You probably already know that bridging the gap between the virtual world and the real one can be challenging. Examples of bad e-learning that fail to do this are abundant. Frankly, those courses might be the single most damning piece of evidence cited against online learning. Companies want real ROI on their training initiatives and rightly so. If you create an amazing online learning experience that is dynamic, interesting, and fun to interact with, that then creates no change in your organization, you have completely missed the mark.
Making online learning that DOES transfer to the real world is not necessarily difficult. It simply requires forethought, follow-through, and care. Here are some simple strategies that can help make sure you’re getting that sweet, sweet training ROI.
1. CREATE VIRTUAL EXPERIENCES THAT REFLECT REAL NEEDS
This one may seem obvious, but the implementation of this concept can pose some challenges. Often, people want to use marketing language and points of view that come from the top down, and not the bottom up, in their learning. If your audience recognizes that your message and your objectives don’t ring true to them or don’t seem applicable to what they do, they will tune out. Even if your training is required, completion is not the same thing as adoption.
Honest, real engagement with your audience is critical to making virtual experiences speak to your audience. Your audience needs to see their point of view reflected. They need to see their needs–not only management's needs–being addressed. It's critical that we illustrate a path for your learners to adopt the organization's desired behaviors in a manner that benefits both the organization and the audience. Then–and only then–will they engage with your training and begin carrying new behaviors from it back into the real world.
2. OFFER JOB AIDS
Job aids might seem like a weird angle for an e-learning vendor to suggest to make your e-learning better, but it really can enhance your experience. At the simplest level, you're giving your learners something to help them remember what they learned and to reference quickly from their desk/kiosk/station/counter/cockpit.
However, a job aid does not have to remain adjacent to your online experience. What if you sent your retail workers to the floor with a checklist, and then had them come back to input information about what they had learned? What if you created a map of a standard restaurant floor, and then had them enter a discussion on a discussion board about the differences between locations? What if one day you gave them a printable set of vocabulary flashcards and suggested they find friends to study with, and the next time they logged in they receive a surprise pop quiz on those terms? There are endless possiblities. And now with tablets and all manner of mobile devices, job aids can remain digital, saving paper, but retaining the same potential to get your learners up and moving (and thinking) in real space.
Activities completed offline can dovetail back into the online experience. When you push the learners out of the traditional learning paradigm, but require them to come back, they begin to see for themselves the relationship between the training and its real world applications.
3. MANAGE THRIVING, USEFUL TOOLS AND RESOURCES
Having an online reference tool with detailed information about your products or procedures is a terrific way to keep people engaged with your online training initiatives. These types of tools can fill a need for your learning audience and create an immediate bond between the online and the offline. For instance, a salesperson with a new product tool may want to pull out her tablet just to show off a bit. Her clients might also be pulled in by a robust, beautifully-designed, fully-searchable database tool, filled with items that could delight their customers.
However, these tools can get stale and outdated if they aren't maintained and updated. Listen to feedback from your users. Updating with new information is great, but new features and tweaks to existing features will make the tool even more useful to its users. Now, you have a living, breathing platform that not only adds value to your learners' day-to-day lives, but gives you a way to interact with them on an ongoing basis.
4. APPLY SMART SOCIAL FEATURES
Social features, like leaderboards and message boards, can get people motivated, connected, and talking about their experiences. What better way to reinforce the learning than by having the learners themselves discuss it? Communities built around a solid learning initiative can serve to carry the message forward and make sure it is applied in the real world for more than just the first week your e-learning rolls out.
Continue engaging with your audience and offering new challenges without the burdern of rolling out a whole new set of courses. In the message boards, poll your learners about their experiences for valuable feedback. If you give them a reason to come back, they will.
THE REAL WORLD
Not all of these strategies are going to apply in every situation, so that’s where the aforementioned forethought comes in. Consider what makes sense for your project and your audience. Implement those features and approaches to training that will ring true to your audience and you will begin to see your desired behavioral changes being adopted left and right.