Clearer Courses

July 22nd, 2014

The key to making better online courses is to test, revise, and test again.

My love for The New Yankee Workshop has nothing to do with cabinetmaking skills. It has more to do with the process summed up by Norm Abram’s maxim: “Measure twice, cut once.”

That phrase embodies how careful he is and how much attention he gives his projects. His carpentry skills aren’t slap-dash, second-nature. They’re methodical. He demonstrates on every show that a perfect product comes from careful planning, measuring and testing (and really good tools).

It’s not so different from creating finely crafted computer-based courses. A resonant course that keeps employees excited and helps them learn skills they’ll remember isn’t thrown together. It’s built carefully, methodically and tested.

Pilot Testing

In education terms, this means setting up pilot testing. It’s a process that’s known to software designers and product designers. Before releasing a new product to the masses, it’s first tested it with a controlled group. A small-scale trial helps to weed out problems, identify errors and solicit recommendations that make for a better wide release.

It’s exactly what you should do before creating a new course, but is a step curiously left out of many curriculum development projects. I think it’s because many courses are developed by subject matter experts who know the material inside and out. But what they don’t know is how the course will be received in a real world situation.

As soon as we plan development of a new course, we factor in pilot testing, evaluation and revisions. When possible, we re-test the new version so we can make more updates. Only through a field test can we really know if the course is going to accomplish what we intend.

Who To Include

Whether you’re creating a curriculum from scratch or using one that’s ready-made, plan for a pilot. You never know how even a tested course will perform with your learners.

Recruit carefully. Invite a mixture of subject pros and a representation of the intended audience. You want to make sure you’re testing the material with the people who would actually be taking it.

Gathering Data

Spy, if possible. Sit somewhere near the pilot participants and taking notes is invaluable. You’ll be able to pick up on frowns and smiles, frustrated noises or confused computer movements if you’re watching. Just make sure you’re not interfering with the test.

In any event, create a questionnaire that will be sent to all participants, and keep reminding them to complete it. The questionnaire should be focused on gaps, problem areas and nice-to-have features.

If it’s the first time you’ve run a pilot, you’ll quickly see the value of a test. The quality of information and level of insight will without a doubt be beyond what you could guess. Me methodical, revise when necessary, and your learners will benefit.


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Excellent Video That Explains Patient Navigators

July 18th, 2014

It can be difficult to explain what patient navigators do. It’s one of those times that showing is better than telling.

The video Changing Outcomes from the Massachusetts Department of Public Heath’s Patient Navigation Training program has a new video that shows what navigators do beautifully. It’s an excellent health education tool.

View, and share, whenever you need some assistance describing how public health workers operate.

Changing Outcomes from micah on Vimeo.

Ways to Increase E-learning Participation

July 3rd, 2014
Elearning participation

Boost employee participation

Beginning any new training program can be an exercise in anxiety. Testing, piloting and review are essential steps that lead to a more successful program, but the true test of the effectiveness of a program is when your participants succeed.

Engagement varies widely, depending on the course and who’s taking it. And there’s no one way to make sure that your participants are actively involved. However, there are a few guidelines you can follow that will help make your training stick.

Ask early and often what participants think.

A survey at the end of the course is good. Asking them throughout the course how the material relates to their work is even better. Learners will often forget details by the end of a course.

How: Check in with polls that ask how relevant they think information is or how long it took them to complete a module. Also create a forum designed for general thoughts, and ask your instructor to get in the habit of asking for feedback.

Get buy-in from supervisors.

Participants’ supervisors need to be included from the beginning. A supervisor can make sure employees participate and also help answer any questions that arise in the course and can also make time in the schedule for learning.

How: Consider enlisting superiors as coaches for the best results. Create a related companion course that supervisors are also required to follow.

Set benchmarks.

If your course is skills-based, first take measurements of where staff skills are. Tell your employees why their skills are being measured. Then upon completion, measure progress against your benchmark.

How: One idea is to assess ability with one task during performance appraisals. Employees will also equate the course with an overall job requirement.

Offer rewards.

There’s a reason so many coffee shops offer punch cards: rewards work. Think about what reward will motivate your participants to keep engaged. Make sure to focus on rewards rather than penalties. Here are some other ideas for motivating the biggest slackers.

How: Successful rewards we’ve seen are completion certificates, new equipment for use on the job, and additional training opportunities. End-of-course lunches for successful participants also work.

Make it relevant.

Participation will drop like a stone if a course doesn’t make sense to the people taking it. Unfortunately, many courses are too general or not addressed to the right group.

How: Develop courses from scratch and after carefully surveying your audience. Off-the-shelf courses can also be customized on screen, or they can also be complimented by instruction in the field.

Give help.

Technology scares some people. Be prepared to make it easy to succeed in an online course. Read some more tips about making your course accessible for people who have visual or physical limitations.

How: Set up a demonstration before the course begins. Appoint coaches in the workplace who can offer assistance. Give a computer-literacy assessment before the course begins so you have a better idea of who will need additional help.


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Why Should You Choose E-Learning?

July 1st, 2014

When I reflect on our most successful online training projects, I see patterns. The same reasons for shifting from live training to e-learning appear again and again. I’ve never formally made a list, but it turns out someone else has.

In the 2013-14 Towards Maturity Benchmark report based on their annual benchmarking survey, the “key business drivers for implementation of learning technologies” line up almost exactly with the reasons for setting up an online training project.

If you need a good reason for investing in computer-based training to share with your employees or fellow administrators, here are 10 of them.

  1. Increase access and flexibility in providing staff training
  2. Increase the ongoing sharing of good practice
  3. Improve staff satisfaction to aid retention and motivation
  4. Speed up and improve the application of learning back in workplace
  5. Reduce time to competency
  6. Provide a faster response to changing business conditions
  7. Increase productivity
  8. Improve induction process
  9. Improved talent management
  10. Increase ability to adapt program to individual need/context


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10 Ways To Stretch Your Training Budget

June 24th, 2014
Budget help for training

Make training easier on the wallet

1. Look seriously at your existing training.

Complacency could be costing you money. Look at the way you’re already handling training, and decide if it’s really the best way to continue. You may be struggling with outdated materials or expensive trainers. A total overhaul of your training methods could paradoxically be the way to save money.

2. Do more with less.

Bloat can easily work its way into a training program. Do you really need as much as you have? You might be offering giveaways to participants that they aren’t using. You might have a co-trainer when a lead trainer is enough. Look critically, and you’ll find ways to operate your training more efficiently.

3. Cut all travel related to training and move online.

Travel is the number one budget-eater when it comes to training. Airfare, hotels, meals, time away from the office…it can amount to thousands for each employee. End it. Just stop paying for any travel and offer training, such as e-learning, that doesn’t require anyone to go anywhere.

4. Keep it simple.

Simulations and 3-D animations are excellent learning aids, but not always necessary. An educational program that is relevant for your employees and has engaging material that appeals to different learning styles is far more important than something that more closely resembles a video game. Text with pictures is fine.

5. Partner up with other programs and departments.

They could have very similar training needs to yours. Start networking and find a way to share the expense of learning. Your employees can benefit from more cross-departmental networking anyway.

6. Partner up with vendors.

We at Talance have excellent relationships with our clients and have worked together to develop in-depth trainings that save considerable money and time. Look outside your organization for opportunities.

7. Use the web.

There are many tools and resources freely available online that can significantly augment your training. Look for video lectures, slide presentations and podcasts in your subject area.

8. Ask for donations.

Especially helpful when building a physical library, donations can make a huge difference to your training budget. You can quickly acquire books, CDs, DVDs and other materials with absolutely no cost simply by asking.

9. Address a gap with the first course you develop.

Creating a course from scratch is a big job, so it’s natural that some organizations look to create the easiest first. Easy might not be what you need, however. You could wind up with fluff, rather than something truly useful that will improve performance.

10. Plan and follow through.

So many noble projects fail because they weren’t properly managed. Be sure you have a dedicated person to manage your training project, and make sure their position is funded through the future. Elearning and live training both need stewardship, and without it, they will turn to dust.

Want to talk more about budgets?

Schedule a free consultation with one of our training experts to talk about stretching your budget.

7 Supereffective Ways To Address Every Course

June 20th, 2014

Offer a better online course by adapting to the needs of each learner. Here’s how.

Online strategy

Have a strategy for addressing every course–no matter what those needs are

It’s a common misconception that each online course is the same as the one before it. Courses are made up of people, and everyone is different. Your program and your facilitator have to adapt each training session to fit the people in it if you hope to succeed. These are seven common hurdles in online programs and some easy solutions.

1. Pepper your material and discussions with knowledge-checks

Frequent knowledge-checks, which are much shorter than quizzes, can help keep learners engaged and also help them determine if they understand the material or not. These are most useful with dense material. E-learning tools you can use are polls, questions on the discussion board or even a question built into the course with the answer on the next page.

2. Break a big class into small discussion groups

Large groups of people are hard for a single facilitator to manage, but they also make it easy for some learners to lurk and become forgotten. Create on-the-fly discussion questions that will get students speaking with each other. Instruct them to partner up with someone they haven’t chatted with yet, or divide them yourself into regions.

3. Invite guest facilitators

Long courses can become monotonous, and–let’s face it–not every facilitator connects with every learner. Address both issues by inviting a guest to answer questions in the forum for a week or host a one-time web chat.

4. Send pre-written messages

Course participation will stay at a consistently higher level if you send pre-written reminders or encouragement throughout the course. Send messages when the course has begun, when new sections open, at the half-way point, when certificates will be ready, etc.

5. Dangle carrots to eliminate drop-outs

Fatigue often sets in after a few weeks of course, and that’s when learners drop out. Resort to bribery to keep learners logging in. Carrots include: completion certificates, equipment they can use on the job, in-person wrap-up luncheons.

6. Schedule a web chat or call for new material

When the topics you’re offering change significantly in the middle of a course, it can help flow and engagement to schedule a web chat or conference call to address the new material. This will signify a shift in directions and give participants a chance to ask any last questions about previous content.

7. Stockpile good questions

Even the best facilitators can feel unenthusiastic about leading online discussions sometimes. Address burnout by having a template of questions at hand that only require a cut and paste, and put the responsibility to reply on participants. A few examples are below. Save these for your next course.

  • Everyone brainstorm a few possible solutions to that.
  • Please give an example of that.
  • Did you ever experience something like that before? Provide details.
  • Explain how you arrived at that conclusion.
  • Say how you see that relating to [insert topic here].
  • What more can you say about that?

Read some more ideas about motivating a group of unmotivated learners.

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Washington helps hundreds of community health workers begin new careers

June 17th, 2014

Washington’s Office of Healthy Communities offers an innovative online training program for a new breed of workers that could help define the future of healthcare.

WOBURN, MA–The Office of Healthy Communities already works with community members by funding programs that improve health, such as cancer screenings and help with substance abuse. Now the Washington Department of Health agency is offering an ambitious program to train hundreds of health workers to work closely with populations that need extra help–and save hospitals money along the way.

Its Community Health Worker Training program ( gives new or experienced community health workers the skills they need to go into neighborhoods and help people receive better healthcare. The program trains approximately 500 people a year with a flexible training program that combines traditional on-site sessions with a progressive online learning management system.

The hybrid learning format, built with e-learning development firm Talance, Inc. (, is key to the program’s success, because it allows workers from every corner of the state–no matter how rural–to participate in the training.

Prior to the program, only some community health workers had received training from their employers. Training, which covers such topics as documentation skills and breast cancer screening, was inconsistent, with varying levels and not tailored to the state’s populations of community health workers. Remote areas, which are where community health workers are most often needed, offer few training options, and commuting into a major city for an in-person course is difficult for full-time workers to manage.

“E-learning allows us to reach remote areas of the state to teach community health workers. Staff only need to stay one day in each location thus lowering the cost of delivering the training significantly,” says Debbie Spink, instructor in the Office of Healthy Communities. “We need the support of the online curriculum. It would be cost prohibitive to offer this training only in-person.”

Organizations across the world send community health workers on house calls, especially in poor areas where residents might not have access to doctors or where they visit the emergency room for minor problems. Program graduates help clients follow the doctor’s orders and take charge of their health, reducing the need for additional care.

It’s an easy win for hospitals and health centers, which have invested in creating new positions for community health workers. More skilled community members knocking on doors means fewer people crowding emergency rooms.

The federal government also sees the value of community health workers. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has pumped funds into the development of community health workers, because there’s potential to save money through this large workforce.

The Office of Healthy Communities’ program is popular with providers and community agencies around the state. More than 100 of them send employees for training, including AmeriCorps, SeaMar, Aging and Long Term Care, and Planned Parenthood.

Community health workers can participate in one of seven regional core skills courses and take one of eight health-specific programs. A program that began as presentation-based staff training, delivered ad hoc at employer sites, has evolved into a consistent statewide program that educates hundreds of people through audio, video, and discussion boards.

VIDEO: Watch and listen (MP4) (mms:// to what people are saying about their Community Health Worker training experience.

About Talance, Inc.
Talance, Inc., is a Boston-area e-learning company founded in 2000. It has offered courses and programs for some of the nation’s biggest health and human services organizations and has helped adult learners reach their career advancement and personal enrichment goals.

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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.

7 Resources That Will Improve Your Training Program’s Accessibility

June 10th, 2014

Talance’s courses are always built for standards in accessibility, but the reason we take the extra care and precautions isn’t necessarily clear. The following resources will help program directors understand what’s so important about making courses available to everyone, along with some tips to improve what you offer.

Access E-Learning

Access E-Learning is a free online tutorial from the Georgia Tech Research on Accessible Distance Education (GRADE) project at Georgia Tech. The tutorial is comprised of 10 modules that offer information, instructional techniques, and practice labs on how to make the most common needs in distance education accessible for individuals with disabilities, and enhance the usability of online materials for all students. View Access E-Learning >>

Resources for Accessible eLearning for People Who are Blind

A through and helpful listing of checklists, webpages, screen readers, articles and guidelines for creating and offering digital education resources. View Resources for Accessible eLearning for People Who are Blind >>

Accessibility of eLearning

OpenLearn, from Britain’s inimitable Open University, presents a free 15-hour course for professional educators about how disabled students learn online. It covers the technology and techniques used by disabled students, the adjustments to teaching methods that might be reasonable, design decisions which affect the accessibility of eLearning tools and strategies for evaluation. View Accessibility of eLearning >>

Texas HHS Accessibility Checklist for eLearning

These template checklists (available as a Word document) from Texas Health and Human Services will help you evaluate the accessibility status of an e-learning module. It’s helpful for program administrators who want to make sure their initiatives are open to learners of all abilities. View Texas HHS Accessibility Checklist for eLearning >>

E-Learning Accessibility

This presentation (a PDF download) from Richard Helbock, Digital Media Specialist at Western New Mexico University, is “An Introduction to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and WCAG 2.0 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.” It’s a helpful overview of what accessibility is and government requirements regarding making courses and other online content available to learners. View E-Learning Accessibility >>

Accessibility and the law from Concordia University

A sobering summary of a lawsuit against Louisiana Tech University, which the university lost, about the importance of making content available in an accessible format: “In short, a blind student was enrolled in a course that required students to submit assignments through an online interface, MyOMLab, but the technology that the student used to access the materials would not work with MyOMLab.” View Accessibility and the law from Concordia University >>

The official government website that covers laws, regulations, resources and best practices for accessibility compliance. View >>

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The 10 Biggest Fears Your Staff Has About E-learning (And How To Overcome Them)

June 6th, 2014

Acceptance, adjustment, and setting expectations are critical to overcoming obstacles with training your staff online.


Skydiving is much scarier than learning online

Fear of online courses might not be as severe as fear of flying or public speaking, but for many people it’s right up there. After more than a decade in bringing computer-based training to new learners, however, we’ve learned how to conquer anyone’s phobia. Here are the top 10 fears we hear and how you can address them as you bring online learning to your team.

1. I don’t understand technology!

Taking a class online is much less challenging than most people realize. Most people can do basic tasks such as checking their e-mail, posting to their Facebook accounts, or typing a document on a computer. With that kind of ability, they won’t have any trouble with an online course.

The best way to address these fears is head-on: let your staff try it for themselves. Arrange a presentation to introduce them to the learning system, and then let them try it for themselves with a few simple tasks, such as logging in or changing their password. Once they see the tasks aren’t very different from what they normally do on a computer, their fear factor will reduce considerably.

It’s still a good idea to ask your facilitator to be available to new technology users to answer simple questions. You can also offer a computer-readiness quiz at the beginning of class to help pinpoint those who need extra help.

2. It won’t relate to my job!

This is a valid fear when based on past experience. Some online trainings are vague and not well targeted. If your staff has experience with these courses in the past, they might legitimately worry that they’ll have to sit through something that doesn’t have anything to do with their actual job.

Make sure that you are careful to release any new training initiative with clear learning goals that are based on professional development, so when you do introduce a new program, it will immediately be relevant. Be clear when you notify staff about the course that it will help them with X skill–provide real-life examples when possible. For example, tell them, “This new course on documentation skills includes worksheets you can download and use to take notes.”

3. I can’t see the instructor!

For some people, the idea of not being able to sit in the same room with an instructor is a big turn-off. The reality is that time away from work in a training room is difficult and expensive, and “remote” learning doesn’t have to feel far away.

Encourage the instructor to introduce themselves to your staff and ask them to share information with one another. This will help build a personal rapport. It can also be helpful to build periodic conference calls into a course, or create virtual office hours, so participants can interact with the instructor. A mentoring structure can help too, if you can pair new learners with experienced workers.

The Office of Healthy Communities at the Washington State Department of Health solves this by presenting their staff with a blended learning model: an in-person session followed by an online program. Read more about how their program works.

4. It won’t relate to the people I work with!

Your staff knows the people who they deal with every day, and they might fear a course won’t reflect the people they work with. All of our courses are based on the work that real workers do in the field so they feel relatable to participants.

Online courses are also easily adapted, so you can offer support materials that do relate well to the community. You can ask participants to share personal stories with the group and provide lists of local resources that they will find useful. The best courses are the ones that reflect the people taking them.

5. I don’t have the time!

This fear, which I’ve heard many times, is simply unfounded. An online course is far more flexible than an in-person training. Participants can do a bit of work when they have the time, break away to work with a client, and then come back to finish up. If 10 p.m. is a better time to work, they can work at 10 p.m. There’s no travel time. Simply point out these facts to anyone who throws up this roadblock, and the discussion should be over.

6. I don’t have equipment!

Not everyone works in a well-equipped office. However, the list of equipment needed for taking an online course is pretty short, and most people either possess or can find access. The list includes:

  • A computer or smartphone
  • Speakers or headphones (optional)
  • A printer if they want to print anything out

Most people can go into an office to access a computer, if necessary, or they can visit their local library. You can make sure participants have their supplies by providing a “things you’ll need to begin” list and then telling them where they can find public access, if necessary.

7. I won’t understand the language!

Many people who don’t speak English as a first language or fluently worry they won’t be able to keep up with a text-based course. In feedback from our courses, we’ve found just the opposite. Because learners can reread text many times, listen to audio or experience the material in different ways, it makes it easier to spend the time necessary to process and understand the course.

If you have a critical mass of workers who need access in one language, you might consider having the course translated.

(It goes without saying you should stay away from jargon by whatever means necessary.)

8. I don’t have high enough skills!

People come into their jobs from a range of backgrounds. Some might have a good deal of technical background, and it might all be new to others.

The best way to address these fears is to begin on an even playing field. Start with a basics course that gives a foundation on which to build. When they’re done with the basics, they can move on to more technical information if it’s relevant. If you have a handful of more experienced workers in the course, appoint them as mentors or coaches, so they feel challenged while getting to know their classmates.

9. I won’t get to know my classmates!

Some employees are afraid they’ll feel isolated by working on a computer and won’t be able to meet the other people in the course. In feedback we’ve received in our courses, we’ve found just the opposite. One woman, for instance, said she met many more people than she does when she’s in a live training. In a conference room, she talks only to the people sitting on either side of her, but online, she had lengthy and meaningful discourse with everyone in the course.

10. I’ll fail the tests!

People understandably fear taking tests, but in an online course, it’s not about the tests. It’s about the experience of being online, reading the material, gathering resources that apply to your job, communicating with classmates.

In our courses, we have only a couple short assessments, and otherwise don’t offer tests. Tests don’t necessarily increase learner engagement–relevant content engages learners. Address this one by simply not giving tests.

The best way to address any fear is to acknowledge it, so your staff knows you’re taking them seriously, and then provide examples and evidence to make them feel more at ease. After the first week, most participants will wonder why they were ever worried in the first place.

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: Sunset skydiving by latch.r, on Flickr]

Case Study: Success with Blended Learning

June 3rd, 2014

The Office of Healthy Communities at the Washington Department of Health’s high aspirations: train 500 health workers per year.

In the fall of 2012, the Office of Healthy Communities at the Washington Department of Health began an enormous task. The aim was to build a program that would be able to train 500 community health workers (CHWs) around the state. Participants would be able to apply new skills while they were working and without major disruption to their jobs. Two years on, the program has become a resounding success.

Washington stands out from other CHW training programs in both its capacity to train workers and also in its catalog of courses, which features a cornerstone core skills program and also several skill-building courses in disease prevention and screening. The blended learning program is comprised of both in-person sessions and online lessons. Together, the program saves money and appeals to the state’s wide population of health workers.

“This online learning solution from Talance was a logical choice for addressing some of our challenges,” says Debbie Spink, an instructor for the program. “E-learning assures all students receive consistent up-to-date quality information and skill building. Students love the freedom it gives them to participate when their schedule permits.”

CHWs are public health workers who provide education to people at risk for poor health, healthcare and disease. They often work in the communities they serve and have a deep relationships with clients, as opposed to a primary care physician.

Community health workers are also busy, and can be located in remote areas, which makes it difficult to attend lengthy in-person trainings. The ability to take remote courses hosted by and built with Talance has been one major factor in the success of the program.

Free Download: Washington State Department of Health Case Study

Read more about this successful program by downloading a free copy of the case study.