Training Industry

Learning Technologies

  • Shift Your Mindset: Online Doesn’t Have to Mean Impersonal

Imagine an in-person three-day workshop with a full house of excited peers and a dynamic leader teaching you how to be a better version of yourself in work and in life. The energy in the room, the “aha” moments, the feeling of transformation that stays with you as you leave at the end of the session…

Now imagine translating that into an online experience.

You might be picturing something flat, ineffective and even boring. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Soft skills training programs, even the most “hooey-gooey” of them, have become an entirely new opportunity in large part due to modern learning technology and, even more importantly, a mental shift in how instructional designers are thinking about using modern learning technology.

Emily Hoffman is vice president of development and delivery at VitalSmarts, which recently converted two of its in-person instructor-led training (ILT) courses to digital offerings. She had this to say about the shift in thinking that changed them from huge skeptics to huge evangelists of online learning: “Our tendency was to look at the face-to-face certification course and say, ‘How do we do the same things online?’ That really got us stuck. It was hugely valuable to step back and discuss all the things we couldn’t do in the face-to-face course and what the constraints of ILT were. That helped unlock our thinking about how we could use the online course to do things we weren’t able to do in the face-to-face course.”

What can you do in an online course that you can’t do in person? Scale, or the number of leaners you can reach at once, is always the first thing that comes to mind, but there’s so much more.

1. More than one teacher at once

In an in-person workshop, you have the wisdom and experience of a single guiding teacher. In an online learning experience, you can learn from multiple experts in short-form videos. VitalSmarts, for instance, used its top 10 instructors in TED-style videos for the online version of its training, giving learners a chance to learn from not just one but multiple instructors.

2. More than a few learners at once

Microsoft converted an in-person workshop on mindfulness and “being your best you” to an online version, with plans to deliver it to 20,000 employees. The face-to-face iteration of this course moves people personally and changes their lives, but one thing it can’t do is share everyone’s journey. Hands go up, a few are called upon and the rest don’t have the chance to share. In an online course, learners, via video uploads or assignments, can share responses and reflections with the entire online cohort and receive feedback on progress or ideas through embedded discussion forums with simple “liking” and commenting technology.

3. More than learning all at once

Perhaps the greatest impact of a well-designed online experience is that learning doesn’t have to happen all at once. In the Microsoft course, online learners are given the opportunity to reflect on learning-in-progress. Unlike the in-person training, where learners must respond in the moment, online learners are empowered to think about new topics over time and in the context of their day-to-day work. This spaced learning increases learner retention and transfer while adding depth to learner responses and sharing.

A mindset shift is required to design effective online experiences for soft skills:

  • Designing for online is never a one-to-one transfer from classroom-based training. View it as a conceptual translation of critical content and “aha” moments.
  • You’re not delivering content in an online experience; you’re persuading learners to click, click again and keep clicking.
  • Online learners are a liberated, empowered audience; design is all about them (and not about you).

Summer Salomonsen is a principal consultant on the learning experience design team at Intrepid Learning.

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