Training is going virtual, but it’s not as simple as putting a manual online

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When it comes to client satisfaction, a B2B product is only as good as the end user’s training. That’s one reason the global corporate learning and development (L&D) spend reached $370 billion in 2019. But with the world in the midst of a pandemic, firms are scrambling to adapt to a virtual L&D model. Here’s what they need to know.

Put learner outcome at the forefront of what you’re doing
Most people experience corporate training as an HR mandate to learn about sexual harassment or anti-racism. Those are noble goals, but these experiences shouldn’t be the model for teaching someone how to use a sophisticated digital tool. In fact, the training methodologies that are part of a larger customer experience/onboarding process are more akin to the educational experiences many of us had in school.

True, education varies widely across the world and across disciplines, but the North Star is always learner outcome. No matter what method your school used to teach reading, for example, the learner outcome (literacy) was the end goal. A corporate training process makes a similar promise. Upon completion of the training, the learner will achieve a specific level of mastery for a concrete set of skills. And while the content of a given training curriculum depends on the specific skills being taught, the pedagogy always concerns itself with three broad areas:

  • How do learners learn? For example, some of us are visual learners, while others learn by doing.
  • What is the motivation of learning? Hint: it’s not because your boss mandated the training session. The best training courses always teach learners the concepts that are most relevant to their jobs.
  • How do we help learners retain what they’ve learned? The value of teaching learners to master a concept only pays dividends to the extent that the learner is able to remember and apply their lessons.

Consider the medium and vet your vendors
According to LinkedIn research, 59% of firms increased spending on digital learning in 2019. Although data isn’t available for 2020, it’s a good bet that social distancing measures have forced nearly every organization to shift to virtual alternatives. But virtual training isn’t real-world training on Zoom, it’s a medium unto itself.

A successful, scalable, and adaptable training program depends on multiple moving pieces that make up the medium. Are you using Zoom, Webex, or some other video conferencing tool? When it comes to Learning Management Systems, there are hundreds of providers. Which one works for your organization? What about additional software that you need for authoring content? Most importantly, how do all these tools and platforms fit together?

Every company has different needs, of course. Zoom might be just fine for some industries, but others may insist on something much more secure. A given Learning Management System could be incredibly customizable, but does it scale? What about customer support? Do you need a vendor that can offer twenty-four-seven coverage in multiple languages, or just English during U.S. business hours?

Putting together a learner solution across multiple vendors can be a bit overwhelming because you’re not likely to find a perfect off-the-shelf option. That’s actually OK! Because what you’re really looking for are components that can be combined into a program that can adapt and scale with the needs of your organization. To do that, start by adopting a must-have versus nice-to-have paradigm. That way you’ll be able to weigh the relative pros and cons of each vendor while making certain that whatever combination of vendors you choose to work with allows you to meet your essential needs.

Your product is the learning foundation
Too often, corporate learning just isn’t practical enough. The lessons are important, but they aren’t exactly relevant. Why does this happen? In my experience, it’s because there’s a disconnect between learning and product.

What your product does must be the foundation for your curriculum. If you make ovens, for example, your product bakes, roasts and broils food. Consequently, your training must teach learners to master baking, roasting and broiling. You’re teaching the learner how to use the product, not telling them the concepts behind how the product works.

How do you connect learning to the product? Start by breaking the core capabilities of your product into multiple buckets. These are the lesson areas you need to teach. Features may get the lion’s share of FAQs, but remember features come and go. To continue with the oven example, a new model may include a state-of-the-art thermometer, but no matter how accurate that tool is, it won’t do any good for a learner who hasn’t mastered the core functions of baking, roasting and broiling. In other words, the goal is to instruct the learner about how to use the thermometer within the larger of the skill(s) they’re attempting to master, not to make them an oven thermometer expert.

Iteration is key, but you must crawl before you run
There’s always room for improvement, and training is no exception. If your training was previously in-person, a good goal for 2021 is to make it virtual. If you’re already virtual, are all aspects of training integrated into a single platform, or are tasks like workbooks separate? If you’ve already made training integrated and easy to use, can you improve engagement by adding storytelling, “gamification,” or production value?

The key is to think of each iteration as “carrying down” everything that worked in the previous version rather than reinventing the wheel. That’s a good practical framework for iterating any product, but it’s especially important for training solutions because of the role they play within the larger organization. While training is often viewed as a cost center, the reality is that good training programs save money and resources because they help learners perform their jobs better. The best learning solution isn’t necessarily the one with the most compelling content, adaptive learning modalities, or even the highest learner satisfaction scores. All of those things are important, of course. It also matters that the learning solution is closely tied to the business needs of the organization, and those needs are always changing, so the best training solution is one that can iterate and adapt to the needs of the business.

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