From corporate universities to knitting marathons on Instagram, nowadays it seems that everyone is teaching something. But how do you create an effective eLearning program? If you’re not sure where to begin, in this article you’ll get a holistic view of the training program development process.
Have a closer look at this list of the best places to work and you’ll notice that those companies have several things in common. One of them is an opportunity for employees to grow and develop, which is truly inspiring. On the other hand, ineffective training can only drain your resources and avert people from the word “training” itself.
Below is a step-by-step guide for creating an effective corporate training program that aligns with business needs and is engaging for learners.
Step 1. Understanding the Task
Imagine your car’s engine starts making screeching sounds. Should you rotate the tires, replace the suspension, or just add some oil? You can do all those things, but a diagnostic test will show you exactly what should be fixed without the need to check every single detail.
In a similar way, the idea of conducting training for employees may come from anywhere in the company, from the head of the sales department, whose team didn’t reach the KPI, to someone who thinks that there are too many meetings, and work hours are being mismanaged. So before you begin writing a script for a new online course, it’s a good idea to ask some questions. These questions will form the basis of what’s called a training needs analysis.
All requests for training have at least one thing in common: they represent a desire for change. At this step, your goal is to determine the reason for the gap between the current situation and the desired outcome. This gap is called the need. Assessing employee training needs before hurrying into action increases the chances for success and reduces the risk of expensive mistakes.
To get information about the situation the company is dealing with, the needs, and the desired results is possible mostly through interviews with stakeholders and everyone who’s interested in the success of the training. Those people might be executives, managers, potential participants, or even customers.
There are books on how to assess needs, but here’s a short list of questions that will be a good start:
- Is there really a need for training? Can the desired result be achieved in a different, less expensive, or more efficient way?
- Why do they need training? How will it help the client?
- What problem does your client want to solve with the help of the training? What is its useful effect?
- What will happen if there’s no training?
Training goals are essential information that must be put down before you continue for two reasons: a) you’ll get a clear picture of what you’re trying to reach and b) they serve as a baseline that will be used to measure the results of the program after it has been launched.
Training goals should be specific and measurable, and it’s always better to use action verbs. For example:
- To increase employees’ efficiency by xyz%
- To meet workplace safety requirements
- To reach xyz% KPI
Trying to create a good employee development program for everyone is just like throwing it into the void. You should make it for a certain reason as well as for a certain target audience. Before you proceed with training development, have a closer look at the people who are going to be your learners.
- How many learners are there?
- Who are they? What is their position? (Are they HRs, managers, product line workers, etc.?)
- What are their characteristics? (Average age, educational level, learning styles, computer literacy, geographic location, etc.)
- Are there any learners with disabilities?
- Have the learners received prior training in this field of knowledge? How familiar are they with the subject?
Also, it’d be very useful to move beyond neutral descriptions received from the client by talking directly to potential learners.
- What topics do they suppose to be the most useful in their work?
- Are there any special requests?
- What are their attitudes toward learning? Will anyone likely resist training? If so, why?
Now that you’ve made sure that training is the solution to your company’s needs, and you know what your goals and who your learners are, it’s time to agree on organizational questions. Find out and write down in what form your client expects the result from you, and what is considered to be mission accomplished.
- Who is the decision maker?
- Who are the stakeholders? Who else knows about the project and can provide you with useful information?
- Are there any preferences in the usage of certain technologies, tools, and delivery methods?
- What kind of media should be used (text, video, audio, or something else)?
- In what form does the client expect the result? Is it a SCORM package? Is it a PPT presentation plus a script in Word? Do you need to additionally create a facilitator’s guide? Are follow-up activities or sessions necessary?
- What are the deadlines for the project?
- Are there any restrictions or factors that affect the way in which the result will be achieved?
- Who will upload the program to a learning platform and administer it?
- What is the budget for the project?
Don’t worry if you feel like you’re asking too many questions. You aren’t; on the contrary, it’s very likely that you’ll have to ask additional questions as the project starts to take shape.
Step 2. Designing an Outline of the Program
After the analysis stage is completed, just take the content, arrange it into lessons, add a short quiz at the end of every unit, and voila. Just kidding. Clients expect more than a mindless pile of text with random pictures.
What you need to do now is identify content that matches the needs, a suitable format for distributing it, and some easily measurable metrics that help you monitor the course of the program.
Unlike training goals focused on business metrics, learning objectives are learner-centric; they describe what people should know, be able to do, or feel as the result of the training. Good learning objectives are usually tightly connected with learners’ on-the-job results. “When learners complete this program, they’ll be able to…
- … use the SPIN Sales technique
- … apply advanced Excel formulas for marketing analysis
- … demonstrate a pleasant attitude towards customers
- … feel more confident at high-level negotiations.”
Since training programs usually consist of more than one module or lesson, you’ll also need to write down subgoals for each of them. If the overarching learning objective is to teach employees how to use a popcorn machine, the subgoals can be:
- For lesson 1 — learn the control switches
- For lesson 2 — learn how to install the machine and make it ready for work
- For lesson 3 — learn how to fill the machine with ingredients
- For lesson 4 — learn how to sanitize the machine
Dave Meier, in The Accelerated Learning Handbook, describes a four-phase learning cycle. These phases are:
Each phase requires well-thought-out tactics because the failure of only one phase will likely cause a failure or weak results for the whole program.
The purpose of this phase is to arouse the learners’ interest by providing them with the context, explaining the relevance of the content, and setting goals and expectations. Also, you’ll have to deal with any negative feelings that the learners might have.
An overlooked preparation phase leads to boredom, lack of attention, and failure of the program.
The next phase is presenting training content to learners in a meaningful and engaging way.
First, there’s graphic design; you need to think about how you’re going to manage the learners’ attention with highlights, fonts, and colors. Next, there’s extensive work with the content such as presenting new vocabulary, providing comprehensive examples on every new idea, and considering different learning styles.
A weak presentation can be identified by a blank expression on the learners’ faces: the eyes see but the brain doesn’t.
The effectiveness of learning is jeopardized when learners don’t have enough time to fully comprehend the new knowledge and skills. At this phase, you need to encourage people not only to passively absorb training content but to consider the idea of integrating it into their everyday lives.
This includes, but is not limited to, various quizzes and interactive practical tasks. You also need to help learners organize information by constructing mind maps and writing key takeaways; help them along the journey by generating analogies, metaphors, and creating storylines; and help the information stick by using mnemonic strategies and underlining the most important things.
Without immediate application, much of the freshly obtained knowledge and skills will quickly go up in smoke. How will you encourage learners to use the new information outside the class? Will you create training handouts to print and use in their daily routine? Provide learners with post-training performance evaluation and feedback? Or maybe even run a post-training series of micro-lessons so the information has a higher chance to be retained?
“When the pen is clicked repeatedly, a series of six short messages can be viewed on the screen. The pen can be used to remind participants of specific techniques learned during the training.” ~Sheila W. Furjanic, Laurie A. Trotman, Turning Training into Learning: How to Design and Deliver Programs That Get Results
Whatever your ideas are, you need to plan them out and smoothly build in a learning process outline before the actual development of the training begins. This naturally leads us to the next point.
Keeping the model of the learning cycle in mind, you need to decide how you will sequence the information and then create a framework for the program.
Imagine you’re supposed to create an extensive training program on operating new high-tech equipment. How will you organize the information? The first thing that might enter your mind is to create a series of lessons that describe all the parts and all the features of the machine one by one; this idea is wrong.
Charles Reigeluth, an American educational theorist, developed something called elaboration theory. According to this approach, modules within training programs should be organized in increasing order of complexity so that each module elaborates upon the previous one.
In the case of complex equipment, you could start with teaching the simplest task that technicians need to perform with the machine. While performing this simple task, the learner would become familiar with some of the major functional elements. The following lessons would teach more complex scenarios until the learners are able to perform the full range of tasks. This approach provides learners with knowledge in the context of a real on-the-job application.
So, keep these three principles in mind when developing a structure for a training program:
- From context to content
- From general to specific
- From simple to complex
Using these principles, you’ll be able to create a meaningful context for learners so they can effectively assimilate new knowledge and skills.
When the general structure of your course is ready and you have a brief outline of the topics you’d like to cover, you’re ready to go to the next step and fill the program with content.
Step 3. Developing the Content
eLearning content can take various forms: lectures, e-books, video-lessons, realistic simulations, interactive assessments that look more like games, and the list goes on. A good training program includes as many types of activities as possible to retain learners’ attention and appeal to different learning styles.
You already have a program structure, but you’ll also need to organize and present content within each training module. Below is an easy yet effective module structure:
- Give a general overview
- Provide details
- Add concrete real-world examples
- Make a summary of what has been learned
Also, each module or a lesson, or whatever you prefer to call each independent unit of the program, will need a plan. The plan will provide a clear focus on the topic of each module, help you choose suitable learning activities, and allow you to be sure that the content fits the time frames set for each training session. For example, below is a grid of a course on phone negotiations for sales reps:
Practical exercise as a warm-up activity:
Example of a cold call to a client (audio recording).
Lectures on the steps of the sales process and techniques:
Audio recordings of real phone calls.
A block-scheme of the process that can be printed by learners.
|8 min||Check for understanding||Test|
|15 min||Practical task||Dialogue simulation|
The development of actual presentations, hand-out materials, and training activities is at the heart of any training program. But if you’ve done the previous steps — know for sure who your learners are, what you need to teach them, and why — developing training materials is just a matter of technique.
Depending on your goals, you may develop e-courses on your own or look to designers, video editors, and voice over artists for help. But even if you can afford to hire a full team of professionals in different areas, we’d still recommend having a working knowledge of the most popular authoring tools.
Working with SMEs
Subject matter experts, or SMEs, are the most valuable source of information. They provide unique content, review and correct the content of the program, and make edits if necessary.
There are two approaches to dealing with SMEs: informal and formal.
If you do in-house training and need a piece of advice from in-house experts, the informal approach may work well; you just ask around among your colleagues who have enough experience, and try to find someone who might help with preparing the content. If you’re lucky, your SME will help design an outline of the training program, review draft content, or even create some part of it on their own.
On the other hand, the most experienced experts usually have extremely busy schedules, so they might not be happy with the additional workload. In this case, you’ll need to gather support from the executives who initiated the training; they’ll be able to get SMEs to cooperate by revising the priorities of their current tasks or offering a reward for participating.
In some cases, you’ll have to engage SMEs from outside the company. Say, you need to create a program on new software, but nobody in your company has used it before. In this situation, you need a formal approach and a contract where you’ll write down all the arrangements: what kind of involvement you expect from the SME, what exactly you want them to do, what the deadlines are, and what the reward is.
Now that you’ve read the article, you might get the impression that creating training programs is a linear sequence of steps. That’s not quite right. Although this sequence can be used as a guiding principle, feel free to adapt the model to your particular project: it’ll only benefit the professional training if you absorb the general ideas while still taking into account new information or situations.
Creating a training program involves gathering a lot of information, research, decision-making, planning, and collaboration. But just like a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, successful training development begins with a single question: Why? Find the answer, and the rest will flow naturally.
That’s it! What’s the most challenging part of creating a training program for you? Please share your experience in the comments below!