News & Features

Quality online training

Posted 11/17/08

How to identify a top-notch e-learning provider

interviewed by Lisa Murton Beets

Smart Business St. Louis

October, 2008

Online training provides an attractive option for today's busy employees, many of whom travel and/or telecommute. Among the most compelling benefits of online training is that it dispels the barriers of time and place when it comes to "attending class."

According to Amanda Mead, director of online programs at Fontbonne University, online training and education continues to grow at a rapid pace.

"It's exploding," Mead says. "I've been in the business for five years, and each year, I'm asked for growth predictions. I might predict 5 or 10 percent growth, and the actual growth after the fact hovers around 25 or 30 percent." Mead attributes the growth to an amazing amount of technology that's being developed at a dizzying pace.

"Today's students want to be engaged," Mead says. "Technology is making online training and education entertaining. In addition, it eliminates travel time and makes learning more accessible to more people."

Smart Business asked Mead what companies considering online training programs for their employees should look for in a provider.

What are some of the most compelling reasons to use online training for employees?

The training goes with the employee. Employees can access training wherever they are. They also may be able to access programs that were out of reach otherwise, for example, they are on the East Coast and want to access a program that was designed on the West Coast. Students can participate very easily in online classes. Also, generally speaking, online education includes a lot of active training that can be applied right away.

When evaluating online training programs, what are some of the first things a company should consider?

Know what you are getting. This includes doing research on the accreditation of the organization supplying the training and knowing what specialty accreditations are used within your industry. Always look for both national and industry-specific accreditation. The program doesn't have to be but should be affiliated with some larger body. Review the training objectives and make sure they match your needs beyond the bells and whistles, the information given has to be the information your employees need.

How can a company ensure that the providers offerings meet quality standards?

Don't be afraid to ask about quality standards. All online programs should be utilizing some type of quality assurance process in the design and development of their courses. Look for objectives that are spelled out clearly. A quality assurance program should be in place for those designing the courses as well as a system of review for each course. There also should be internal instructions for the instructors to ensure they are complying with the guidelines set forth by the program provider. In addition, ask to see the set of standards the provider is working towards. Ask for documentation on how the provider designs its programs. Obviously, you want to get the biggest bang for your buck.

What types of learning activities should be offered?

Look for differentiated learning activities. Many lesser training programs will have essentially one mode of learning: read. A quality program will provide students with many avenues for learning, including a variety of activities (reading, real-world observations, simulations/case studies, hands-on practice) and delivery methods (reading, PowerPoint style presentations, audio/video, podcasting). When students can start to discuss objectives, put theories in their own language and apply what they're learning to real-life work experiences, that's when real learning occurs. In addition, look for interaction between students and between students and instructors.

Is online training expensive?

The cost of a quality online training program is similar to that of a quality face-to-face program. Cheap fly-by-night online programs exist, just as cheap in-person programs exist. To ensure that you get what you pay for, again, look for accredited programs, quality instructors and a variety of learning activities. An added bonus with online training is that there often is more access to the instructor via e-main and discussion boards. A lot of instructors of online programs are in the 'constant contact' mindset. Keep in mind that you will also save dollars in terms of travel, mileage and time away from the job. There are a lot of hidden savings.

How can the company gauge the success of the program?

You can do two things. First, observe. Watch to see if your employees are integrating the learning right away, either in specific work situations and/or by talking to/showing other employees what they've learned, thus 'extending' the training. Second, listen to the employees taking the training. They will tell you if the instructors are doing what was promised. Students generally are not concerned with the class being 'easy'. They really want to learn and have their education work for them. They'll give you accurate feedback. Value their feedback and, if they are unhappy, shop for a new training program.

Amanda Mead is the director of online programs at Fontbonne University. Reach her at 314-889-4514 or amead@fontbonne.edu.

With permission, copyright (2008), Smart Business St. Louis.