Online Training – What Works and What Doesn’t?

Photo: Sebastiaan ter BurgIn February, I attended the Training 2015 Conference in Atlanta organized by Training Magazine. When I’ve told this to my colleagues, they often ask “Training what?”. The conference didn’t take a stance on what or who you train, rather it was a conference for all trainers alike.

The conference offered many fascinating learning opportunities. There were classes on eLearning, micro learning, storytelling, learner engagement, best practices, neuropsychology, learning theory, assessment, leadership, and improving retention. In this blog post, I will share what I learned about online training and training videos.

It’s crucial to understand that online training is a completely different way of learning than traditional classroom training. What works in class, doesn’t necessarily work online, and vice versa. The same principles and best practices don’t apply to both methods. For instance, during a classroom training the trainer should talk and progress slowly, so that the learner can digest all the information. Whereas in video-based online training, the learner can watch the same video over and over again as many times as he likes. That’s why it’s a serious sin in online training to be too slow!

Another significant difference between these two approaches is the length of the training. Where traditional training takes at least an hour or in most cases the whole day, online training should be chopped into smaller pieces.

Microlearning is one of the hottest topics in learning at the moment, although I didn’t buy the whole idea yet. Microlearning basically means that online training videos should be really short, under one minute in length. One of the lecturers told us that in 1998 the average length of our attention span was 12 minutes and in 2008 only 5 minutes. Other lecturer strongly argued that over one minute long videos are too long. It’s of course true that if I happen to bump into a video that’s only mildly interesting and “dryish”, I won’t watch it for long.

However, it seems that people still prefer slightly longer instructional and training videos. According to Matt Pierce’s research, the desired length for instructional and informational videos is around 5–10 minutes.

Regardless of the length of the video, every 3–5 minutes there should be something to activate the learner.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind, when you are designing online training:

  • Be even more articulate than in classroom training
  • Keep the training light
  • Short and lively VS. long and boring
  • Use humor, but only when it’s approriate
  • Make it humane

=> If you’re talking on the video, don’t hide your own face! You can show your face, for instance, in a small box on top of the presentation.
=> If you do an animation, use as much human figures as you can.
=> Use well-known expressions and words and avoid unnecessary jargon.
=> “Negotiation skills are important and needed on a daily basis” VS. “When was the last time you had a negotiation?”

  • Tell great stories if you want your message to stick
  • Explain instructions step-by-step and explicitly show, what should be done
  • Don’t patronize – you’re dealing with adults here!
  • Avoid monotonic and dull speech
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition
  • Make sure that the title and the description of the training equals the actual content. Deliver what you promise!
  • Engage the participants by giving them tasks
  • Activate the participants: ”Now that we’re done with this… Click next to move on to the next topic…” VS. “You’re only a step away from… So click NEXT to test your skills…”
  • Make it shorter: cut down information and focus on the doing!

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