3 Important Areas of Training Needs Assessment

May 30th, 2014

A needs analysis, or assessment, is an important first step in creating an online training initiative. Establishing what stakeholders need from a program, and what your employees need to learn, will help you create a program that has a greater chance of success.

But too many people either skip the step of creating a needs assessment (read more on the important step of performing a needs analysis), or they make mistakes. If a training needs assessment is messy, it could set the tone for your entire program, and could leave unsatisfied students or wasted funds.

One common mistake is looking too narrowly at your organization when documenting needs. For example, some administrators know they need to address a knowledge gap because of compliance requirements or industry guidelines. But they forget to consider if they have enough qualified trainers to handle a new online program. They assume that uploading a PDF to the website will be enough to train all their staff. Looking at only one piece of the puzzle will solve exactly one piece.

When employers start planning for an online training program, they should minimally start by looking at what their students need, what their organization needs, and what kind of technology needs. Likely, your organization will have more factors you’ll need to assess, but you can start here, more or less in this order:

1. Find out what your employees need to learn.

Assess what your learners need to know. You might have internal requirements, such as yearly sexual harassment training, or a need for continuing education credits to keep certifications up to date. Or you may have results-based needs, such as finding a way for employees to serve more clients in a shorter amount of time. Looking at gaps in learning will help you identify how to address them.

You can ask your students what they want to learn, but proceed down this road with caution. Sometimes, they don’t know what they need and lack the terminology to tell you, or have very little experience with (or love of) online learning.

2. Determine gaps in your infrastructure.

Assume you’ve identified what your audience needs to learn, and then back up and see what weaknesses you see in your infrastructure to make that happen. For example, you might need to hire a new fleet of trainers with skills in online teaching strategies. Or, your grant has reporting requirements, and you’ll need evaluation tools to address them. You can group stakeholders with your infrastructure, because they will also have requirements you’ll need to address, such as the ability to become self-supporting with your new courses.

3. Decide on the best technology for your needs.

Knowing what your needs are for learning and for your infrastructure will help greatly when you analyze what kind of technology will work best for your organization. Then you can begin to decide if you need self-paced learning, will offer courses with instruction, are looking to build a blended-learning program, what kind of data you need, etc. When you have a list of digital tools and features you need, you can measure them against providers and vendors that can help address those.

Explore what you should–and shouldn’t–be doing when you choose e-learning tools.

Remember that a needs assessment is just the beginning. Look at it as the launching point for a deep investigation into what it will take for your program to succeed. Jumping into something for the sake of it might seem like the fast solution, but you’ll be glad you took the time to look deeply into your requirements before you begin building.

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Learn what steps to take when as you begin planning your online training program, including need assessment and more.

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How To Sell Online Training to a Skeptic

May 27th, 2014

Here’s how to prepare yourself to convince stakeholders online training is the way to go.

Question marks

How to answer a skeptic’s questions

Skeptics of online learning can have good reasons for being skeptical. They are concerned about the health of your organization. They’re wonder how much a new training initiative will cost. They need to be assured that staff will continue to learn when they’re looking at a computer as opposed to sitting in a meeting room.

On the other hand, skeptics can also have some pretty invalid reasons for throwing up roadblocks. Perhaps they hate computers. Maybe they fear change. Maybe, for whatever reason, they distrust your enthusiasm.

Whatever motivations your critics have, you’ll do a better job of making your case for a computer-based training program to your organization if you follow the tips below. You’ll find that doing some prep work will make the job much easier.

Recognize their concerns.

First, admit that moving to an online training program might really pose some concerns. It might be more expensive. It could mean hiring new educators. It will require change and learning for the whole organization.

Whenever you’re negotiating, it helps to understand where the other person is coming from. Think about what concerns your critics will have before you present a training solution so that you can address each one. Let their concerns help guide your research.

Research carefully.

Start by doing your own homework so you can back up your position with information that’s relevant. This might include case studies of similar organizations who have built successful e-learning programs. You can also ask other organizations to let you see how they created their program and answer specific questions for your group.

You can also back up that research with industry trends (how many other organizations in your industry are using e-learning?) and projections (what kind of growth is likely for online training?).

Estimate the costs.

Create a spreadsheet that details the base costs of online learning. This should include the cost of converting your existing materials to a digital format, hiring staff members and a technology set-up. This article will help you estimate the cost of educating people both online and in person.

Give a live demonstration.

Computer-based training can be pretty hard to imagine for people with no experience. Make it easier to conceptualize what online learning looks like by actually demonstrating it. Don’t worry about getting all the logistics down, because you can work with a vendor to prepare a simulated training for your group. (Contact Talance about setting up a free demo for your team.)

Let skeptics try it for themselves.

Part two of a live demonstration is to let skeptics try it out for themselves. At Talance, we create personalized accounts for all stakeholders and let potential clients work in the learning management system on their own. Often seeing how easy an online training is will help quell fears.

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Learn what steps to take when as you begin planning your online training program, including need assessment and more.

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Avoid These Training Program Bad Habits

May 23rd, 2014
Man asleep on laptop

Online training doesn’t have to be boring!

Organizations spend millions on training employees online, and, frankly, much of that is wasted. The reason is that too many administrators wrongly assume that by simply rolling out a program, it will be successful.

Below are some bad habits I’ve seen many times in organizations, and some suggestions for making your computer-based staff training more effective.

Focus on fundamentals.

One bad habit is habitually offering training that is too advanced. A small challenge can be a motivator, but material that is too advanced will make employees disengage. The fix is to focus first on fundamental skills before moving on. Make sure your whole team follows the same basics–even if it seems elementary to some–and establish a baseline. Then build from there depending on job function.

Keep teaching.

Learning doesn’t stop when you put down your reading material, so why should teaching? Rather than making employee training a one-time event or something that happens only once a year, keep teaching. Reinforce skills training outside of the classroom and on the job. This is a good opportunity for blended learning, in which you can employ a coach to help reinforce skills picked up in the online course on the job.

Focus on goals.

Education that doesn’t meet your organizational goals is a sure sign for failure. Your employees won’t understand why they’re taking it, and it won’t support your overall mission. Yet, many companies simply subscribe to online courses because they’re easy. Tie training into goals, and administrators, stakeholders, the organization and employees will benefit.

Here’s some help on being systematic about setting goals.

Be fun.

So often online training is so frightfully boring that employees will do anything to avoid it–including checking email while logged in, making calls, or whatever they can do to just get through a requirement. If you’ve made your training relevant (see below), that helps with engagement, but so do carrots. Dangle certificates, prizes or contests to increase motivation.

Make it relevant.

If learners can’t see themselves and the people they work with in a course, they’ll lose interest quickly, and the course won’t click. Customize your training to situations and your employee demographic. People perform better when they can relate to the information.

Free Guide: E-Learning Strategy Essentials

Learn what steps to take when as you begin planning your online training program, including need assessment and more.

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Training Points You Should Be Evaluating

May 21st, 2014


The most successful training programs are those that are tracked and evaluated. Most organizations know that, but they often fail at the very beginning to look at the whole program as individual pieces. Being too general with evaluation will mean you miss out on important data that you can use immediately to improve your efforts.

Some items you can measure before you begin, some while a course is in process, and others as part of a longer effort. Look at the individual parts of your program, give your evaluation some context, and you’ll be able to have a clearer idea of what’s working–and what isn’t.

The training program. Looking at the program as a whole isn’t the same as looking at a course. Is the program meeting its goals (remember, you set goals before you even began assembling anything)? How does it stack up against your success measures (setting measures of success is another exercise you should have done at the offset). Are the key stakeholders satisfied? Is there a return on investment, both in terms of money and effort?

Individual courses. Next, focus in on individual courses. Pull out your measures of success and course goals and hold them against courses. Are you hitting your targets? Are your employees able to demonstrate that they’ve improved their skills?

Instructor. Separate the instructor from the course, and look at how they’re doing. Look at evaluations from students and also measure performance against job requirements. Does the instructor have the right training and temperament to teach online? Do they need additional education? Are they accessible to students and good at facilitating discussion? Also review teaching strategies to make sure you’re asking the instructor to deliver information the right way.

Resources. Resources go stale quickly online, so make sure links are up to date and that external websites you’re referring are still relevant. Policies and guidelines also change quickly, which might make them irrelevant or provide opportunities for improvement. Also evaluate whether resources were used correctly or if there’s a better option that meets your objectives.

Activities. Evaluate every learning activities right after it was completed so instructors and administrators know if participants are learning and if the activity serves the learning objective. Pair activities with learning objectives and weigh the outcome. If it seems unclear, you may need to evaluate your course’s learning objectives as well.

Technology. Finally, look at your delivery mechanism and see if it is serving your goals or hindering education. Do you have the capacity you need to offer training online, or would it make sense to outsource it? How do participants and instructors feel about the tools? What deficiencies or improvements could you implement to make the experience better?

Look at evaluation early and often, and your program will continue to improve. As you finish one round of evaluations, also evaluate your evaluation process so it’s even better next time. Your employees and your organization will benefit.

Get Help

Want even more help with improving or setting up your training program? Download a free copy of our e-book E-Learning Strategy Essentials.

11 Things To Know About Setting Training Program Goals

May 16th, 2014

Smart program directors understand the value of goal-setting when setting up a successful online training program. Unfortunately, setting goals for training is difficult. You must look inside your program and understand both how it works and how your trainees are best motivated.

The following items can help you look at goal-setting from a different point of view, which will be better for your program.

1. Goals must be SMART

When you’re setting goals and objectives for training, use the SMART mnemonic to make sure you’re creating the best quality ones that you can actually track. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. (Read more about SMART goals.)

2. It’s OK if you don’t reach your goals

Even if you don’t hit every mark, your training program might still be a success. So you trained only 300 people rather than 400. That could still be a remarkable achievement. When you don’t reach your goals, it could mean that they were unrealistic, or maybe the gains you made were enough.

3. Goals motivate behavior

One of the great benefits of setting goals is it will motivate your team to achieve them. This goes for the administrators, instructors and for the students. Creating goals that involve your entire team–and then sharing them with everyone–will help everyone work to achieve them.

4. Difficult goals are better than easy ones

While training program goals should be attainable (refer to the SMART acronym above), they should still be challenging. Strive to train 25% more people. Have participants prepare a sample document rather than reading one. Stretching a little further than everyone thinks they can will make everyone rise to the occasion.

5. Know the difference between a goal and outcome

Understanding the difference between a goal and an outcome can help you set up a successful education strategy. A goal is more general and refers to the knowledge, skill or behavior someone is working toward. An outcome is more specific and refers to a task to be completed.

A goal is to improve knowledge of emergency preparedness, but an outcome is to successfully respond to an emergency situation 30% faster than the previous average.

6. Work with stakeholders for success

Uninvolved stakeholders can kill an online training program because they simply don’t care about it. Bring in the whole team early to work out measurable objectives, because you may discover important details about their assumptions and requirements than you first did, and they’ll be more interested in outcomes.

7. Ground your goals

Goals are easiest to achieve when they make sense with your overall mission, vision and strategic direction. Making sure an online training strategy fits in with your overall training strategy will also eliminate redundancies and allow you to pull from a wider range of resources.

8. Set baselines

Instead of pulling goals out of the ether, build on your past achievements. What have employees learned over the past few years? How much have you spent on training in the past? Set a baseline of where you are right now so you can measure results and have a better idea if your program has been worth it.

Free Guide: E-Learning Strategy Essentials

Learn what steps to take when as you begin planning your online training program, including need assessment and more.

Download the free guide now!

E-learning Strategy in 6 Steps

May 15th, 2014
E-Learning Strategy Essentials

Upgrade your training strategy in 6 steps

Training has become fast-paced, thanks to the expansion of jobs, updates to current positions, changes in the company — all in the midst of budget cutbacks and limited resources. Organizations need a way to train incoming and current employees, and many businesses are considering the move to an online training program. No longer are businesses asking, “Should we implement an e-learning program?” but, “How should we implement an e-learning program?

We’ve laid out the six essential steps in building an e-learning strategy and explained what you need to do to put together a plan. In our complimentary e-book “E-Learning Strategy Essentials: A Step-by-Step Strategy for Training Employees Online“, we cover:

  1. Conducting your need assessment
  2. Setting measurable goals
  3. Attaining buy-in from leadership
  4. Choosing the right technology
  5. Implementing a winning staff
  6. Analyzing and evaluating the program for continued success

Download the guide

Training employees does not have to be expensive, time consuming or difficult to schedule. With our training strategies, in six steps, you can make your employee training more productive and successful.

(Do a friend a favor and share this link!)

Hiring Skilled Facilitators Vs. Training Existing Staff

April 24th, 2014

[Photo credit: Can hierarchy and sharing co-exist? By opensourceway on Flickr]

Climbing the ladder

Organizations that are moving their online training program into an online space are faced with a difficult decision that will endure for the life of the program. Does it make sense to hire a new facilitator who is skilled in online work, or train an existing employee to do the work?

Pros of hiring from within

Both decisions have pros and cons, and ultimately organizations must make a decision based on their individual needs. However, there are some clear benefits and drawbacks.

One top pro is that you know your employees and what they do. You have a history with them that indicates how adept they are at change or if they have untapped skills that can be used. It can make the transition much smoother. Internal employees also know you and what you do. It takes less time for these kinds of hires to understand the details of your organization and your mission. An existing trainer also has in-depth knowledge of your material and audience.

Cost-saving might also be a factor in your decision. Hiring from within reduces hard hiring costs, such as interview time, office space, or even relocation fees.

Cons of hiring from within

Promoting a staff member into a new training position has inherent disadvantages. If multiple employees are vying for one job, it could create animosity among the whole team. This could leak into management, especially if there are individuals that are resistant to strategic change–common in organizations considering a shift to online learning.

A bigger problem with hiring for computer-based training is that you probably don’t know what you don’t know. How do you develop talent if you’re not sure what to do? Similarly, not all organizations are structurally set up to develop internal talent. These issues combined lead to time, which you might not have to dedicate to transforming your in-person trainers into online pros.

Pros of hiring a new trainer

Those are all compelling reasons for tapping your internal talent pool, but hiring an external trainer who has detailed knowledge about online facilitation can be a great investment for your entire organization. While an external trainer won’t know as much about your organization as an existing team member does, they will have critical skills in the online environment. Teaching online is different from teaching in a live classroom, and an expert will already know how to overcome obstacles.

The new skills an outside hire will bring will also move into the rest of your organization. The energy and fresh ideas a new person brings can revitalize your workforce and feed ideas to the rest of the staff. This is especially true if your new hire has experience at a competitor organization. The boost to your overall intellectual capital may bring benefits that are hard to quantify from the onset.

Cons of hiring a new trainer

Expertise aside, outside trainers come with their own host of drawbacks. They cost more. According to a study from Matthew Bidwell, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, external hires get paid 18% to 20% more than internal employees do for the same job. They also receive lower performance reviews.

They’re also more likely to leave. That’s difficult for an organization to handle when they’ve paid more and have less stability.

Verdict: which is better?

Your organization must decide if it’s better to hire from within than outside, so there’s no correct decision. However, after working for years with organizations in the early stages of creating an online program, I recommend hiring from outside.

For most entities, a new online-based program represents a strategic change, and strategic changes are difficult to spark from within. Most also lack staff who have computer skills and skills related to communicating online. Fear of technology is a powerful inhibitor, so it helps to have someone who feels free moving in an online classroom.

Organizations that for some reason can’t hire a new staff member should at the very least hire an online education advisor. This person can coach your team through the experience of online training and help develop a structure you can use for the life of your program.

Making a hiring decisions for online trainers is hard. Contact Talance for a free consultation to understand what path might be better for you.

[Photo credit: Can hierarchy and sharing co-exist? By opensourceway on Flickr]

It Pays To Evaluate Professional Development

April 22nd, 2014

With the work it takes to implement a training program, it can be difficult to find time and resources to evaluate the effectiveness of it.

Many administrators view evaluation as time-consuming and costly, but they shouldn’t. In fact, by ignoring how well (or poorly) your training program is engaging participants and making a difference in their work, you could be wasting time and money.

Thomas Guskey writes specifically about evaluating professional development programs in his article “Does It Make a Difference? Evaluating Professional Development,” but his “Critical Levels of Professional Development Evaluation” apply to any program without the burden of cost and time.

Good evaluations don’t have to be complicated. They simply require thoughtful planning, the ability to ask good questions, and a basic understanding of how to find valid answers. What’s more, they can provide meaningful information that you can use to make thoughtful, responsible decisions about professional development processes and effects.

Free Guide: E-Learning Strategy Essentials

Learn what steps to take when as you begin planning your online training program, including need assessment and more.

Download the free guide now!

A Handy Guide To ID Training Needs

April 17th, 2014

The solution to all performance problems is not always training. Sometimes it can be as simple as a workflow improvement or a job aid.

The flowchart “Is training really the answer?” from instruction expert Cathy Moore helps you decide if your organization needs a training program or might need a simpler resource. Moore has also created an 8-minute video that explains the flowchart in depth.

Flowchart: Is training really the answer?

Flowchart: Is training really the answer?

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Is training the solution to your workplace problem? Contact us for a free consultation to discuss options.

Is Your Organization Cut Out For Blended Learning?

April 11th, 2014

Computer-based training makes it easy to offer unified training across vast geographic distances. However, some topics are better delivered in a live setting. You don’t have to choose between the two training methods, however, if you adopt a blended learning approach.

Take the example of the Office of Healthy Communities (OHC) at the Washington Department of Health. The Office of Healthy Communities put the best elements of in-person training with the best of online training to implement a blended learning model for their statewide community health worker training program (read more in the case study). OHC allows its network of facilitators around Washington to supplement a brief live session with an in-depth online course that contains assessments, assignment tools, and collaboration.

The training model is efficient, lean, and scalable, which allows it to meet funding variables and limitations. It makes training fast and easy, which can be difficult in Washington. It’s a large state with rural pockets not easily accessible for traditional in-person learning programs.

“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 so it lowers costs of delivering the training significantly,” says Debbie Spink, instructor and community health worker training system coordinator. “We need the support of the online curriculum. It would be cost prohibitive to offer this training only in-person.”

Is a blended learning approach right for your organization? Here are five secrets of what it takes to build a winning program.

Set educational goals

Saving money and expanding training capacity might be overall goals of moving to a blended model, but organizations need to set educational goals that fit the new strategy. Find ways to set small reasonable goals from the beginning, such as offering short courses for skill enhancement or in languages for a small set of your student audience. Start small, document successes, and then make a plan to expand.

Include trainers from the start

A new training strategy does not mean your training staff will be out of a job, but they might not realize that. Remember to include your training staff from the beginning and remind them that the technology is a complement to their work in a face-to-face setting. Work with them to identify ways to use technology as a tool rather than a job replacement.

Support student needs

Not all students learn the same way–some are better visual learners, some do fine with self-paced study, some might have different language skills. Evaluate what your students need, and when you look for a learning technology, find one that matches your student population.

Anticipate pushback

Change is a frightening word at some organizations, and not always welcome. Anticipate pushback from trainers, participants and administrative staff. Be ready with a list of benefits and get buy-in early. Listening and being open is often the best way to address concerns.

Adapt and evaluate

A blended learning model is new for many organizations, and new systems can be a challenge to implement. As you roll out your blended learning program, frequently evaluate it so you can quickly identify problems and address them.

Free Guide: E-Learning Strategy Essentials

Learn what steps to take when as you begin planning your online training program, including need assessment and more.

Download the free guide now!