Adding Online Courses to Your Training Program

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down workplaces across the U.S. and restricted many employees to working from home. As a result, many training organizations have been thinking about expanding their online training options. IREC specializes in instructional design for online learning and has received many inquiries about how to approach this process. 

To that end, we’ve compiled guidance to help you approach this decision and get a sense of where to start—whether online training is a short-term measure until you can resume in-person training (see our related recommendations) or you are thinking about adding online options as a long-term addition to your training approaches (read on for guidance).

Incorporating Online Learning as a Long-Term Solution 

Committing to providing online courses as part of your permanent offerings is a fairly large strategic decision. It takes significant time to develop effective online instruction and an investment in maintaining a robust and secure online learning platform. But we know from the recent crisis that there is new demand and appreciation for online learning. That demand is likely to last. 

People are recognizing the benefits of learning online at their own schedule and without the expense of travel. In some cases, the learning can happen without missing a day in the field. This type of flexibility is attractive to contractors, workers who are making a career change, and companies operating on a tight budget. 

As proponents of online training, IREC has a stake in seeing that online course delivery is high quality and promotes learning that is transferable on the job.

Some types of online learning do a better job of this. For example, a recorded webinar that the attendee passively watches may provide some information, but doesn’t offer an opportunity for the learner to learn and practice a skill that they will do on the job. To advance effective online education and ensure its applicability to a larger audience, we all must do a good job of producing instruction that works. 

Best Practices for Developing Online Learning

If you have decided that you have content that lends itself to online delivery and the capacity to create good online instruction, developing online learning is a solid investment. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you plan:

Work with an Instructional Designer Who Specializes in Online Learning

Even the most knowledgeable instructors can use tips on how to make their expertise more accessible to learners. And when it comes to learning online, less is more.

An instructional designer does not need to be an expert in the content. She can work with the subject matter expert to design activities that can help the learner practice the new skills and assimilate the new information. She can help avoid the information dump. She can assess the learner’s grasp of the concept and recommend ways to help transfer the knowledge to the job.   

How Do I Get My Company to Take Instructional Design Seriously? (Sh!ft Disruptive Elearning) 
Practical Instructional Design Tips

Identify How You Want the Learner to Learn and How You Plan to Teach

Resist the urge to research the method for instructional delivery until you’ve made a plan for how the learners should learn. Will they be accessing videos? Interacting with a web-based module? Downloading files? Sharing and commenting on files? Communicating with each other in a forum? The list goes on.

Understand the learning needs first, then decide on the delivery method. You may find that an investment in a learning management system (a software platform for hosting and delivering online training resources) is not necessary at this time.


Invest in High-Quality Images and Graphics

Many clean energy industry professionals, especially those who work in weatherization and energy efficiency, use special equipment and tools to complete jobs in a home. Our learners are visual learners. They benefit from seeing a real image, just like what they will see in the field. Use high-quality images and annotate them clearly. Create graphics that clearly explain concepts and add value to the learning. Consistent visuals throughout the course promote learning and retention.

Why Visual Learning and Teaching? (Insight Resources April 2019)

Allow Enough Time for Design and Development

Those unfamiliar with the development cycle of online learning are often surprised by its length.  A 2017 survey by ATD found that it takes an average of 42 to 130 hours to develop one hour of online learning compared to an average of 28-38 hours per hour of traditional classroom learning. Other estimates put the development time between 100 and 200 hours per hour of online learning. Note: We are not talking about a recorded webinar. These estimates describe the time to develop a course with some level of interactivity: learning activities, knowledge checks, and assessments. 

You will want to consider using an e-learning authoring tool that can produce content to be used independently or within a learning management system. Many of these tools have a steep learning curve, so consider whether to invest the time in learning the tool or hiring an outside developer. Whichever route you choose, create a realistic timeline (in months, not weeks) to fully develop and test the course before enrolling students. Think about making a plan to migrate courses online over time and provide interim resources during the development.

See Providing Short-Term Online Learning During COVID-19.

The Top 12 eLearning Authoring Tools (2020 Update – Learn Upon)
Tips for moving a class online quickly (Pearson March 13, 2020) 
Will Shift to Remote Teaching Be Boon or Bane for Online Learning? (Inside Higher Ed March 18, 2020)

Take Stock of Organizational Capacity and Learning Needs

Is a learning management system (LMS) the right way to go? Before you research an LMS, take stock of the capacity of your organization to take on a new technology tool.

  1. Is online learning an integral part of your organization’s ongoing operational plan in the next three to five years?
  2. Is there sufficient training volume to justify the cost of implementing and maintaining an LMS?
  3. Do you have the time and resources to dedicate to researching and deploying the right LMS for your organization?
  4. Do you have the time and resources to maintain the LMS and provide user support?

Only once you have identified the need to use a learning management system (LMS) should you invest time in research. There are HUNDREDS of LMSs available in every price range, and they come with different levels of functionality and support.

If you choose the LMS before you plan your course design, you may find that you are limited by the functionality or conversely, that you have more features than you need.

See Selecting a Learning Management System for more information on how to approach this decision-making process.

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