AHEC of Southeastern Massachusetts: An E-learning Case Study

September 18th, 2014

Summer is over, and it’s time to start planning new training programs for your learners.

If you’ve wondered how you might transition to an online learning strategy, here’s a case study to give you some confidence and inform you of best practices. The short case study How AHEC Of Southeastern Massachusetts Successfully Shifted To Online Training (PDF; 633 KB) shows how AHEC of Southeastern Massachusetts launched two new courses online and kicked off a new e-learning method of serving learners.

Download the Case Study

Top 10 Ways To Help Learner Retention You Might Not Have Known

September 16th, 2014

Following the positive response we received from our article Ways to Increase E-learning Participation, we offer 10 more ways to help learners lock away lessons.

1. Address common reasons learners don’t retain information.

The most common reason people don’t retain learning is they don’t finish a course. If you can find out what the underlying reasons are for dropping out, you can present your learners with an experience they can use. In most cases, withdrawals are due to family, job commitments, vacations and poor time management. Change up when and how you offer your information, and you can make it easier for students to complete.

2. Encourage learning outside the classroom.

Whether a course happens in person or online, what happens during class time represents only part of the learning process. In order to make sure people keep learning when they’re outside of the classroom, which is the best way to encourage retention, apply lessons to work time during coaching sessions, or supply tools and resources that can be used on the job.

3. Give relevant examples.

Concrete examples that relate closely to a learner’s work or their lives is a proven way for learning to stick. Present case studies of real people or situations. Interview in-house experts and use their contribution as learning material. Avoid generalizations and vagueness, and participants in a course will find it much easier to understand how what they’re learning relates to their job.

4. Encourage participation.

Flat, one-sided courses are a sure ticket to inattention and boredom. Participation greatly helps people interact and remember material. If you use a facilitator, make sure they’re asking questions to check understanding. Ask students to research a concept and explain it to the rest of the class. Group work and role plays are also helpful activities for encouraging participation.

Combating E-learning Slackers

5. Use a little humor.

Professional development courses don’t have to be boring, but many of them end up dry. Inject a little humor into the course and people will remember the joke when it’s connected to a lesson.

6. Provide plenty of support.

Some learners are unengaged because they’re bogged down with the technology or aren’t sure how to proceed. Begin early by identifying learners who are at risk of dropping out or who have little technical knowledge. If you have physical space, appoint someone who can sit down at a computer with the learner and guide them through tasks.

7. Refer to previous and future learning.

Job training doesn’t happen in isolation–it should be a continuum of learning experiences before and after the course you’re offering. Provide reference to foundational courses learners might have taken in the past, and give the course future context.

8. Use mixed media.

Some learners are visual, some are auditory and some do better with written text. Mix up how you present information, and you’ll better reach students with different learning styles. Read 7 Supereffective Ways To Address Every Learner for more ways to teach different learning styles.

9. Challenge learners.

Is your class hard enough? If the course is too pattycakey, learners will quickly feel bored–or worse, insulted–and switch off. Challenge learners with enough work, questions that make them think, asking them to research.

10. Make sure you’re not asking too much.

Some courses, on the other hand, are too hard. Learners can become discouraged quickly, which also makes them switch off. Make sure your material is targeted correctly and that you’ve provided learners with the appropriate foundational work they’ll need to succeed.

Free Case Study

How AHEC of Southeastern Massachusetts Successfully Shifted to Online Training

Read about how this health education organization increased their capacity to train learners with e-learning.

Download the case study

The Beginner’s Guide To Blending Live and Computer-Based Training

September 12th, 2014

Your learners will thank you for discovering the best way of delivering educational materials.

Blended learning takes the best of in-person training and melds it with the best of online training. It’s a principle that predates e-learning, because teachers have been mixing facilitation methods for years as they mix different facilitation methods, resource formats, and technologies. What makes it relevant to the e-learning world is part of the teaching occurs with an Internet connection.

Here’s a fairly typical format for a blended training program we see at Talance:

Typical blended learning format

Why Use Blended Learning?

Blended learning is a flexible approach to addressing a range of learning styles and also adapting content to the right format. For example, communication techniques might be better addressed in a live setting, while HIPAA regulations are easy to teach online. Studies have shown that it’s easier to keep a group engaged for longer with a blended program.

How To Use Blended Learning

The first step is to figure out what you really need. This means conducting a needs assessment, which I’ll assume you already did. If not, read about the importance of a needs assessment.

If you offer only in-person training, you probably already know about this method’s benefits–and drawbacks. You can segue into blended learning by looking critically at what portions of your program can easily be delivered online, or those pieces that lack consistency. Depending on your technical capacity, it might be relatively straightforward to convert those into an online format.

An easy way to augment your live program is to look at off-the-shelf online courses that you can supplement your own program. There are many options for these ready-to-go offerings, but here are some examples of courses we offer for health workers through our project CHWTraining.

Some organizations offer only online training, often relying heavily on off-the-shelf courses and deploying them to staff members. This can work out fine, but you might be able to increase engagement and retention if you supplement with in-person elements. For example, you might have an in-person kickoff session to introduce learners to the technology and subject they’re about to learn. Or you might assign coaches to teams to apply what they learned online in the field.

If you’re starting from scratch and need to figure out what makes the most sense offering online and what should be in person, you can follow this helpful example from Learning Solutions magazine’s article “Content Analysis: Key to Excellence in Your Blended Learning.” The author explains how to think of a course as “a collection of content, which can be organized in a ring binder or a folder in a computer.” Looking at those pieces of content, you can decide which can be better delivered online, and which can be better delivered in person:

In face-to-face learning, these materials would appear in the form of reading materials, handouts, worksheets, presentation media, and testing materials. In self-paced e-Learning, raw media elements would contain multimedia, including audio, animation, and videos as well as text and images. Also, assessments in self-paced e-Learning are designed such that an instructor’s presence is not required.

An important takeaway for any administrator thinking of integrating blended learning is that it is not about eliminating anyone’s job or replacing a human with technology. Blended learning is a way to serve your learners better by enhancing their experience and by giving trainers more teaching tools.

Free Download

How Washington’s Office of Healthy Communities Uses Blended Learning to Train up to 500 Employees a Year

Download Talance’s free case study to learn how this state department created a successful program to train community health workers.

 

A Guide To Online Learning Delivery

September 10th, 2014

The term “online learning” is notoriously slippery. One person’s PDF handout is another person’s webinar.

While defining the way you deliver training online might be confusing to the uninitiated, there is a method that the industry follows. Here’s a handy little guide to how e-learning is delivered, which is summed up in two words: asynchronous and synchronous.

Asynchronous: Learning At Different Times

Asynchronous means that learners may be in the class together, but they’re not online at the same time. One person might log in to review their work in the morning, while another logs in at midnight. They’re reviewing the same information, they even might be completing assignments together, but they do their work at different times. The work gets done when the learner does it.

There may or may not be a facilitator or instructor with asynchronous learning.

Examples:

  • College courses
  • Self-paced courses
  • Instructor-led classrooms
  • Bulletin boards or discussion forums
  • Communities of practice

Synchronous: Learning At The Same Time

In online training, synchronous means that everyone completes the training together, at the same time. In practical terms, this means there’s a scheduled time to show up and finish, and everyone has to follow the same schedule. The work gets done only during a specified time.

There is a facilitator or instructor with synchronous learning.

Examples:

  • Webinar
  • Live discussions or chats
  • Live online classrooms
  • Meetings
  • Presentations

There are mixtures of these classifications, and many programs also incorporate an in-person element with blended learning (read more about blended learning). These classifications form the basis of most online training programs, and knowing the difference between them will help inform your decision about what kind of training is right for you.

Try Synchronous Learning For Yourself

Curious to see what some of these learning methods look like? Try out yourself in our free upcoming webinar Introduction to E-Learning: What Every AHEC Needs To Know About Online Training.

5 Apps & Tech Tools to Try for Online Training

August 29th, 2014

Dozens of new services and promise to bring strength to your online training program. Here are five that are honestly useful.

Unless you’re considering setting up and hosting your own online learning program in-house (most organizations go with a managed hosting company like Talance unless they have a dedicated technical department with specialists), the list of technical tools you actually need to run your program is pretty short:

  • A computer
  • A mobile device for testing
  • Headphones, speakers or some way of listening to audio
  • A connection to the Internet

Meanwhile, the list of software, apps and online services that promise a more productive and engaging online learning program continues to grow. Look at this enormous list of lists from Education World magazine, for starters.

You can spend years sifting through the options, but here are a few that we honestly think are helpful for administrators and instructors.

  1. ASTD Trainer’s Toolkit (app) – This unique app from ASTD is best for course building and instruction. It has ideas for activities and reminders for interacting with students, plus ways to keep notes and make bookmarks.
  2. Chief Learning Officer magazine (app) – Required reading if you’re considering setting up an online learning program. “Chief Learning Officer magazine is the foremost business resource for senior executives in the workforce learning and development industry, providing access to reliable information and insight into trends and developments in organizational development, strategy, employee training, leadership development, succession planning and instructional technology.”
  3. Diigo (web service) – Diigo is an old education standby for tracking bookmarks online (see the education edition). It keeps progressing, however, and the latest version is easy to use and features powerful sharing and note-taking features.
  4. Flashcard Apps (app) – “Flashcards are no longer tied to paper. Now with the help of your iPhone or iPad, you can have digital flashcards. We compare the best ones in this AppGuide.”
  5. TeacherKit (app) – This app lets instructors keep track of how their learners perform, including attendance, gradebook, assignment lists and more.

Training Delivery Trends Every Leader Must Know

August 22nd, 2014

What’s hot in online education delivery methods, and why your organization can’t ignore any of them.

Learners keep raising the bar on what they expect in terms of education. It seems anything can drive the need to expand and elevate what you offer them. It might be availability (can they take the course in the evenings or after hours?), or hardware (does it work on the iPad?) or collaboration (is there a social element that lets learners network with each other?).

Many industries still rely heavily on in-person training or consider “online” to be a PowerPoint presentation. They especially need to work even harder to meet those expectations. Here are the trends you need to follow to navigate the ever-changing world of training.

Cloud-based Learning

The “cloud” refers to the Internet in this instance. Cloud-based learning on a hosted LMS (learning management system) is a convenient and relatively low-cost way of delivering curricula to learners who want the ultimate in flexibility. Because courses are hosted online, learners can access the content 24/7 no matter where they are. Training that’s delivered over the Internet and always available is an expectation among most learners, especially younger ones who have already experienced learning online as part of high school and/or college.

Gamification

Anyone who has spent too many hours playing Candy Crush, or seen someone else glued to an X-Box, understands how games can grab your attention like nothing else. Savvy educators have noticed this too, and they’ve applied video game design elements to motivate learners. The theory is if something is fun, learners are engaged, and they’ll learn better and retain those skills.

A course with game-based elements might include immediate feedback, rewards such as “badges,” or increasing challenges.

(Read more about how Millennials embrace gamification.)

Localized Curriculum

Depending on the subject, off-the-shelf curriculum can be perfect. How many ways are there to screen someone for breast cancer, for example? While you don’t need to reinvent the wheel for all topics, some localization is helpful. This might mean translating the course content into Spanish, or providing case studies that match demographics. This trend makes matching a course to your learners much easier.

Mobile Learning

More people are drifting away from their desktop computers in favor of their handhelds. This is driving the trend of more courses, or elements of the courses, to be available on mobile devices, and thus mobile learning, or m-learning. In practical terms, it means that the course should be visible when you’re looking at it on your smartphone. It might also have features such as forum updates, or compatibility with social applications.

MOOCs

MOOCs (massive open online courses) are about the biggest–and most controversial–thing in learning now. MOOCs are cloud-based courses on the web that are widely open to an unlimited number of participants. Many of these courses are free, at least for students, or priced low.

Social Learning

Just as social media revolutionized the way people communicate with each other, social learning is a trend that may change the way people learn with each other. Social learning employs many of the same tools and technologies of social media and applies them to the digital classroom. This might include Twitter, blogs, wikis, YouTube and Facebook.

Build a Better Online Training Team

August 19th, 2014

With the right team in place, your organization can establish and a successful e-learning program that meets the needs of your learners.

The only way to create an online learning program that works and complements your organization is to plug into the right brainpower. But your team of training employees will look a little different from your average training staff. The best programs have teams who are well trained in working with an online student base. Here are the essential members you’ll need for your team.

Executive Decision-Maker

This is an executive-level manager who is an advocate for the team and able to approve any necessary expenditures. The decision-maker is also the key approver on all decisions—especially ones that require a budget. This person may not attend meetings, but at least reviews executive summaries or meets with the project leader of the team for status. Having executive-level support is essential for a successful program.

An executive-level decision-maker must be internal.

Project Manager

The project manager oversees the full life cycle of the project. This manager also interfaces with the internal client and e-learning team, providing schedules and organizing deliverables so the project keeps on track. The project manager ensures the team has the information it needs to get the job done.

You can hire an outside project manager, but they should work very closely with an internal liaison.

Instructional Designer/Writer

Depending on the nature of your course, and if you’re creating it internally, you will need an instructional designer and/or a writer. The instructional designer takes the instructional material and arranges it in a way that’s informative, engaging and serves your pedagogic goals. In other words, they design the online course. Instructional designer Christy Tucker has a nice article on what she does for a living.

This may or may not be the same as a writer. We at Talance tend to work with an independent curriculum writer who specializes in editorial content. This person works closely with the instructional designer to create an interactive course that educates.

Both of these roles can be appointed to outside consultants.

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

The instructional designer or curriculum writer works with subject matter experts to develop the content. An SME is not needed for every project. When the subject is new within the organization, the instructional designer may research the subject via books and journals or interview experts in the field.

A subject matter expert can be an internal staff member or an outside professional.

Editor

The editor improves writing and handles proofreading. It is widely believed by many that they can edit their own work (this is never true), or that anyone is qualified to edit (rarely true). Editing is where too many administrators skimp, and that’s a mistake. Hire a qualified editor and your final product will better engage your audience.

An editor can be an outside hire, and in rare circumstances, an internal appointee.

Graphic Designer

A graphic designer overlaps in some ways with an instructional designer, depending on the course. However the chief output of the graphic designer is images, iconography, animations, the look and feel of the course, and enhanced stock photos to fit project needs.

A graphic designer can be a qualified internal staff member, but make sure they are indeed qualified. Otherwise, use an outside designer.

Media Specialist

The media specialist produces and edits audio and video. This is almost certainly an outside consultant.

Technical Producer

The technical producer understands techspeak and can assemble all the elements into a running course. This person will create and apply custom CSS, mark up pages with HTML, add interactivity, and providing the technical coding necessary to ensure the course can interface with a learning management system (LMS) if required.

The technical producer is usually from a third party or vendor.

LMS Administrator

The LMS administrator is an expert at configuring the learning platform, from enrolling participants to creating online quizzes.

If you host your own platform, this could be an internal staff member, or it can be someone from the managed hosting company (such as Talance) you use.

Tester

Runs quality assurance (QA) checks by testing the course from a technical perspective and ensuring it matches the way the course was planned. Testers usually work off testing plans so they can make sure learners can use each part of the system.

A tester is usually from a third party or vendor, although it’s smart to perform internal testing as well.

Facilitators

Facilitators are trainers experienced in both in-person and online instruction who help learners create a cohesive learning community in which they share ideas, apply their knowledge, give feedback, and make reflections on their work.

You can use your existing training staff, but they should have a background in online learning or be trained to do so.

Free download: A step-by-step guide for training employees online

Learn more about what and who you need to set up an online training program with our free guide E-learning Strategy Essentials.

10 Ways To Increase Enrollment In Your New Online Learning Program

August 13th, 2014

Any training program needs extra effort to encourage enrollment, especially new ones. Here are 10 tips you can use to increase enrollment in your program.

Registration

  1. Form partnerships with other programs and organizations

    Team up with similar or complimentary programs or neighboring organizations, and ask them to co-promote the online course with you. You can often learn from them and share your strengths so learners get the best of both.

  2. Remind early and often

    The average person must be reminded of something 18 times before they act on it. This means you should notify participants of your new course sooner than you think and more often than you think. Look for ways to promote that include your staff’s e-mail signature and newsletters. Just keep putting the message out there.

  3. Make sign-up easy

    Broken enrollment forms, difficult enrollment forms, multi-step enrollment forms–they’re all bad news when it comes to encouraging registration. Make it brief and easy for people to sign up. It’s also a good idea to provide a phone number in case someone needs technical assistance when signing up.

  4. Introduce participants in person

    Mingling in person before the course begins is a great way to introduce learners and begin forming relationships. Once they’ve made a positive connection, they’re more likely to participate in an online course. This happens naturally in a blended learning environment, but you can offer an orientation (see below) or a meet-and-greet where people can shake hands.

  5. Hold an orientation

    If this is the first time you’ve offered an online course, some of your potential participants might feel unsure about the format or technology. Make it easier by introducing them slowly. Hold a no-obligation orientation, either online via a webinar or in person, depending on your audience. Once people see how easy it is to take a course online, they often feel more confident about enrolling.

  6. Identify champions

    Some staff members will feel more passionately about online learning than others, and these are the ones you want to enlist. Those who have experience with e-learning see the benefits and will help evangelize for you. They’ll help push your promotional efforts so you and your immediate staff aren’t the only ones.

  7. Invite groups

    Inviting groups is more efficient than inviting individuals. Emphasize your training is for groups of three or more, or push it to managers rather than learners. This technique also gives the groups a way to learn together and find ways to apply their knowledge to the workplace.

  8. Offer takeaways

    Dangling carrots are a great motivator. Offer a benefit of some kind that is only available upon successful completion. This might be a certificate of completion, compliance with a job, a workbook or forms, or even physical tools.

  9. Get them involved beforehand

    Find ways to get participants invested in the training before it even begins. You might invite people to submit questions to the instructor before enrollment. Another idea is to create polls or surveys whose results will feed into course content.

  10. Go beyond reminder emails

    Sending reminder emails is useful and relatively easy, but sometimes it’s not enough. Depending on the size of your group, you might try other ways to remind people to enroll, including phone calls, posted notices or postcards.

[Photo credit: "Registration" from Official GDC on Flickr.]

Is Your Organization Ready For E-learning?

August 5th, 2014

Answering a handful of key questions in this readiness quiz will let you assess how well your organization will adapt to a shift to online training, and tell you where you have the most work to do to prepare.

Online training is here and a regular way of life for learners from elementary school all the way through a professional career. As more organizations make the shift to e-learning, some will find the process easier than others. Those organizations that have planned carefully for online learning and have integrated a program into its entire training strategy will advance relatively quickly, have happier learners and ultimately more successful programs. The most ill-prepared organizations will be the ones that find it hardest.

Rate yourself on the questions below to give yourself an indication of how ready your organization is for computer-based training. These questions aren’t scientific, but they are based on our 13 years’ experience helping organizations bring e-learning to their staff.

Jot down your answer for each question, and then scroll to the end of the quiz for how to interpret your score.

Once you’ve determined how ready your organization is, then consider how ready your learners are before you start training them online.

E-learning Readiness Quiz

What is your organization’s experience with e-learning?

  1. None, we’re completely new to e-learning.
  2. A little. Some of us have taken the odd class.
  3. We have started delivering online learning in the last year.
  4. We have a robust program that we’ve been running for more than a year.

Why is your organization looking at e-learning?

  1. It seems like everyone else is offering it, so why not us?
  2. It could be a way to save money.
  3. My boss is asking for it.
  4. We want to increase the capacity of our training program.

How supportive is your leadership of e-learning?

  1. They don’t know about our e-learning program.
  2. They know about the program but don’t have time or interest to be involved in a significant way.
  3. They are asking for updates about the program.
  4. They’re driving development and making decisions.

How well-developed is your internal support system for e-learning?

  1. We’re not sure what would be involved in a support system.
  2. We’re planning on hiring a consultant to help run a course.
  3. We have identified a person on staff who will be responsible for running the program.
  4. We have a dedicated e-learning staff and run our own courses.

How ready is your technology to the task?

  1. We aren’t sure what technology is required of an e-learning program.
  2. We have made a decision about what kind of technology we’ll need for online learning, but we haven’t moved forward with anything yet.
  3. We have piloted a couple training sessions using different technologies.
  4. We run our own e-learning program on a learning management system or contract closely with a vendor to handle the technology and logistics for us.

How ready are your learners?

  1. Our learners have little or no computer skills and limited access to a computer connected to the Internet.
  2. Around half of our learners have taken an online course before.
  3. Our learners have access to computers connected to the Internet. They understand how online training can help them with skill-building, but need to learn on their own time.
  4. Our learners have access to computers both at home and at work, and we have assigned several hours per week for them to complete training.

How integrated is e-learning into your overall training strategy?

  1. Not at all, we’re unsure of what we need to do to integrate an e-learning initiative.
  2. Some, we know we need buy-in from the existing trainers, although they are resistant.
  3. We are training our staff to segue into more online learning.
  4. We run a fully integrated e-learning program through blended learning or uniquely online.

How much planning have you done for a transition to e-learning?

  1. None, we’re just going to see what works.
  2. Some. We have looked at what we’ll need from a staff and budgetary perspective.
  3. We have assigned the HR department the task of organizing compliance trainings.
  4. We created and executed a full change management plan that includes reorganizing all departments to accommodate needs from learners and staff.

Scoring

Review your answers and total up your points according to this scale:

A = 1 point

B = 2 points

C = 3 points

D = 4 points

If you scored …

8-10: You’re at the very beginning of considering an e-learning program and have quite a bit to do before you’re ready for a smooth transition. Check out E-learning Strategy Essentials to find out what you need to do to create a smart plan.

11-20: You’ve started your research and sound ready to make a leap. Keep working to define your staff and learner needs so you can plan for an integrated e-learning initiative. Check out E-learning Strategy Essentials to find out what you need to do to create a smart plan.

21-24: You’re on your way to branching out into a solid e-learning program. Make sure you have full buy-in from leadership, trainers and staff.

25-32: Congratulations, it sounds like you’ve figured out what you need to offer an ongoing e-learning program. There’s always room for improvement, though, so be sure to include regular evaluations and revisions to offer your employees the best learning experience possible.

Questions to Ask Learners Before Starting a Course

August 1st, 2014

Make your participants’ online experience a success by identifying their strengths and weaknesses before they begin.

Students taking a computerized exam

After months of planning, designing and working, you’re ready to offer your first online course. It’s been a detailed process that involved buy-in from administrators and department heads, and training for your staff. You’ve got the technology set up and everything has been tested, re-tested and is as close to perfect as it’s going to be. Your team is without a doubt ready to make the leap to computer-based training.

But are your learners?

Organizations everywhere suffer from too much introspection. They are so internally focused that they forget to consider the people they’re serving. They neglect any kind of evaluation of how their audience will deal with whatever it is they’re serving up.

Online training is no different. Many of the same reasons that might have made it a challenge to get your own organization to adapt an online program hold true with your learners. They might fear technology. They might not have the right equipment. They might lack even the most rudimentary skills for working online. They might have a learning style that doesn’t mesh with what your course offers.

Online Learning Readiness Assessment

These are all hurdles that can be crossed, but you need to be aware of them before moving forward. A little preparation for both your staff and for the participants will make your course more successful. An online learning assessment will allow both learner and instructor to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Sample Questions

We use an orientation quiz with all the courses we build that asks participants to rate themselves in such areas as:

  • Comfort taking an online course
  • Uploading and downloading files
  • Researching information online
  • Sending and receiving e-mails
  • Participating in discussion forums

Think about what kinds of skills your learners will need to have to successfully complete the course, and put assessment questions related to these it into a “readiness quiz” to be completed before class begins. The results will tell students what to expect, and help you understand in what areas you’ll need to offer extra assistance.

Here are some examples from elsewhere that can help you figure out how to structure your assessment quiz:

Online Learning Assessment, Online Colleges

Readiness for Online Learning, Pennsylvania State University

Online Readiness Self-Assessment , Southern Arkansas University

Free Download: How Washington’s Office of Healthy Communities Uses E-learning to Train up to 500 Employees a Year

Download Talance’s free case study to learn how this state department created a successful program to train community health workers.

Photo credit: by Extra Ketchup, on Flickr