move to online training, then work that plan step by step. You can do it! Our introduction to online training will help you get started with topics covering the basic types of training, advanced methods and concepts, and everything in between. Think of online training as providing a bumper crop of best business practices – clear metrics, improving KPIs, fewer workplace accidents, improved sales, better client retention, happier, more confident employees – online training delivers all this and more.  

And that’s worth upsetting the applecart.

Poor Use with
Adult Learners
Effective with
Adult Learners

Games

Simple games layered on top of content

Scenario-based games that use the content

Leaderboards, competition

Fan excessive competition among employees or teams by offering large prizes for top performers and/or shaming those with lower scores

Challenge employees to beat their own past performance, or design a leaderboard that shows each employee only the four scorers above and below them

Points, rewards, badges

Award points or levels for completing sections of training or playing for a set number of minutes

Award levels, badges or points for recalling or applying content correctly, demonstrating mastery

  • Remember — bookmark, google, link, search
  • Understand — annotate, Boolean search, journal, tweet
  • Apply — chart, display, execute, present, upload
  • Analyze — attribute, deconstruct, illustrate, mash, mind map
  • Evaluate — comment, editorialize, moderate, network, post
  • Create — blog, film, integrate, podcast, program, publish
A smiling, mature man with short brown hair and a mustache. He sports a black suit jacket and a gray button up shirt with no tie.

As Neovation's Manitoba Territory Manager, I'm continually reminded of the resiliency, innovation, and initiative of Manitoba’s business community. Seeing these budding entrepreneurs develop and present their business plans reinforces that Manitoba is a great place to do business.

– Gord Holmes

Comparison of the Three Levels of eLearning Content
Type
Off-the-shelf subscription libraries
Pros
  • Saves development time - you don’t have to create any courses yourself.
  • Good fit for a limited budget.
  • Quick to set up and launch.
  • Access to hundreds of courses on a wide variety of topics.
Cons
  • Users cannot make any changes to the pre-existing content.
  • Users do not own any of the content.
  • An overwhelming amount of courses and a short time in which to complete the training can create a higher likelihood of users experiencing learner fatigue.
  • Learners may view content that isn’t relevant to their learning objectives.
  • Time and resources can be spent curating your content library to suit your learners.
Type
Course customization
Pros
  • A premade course that is quick to set up and launch.
  • Customization options such as adding your logo, branding, choice of colors, or some fonts.
Cons
  • You do not own the content of the course.
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
Type
Fully custom courses
Pros
  • Completely tailored to meet your organization's audience, needs, and strategies.
  • You have limitless creative potential.
  • You own the original content/IP.
  • Prevent learner fatigue through personalization.
  • You can change, personalize, and maintain the courses however you want and at your discretion.
Cons
  • More expensive - custom courses are a bigger investment for both time and resources.
  • Learners will not have access to as many course options as quickly as they would through a library subscription.
  • A professional eLearning development team should be assigned to this project - either hired in-house or contracted.
Susan Hurrell

With 15+ years of online marketing and online learning experience, Susan loves to share insights about where these two ROI-building practices can intersect and complement each other for your business or organization.

Read more articles by Susan Hurrell