There’s a lot of buzz about online learning. From academic institutions embracing ‘blended learning’ to people sharing their knowledge via internet forums, online education is taking an increasingly central role in the way we train and educate people
As a small business person, it’s vital that you regularly upgrade your skills and those of your employees. Staying ahead of the competition is crucial for any business, but especially for the cash conscious small business, where tight margins make every penny count.
So, how do you determine the right online training program to maximize ROI and achieve long-term benefits for you and your employees?
Online training should be flexible. You and your staff have busy schedules; your training should work with existing priorities, not dictate them.
The need for flexibility is why, without question, one of online training’s most valuable aspects is that it’s just that, online. You can do it from home or your office or wherever else your mobile signal carries.
While the flexibility is vital, you will need to find the program that’s right for you and your team. Some people need the occasional hard deadline to stay on track, while others are better with an open-ended approach.
One way to provide structure and incentives for learners while maintaining flexibility is using badges or other signals of achievement and completion. Many institutions have begun using this method, with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) of the Republic of Ireland providing a good example of the badge system in action.
Online learning MUST engage the students. For that matter, of course, so must in-class education. Anyone who has ever taught a class at Uni or run a corporate seminar will know how difficult maintaining engagement can be.
Online training has especial difficulty with this element, however. Many students can have difficulty staying focused and engaged with online training over the long-term. It is essential that the course you choose offers innovative means of keeping your students interested and engaged.
Engaging online learning can employ a variety of technologies to keep students invested in the program, including chat forums, Skype sessions, discussion threads, shared screens, and shared files with multiple users.
Gamification is another exciting development in learning that is especially useful in the digital environment. E=mz2’s game-based sales training, for example, offers interactive scenarios where students can apply the skills they’ve learned in class to real world scenarios.
However they do it, an online training system must keep the attention of its students if it is to achieve long-term educational gains.
Real world connections and training based in a community are another essential for online training success. A healthy, active community can be a huge advantage for students.
There seems to be a boundless source of help and assistance available via the internet. For all the trolls out there, and all their nastiness, it’s truly amazing how many people are willing to help total strangers out online. Chat programs, forums, wikis, and user-generated FAQs all serve to pool knowledge and create communities around subject matter.
There are many peer-managed/reviewed training programs available that provide collaborative and interactive online training. Open-sourced training programs like Codecademy, for example, leverage online communities to supplement their training software, using P2P engagement to enhance the user experience.
One of the biggest questions is whether your training program is really worthwhile? Who sets the standards for online training programs? While colleges and universities differ in their standards and curriculum, there are plenty of reviews and standards out there to ensure you have a good idea about the quality of education you’ll receive.
Online training programs sometimes, however, do not have the same sort of official accreditation as established physical institutions. It’s important that you search out a program’s accreditations, reviews, past graduates, and other information to ensure you have found a credible institution.
Fortunately, progress on standardization is being made. The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) standardizes the functionality of online training, helping to ensure that most online training programs are interoperable.
The cost of online training varies widely. From professional designations and university courses, to industry specific training courses and online forums, you can find training at any budget.
In the case of higher education institutions, you likely won’t save much money directly. Despite the fact that online education doesn’t put the same requirements on a physical campus, course providers from colleges and universities often offer a similar rate for courses as equivalent courses at a physical campus. That said, students can save in terms of travel time and expenses. Without any need to commute, buy lunch, or move their residence, students save money and reduce the impact of their schooling on their day-to-day life.
Academic institutions are only one option. There are hundreds of courses offered through companies helping you develop anything from industry specific skills to improving organizational structures to personal development.
There are also a ton the free courses. There are a proliferation of courses offered by companies, individuals or groups who simply want to share their knowledge. These represent sharing knowledge in the best traditions of the web.
When choosing the right course for your company, the essential question is not of money, it’s of value. Will the investment in money, and in time, achieve ROI for your business?
Online training is a revolution in learning. It brings the potential to learn about anything to anyone, anywhere. With constant innovations in the approaches to learning and idea creation, online training will continue playing an important role in the modern learning experience.
When choosing the course that’s right for your business, take the time to review it by the factors above. It may be cheap, but is it engaging or accredited? Is it flexible, with a great community, but no standards?
Before committing your valuable time and energy, be sure to review the program to make sure it’s right for you and your budget.