Case Study: Converting from Classroom-based Training to e-Learning

Putting together an interactive case study for learners followed by an in-depth de-brief is one of the most effective training strategies I know.  But what happens if an experienced facilitator isn’t always available to lead such a session?

Part 1: The Case Study

The Problem

By September 2011, my organization had replaced an old, log book-based “database” with a new IT system across multiple locations.

A tale of two databases

A tale of two databases

While managers complied with the compulsory use of this new IT system, the benefits for individual and organizational performance improvement weren’t readily clear.  I designed a training session (click here to see the actual lesson plan) in which managers would run a report generated from the new IT system and use it as a data point to have a one-on-one conversations with a fictional staff member.  The session required that the participants use critical thinking skills and it required constant feedback from a facilitator throughout the activity.  It led to some significant ah-ha moments for the managers in how they could use the IT system to drive performance.

Unfortunately this training session cannot be repeated every time there is a new manager.  It requires a skilled facilitator and generally works best in a group setting.  I wondered if there was a way to replicate this learning experience via elearning.

The Solution

My organization had worked with an elearning programmer in the past, but we had never done scenario-based elearning.  There would need to be some significant branching, and we didn’t have a big budget.

In the end, the elearning programmer used Captivate to create the branching scenarios and did some custom programming and graphic design as well.  We ended up with a program that not only replicated the learning objectives and real-life challenges of the original instructor-led session, we were also able to offer three scenarios to learners (the instructor-led session only featured one scenario).

Learner is presented with three choices

Learner is presented with three choices

Then the learner can see what an employee "thinks" of the choice

Then the learner can see what an employee “thinks” of the choice

The learner also receives an actual responses from the employee

The learner also receives an actual response from the employee

Finally, the learner receives feedback from a virtual coach

Finally, the learner receives feedback from a virtual coach

The Results

There was a learning curve involved in working on scenario-based elearning which meant development took a little longer than I anticipated.  Additionally, we originally took an “if you build it they will come” attitude, thinking once we announced that this course was available, managers would flock to enroll and complete the course.  We’ve had to re-think the way we marketed the course and are preparing to “re-launch” the course now.

One manager who piloted this elearning module has said it was helpful for her. She would like her supervisory staff to use it.  Once professional development plans (PDPs) are in place for other managers, this course will be recommended for a broader group of learners.

Part 2: What the Experts Say

A Good Beginning… There’s Potential For So Much More

“The simulation-like approach is one of my favorites because it provides a high level of ‘dialogue’ in the learning experience.  By providing a series of questions with three realistic alternatives (and it can be very challenging to write realistic and appropriate questions), learners enter into a dialogue that approximates an actual conversation.  This approach makes the learning more appropriate, more realistic and generally more fun!

It would also be exciting to extend this dialogue-based approach so that it not only included closed-loop communication between the learner and the on-line coach but also if you could introduce opportunities to engage in an open-loop conversation.  This would provide users the opportunity to post comments and exchange observations with other learners.  Open-loop would allow for another level of conversation to take place, increase the level of participation, and extend the learning experience beyond the confines of the e-learning module. Examples of open-loop communications in e-learning can be seen at”

Mike Culligan, Director of Last Mile Learning, LINGOs

Branching Scenarios Are Worth The Extra Effort And ROI!

“Branching, scenario-based learning allows the learner to make mistakes and take risks that might have dire consequences in real life but are safe in a simulated environment.  This allows the learner to practice critical thinking and analysis of a situation that isn’t always ideal, but most likely reflects a real-life situation.  The images of the people with their thoughts and dialogue add in extra clues that a manager, if perceptive, can use to help tailor their response.  Of course, in person, we will not have access to a person’s internal voice, but we can observe body language to give us hints of how they may really feel or what they may be thinking versus what they say to us.  The real-life photos (as opposed to avatars) in this course really helped bring it to life!

Although creating a robust simulation like this takes a knowledgeable SME and a sophisticated ID/ELD, taking ILT material and turning it into WBT is a huge cost savings when your audience is worldwide.  The course will pay for itself in the savings of facilitator/ learner travel, especially if there is high attrition for the role assigned this training.”

Cynthia  Elliot, CEO,  Sage eLearning Group

eLearning Case Study: Going to the Next Level

Wayne was looking to take his eLearning design to the next level – instead of a series of PowerPoint-like slides that learners click through followed by a quiz at the end, he wanted something more engaging and effective.  Part 1 of this eLearning case study includes the background and choices that were made.  Part 2 of this eLearning case study features advice from eLearning and instructional design professionals.

Part 1: eLearning Case Study

The Challenge:

Wayne had been working as the learning manager for a small firm specializing in online advertising and social media marketing for about four years.  Prior to that, he led a team of online advertising and social media specialists for six years.  He has deep knowledge of the industry and made it a point to continue to stay on top of industry trends.

Since its inception, the firm had emphasized a culture of learning that included in-person and online training.  Coinciding with Wayne’s transition into the learning manager role, the firm made a major investment in online learning courses in order to better meet the on-demand training needs of staff.  After implementing a new learning management system (LMS), which was initially populated with a series of off-the-shelf courses on sales, customer service and various recordings of webinars that had been delivered to clients, Wayne quickly added a series of documents and job aids that could be used by staff when they were in the home office as well as when they were in meetings with clients.

Seeking to take full advantage of the technology available, Wayne began using Camtasia to create 5-10 minute eLearning segments focused on various product features and frequently asked questions.  In general, these eLearning components consisted of PowerPoint-like presentations that learners would click through in order to orient themselves to various product features.  Wayne included voiceover to make the presentations more engaging and included a 10-question quiz at the end of each segment to ensure learners could correctly answer basic questions about the content.  After churning out 25 of these segments, Wayne still felt something was missing from these online courses.

The Solution:

In this year’s training budget, Wayne included $50,000 in order to consult with an eLearning company on how to better create efficient and effective eLearning programs for staff.  After several meetings with the eLearning company, Wayne decided to use the money budgeted to invest in new eLearning modules for additional topics.

Together with the eLearning company, Wayne agreed that the money would best be allocated to create and develop 10 new modules over the next four months.  These new 5-10 minute modules would include professional graphic design and more interactive components where content would be integrated into true/false, multiple choice and matching activities.  Going forward, Wayne also agreed that future modules could benefit by including short video clips, in addition to solely featuring text on the screen.

The Results:

Wayne was impressed with the project management abilities of the eLearning company.  They were easy to work with, asked some questions that vastly improved the content and delivery, and completed all 10 modules within the originally estimated 4-month time period.

While post-module evaluation surveys included some grumbles from staff who just wanted to be able to read through the information and be done with the module, overall the feedback was very positive and enthusiastic.  One social media specialist commented that the new modules were “light years better than the other PowerPoint-style modules.”  When asked what could be improved, one online advertising specialist suggested “to make these modules accessible by smartphone as well.”

Part 2: What eLearning Experts Say:

Definitely Mix It Up

“Including multimedia as part of eLearning works to ensure students remain engaged in the process. Whether it is video or interactive games and presentations, adding even a small number of these activities helps to vary the educational rhythm for the student. Integrating a story as a unifying thread is also an important part of ensuring students retain information.”

Michel Hansmire, Principal, Sparkworks Media

But what about more complex training needs?

“Wayne should address some of the more nuanced subjects such as sales techniques, dealing with difficult people, and complex budget management. Wayne can take advantage of his budget allocation to work with a professional eLearning company in order to create scenario-based eLearning, grounded in the real world. By putting a case study into a realistic context, Wayne can build courses that assess a learner’s ability to solve real-world problems—and isn’t that what it’s really all about?  Check out Cathy Moore’s SlideShare presentation if you’d like to learn more about how to build courses that include real-world context.”

Kirby Crider, Sr. Instructional Designer, Windwalker Corporation

Go Gamified and Make it Fun (because life is too short for boring eLearning!)

“Wayne’s next step should be to think more audaciously about how to get learners to absolutely LOVE their learning. He should be thinking about how he can get the learners to look forward to every new course he publishes in the same way they would the next big blockbuster film. That way he can get a better ROI for his company, at the same time build himself L&D rock star status! He needs to think more about how he will improve user engagement first, not what subjects he will teach or what tool he will use.

Research shows that learners involve themselves more with gamified learning and LMS features than other types of training. In fact, they spend 50% longer on an LMS with gamification features, and in the world of eLearning, gamification increases participation, such that staff experiencing gamified training are 86% more active than non-gamified training.

The fact is that employees training on a gamified LMS, deploying game-based eLearning acquire more factual knowledge, attain a higher skill level and retain information for longer.”

– Juliette Denny, Managing Director, Growth Engineering

Do you have an eLearning case study that you want to get expert opinions on? Contact us or let us know in the comments.

Case Study: The Rise and Fall of an Online Training Program

I’ve spoken with a slew of training colleagues over the past year.  Many of them have online training programs with learning management systems.  And many of them struggle to attract consistent traffic to their LMS.  Part 1 of what follows is a fictionalized case study based upon a number of these conversations. In Part 2, I’m joined by another training colleague to offer our thoughts and insights about the situation.

Part 1: If You Build It, They Will Come… for a Little While

Darryl shut down his computer and stopped by Starbucks for a treat before heading home.  He deserved it.  He had been working non-stop for the past two years on the development, implementation and roll-out of his organization’s new Online Training Academy (OTA).  With great fanfare, it launched today.  His boss was pleased.  Considerable buzz had been generated over the past month and a half.  Managers from across the organization had been sending him emails letting him know how excited they were to finally have a more flexible training option for their employees.

A Brief History

Darryl had been working as a senior training manager for a 2,000-employee telecommunications company for four years.  The company had 13 offices across the country as well as offices in London, Frankfurt, Bangalore and Mexico City.  When he first arrived, training was relatively de-centralized and carried out by regional HR staff within the various offices.  Most training was offered as classroom-based training, though several offices had begun to use webinars.  Two offices had also begun using Captivate to develop brief eLearning tutorials designed to orient staff to their various computer systems.

A year after arriving at the company, Darryl had first proposed the idea of a company-wide online training portal.  Over the next year, he spoke with HR and training professionals across the organization and presented both the financial and business case for the training portal.  Overall project objectives included:

  1. Reducing man-hours and costs associated with the each individual office developing and delivering their own training programs
  2. Ensuring the consistent delivery of content across the organization, especially on compliance-related training topics
  3. Reducing time away from the office for employees to learn
  4. Building a stronger learning culture that could result from access to on-demand training

A learning management system (LMS) was selected and integrated into the already existing company intranet with a single sign-on interface so that employees would not have to memorize a new login/password combination.  Initially, a combination of short, custom orientation and compliance training modules were combined with a series of off-the-shelf skills training modules (leadership development, management, customer service, communication skills) to populate the LMS.

Four and a Half Months Later

On his way out of the building, Darryl passed by Starbucks.  There would be no treat today.  He had spent the morning huddled with his supervisor, reviewing the data for the OTA portal and the numbers were depressingly poor.  His afternoon meeting with the Vice President of Human Resources was disturbingly short.  Darryl had presented the data, the VP of HR had asked if there was anything to add.  Darryl said it was all in the report.  And then Darryl was excused from the meeting.

During the two-week OTA Launch, every employee was set up with an account for the LMS and each employee was assigned two courses: a basic “How To Use This New System” course and one course that was assigned to the employee by his or her local HR office.  Daily emails went out to all staff informing them of the overall company-wide completion rate of these courses as well as a ranking of the top 5 completion rates by regional office.

At the end of the two-week launch period, there was tremendous buzz.  A month after roll-out and there had been an additional 1,327 sign-ups for new courses.  Two months after roll-out, and the number of new course sign-up requests had fallen to 172.  The overall completion rate for all courses hovered around 15%.  By the end of the first full quarter with the online training portal, only 94 additional course sign-ups had been requested.  In the fourth month, 21 new course sign-up requests had been registered.  The only ray of hope that Darryl read in the data was that completion rates during the second, third and fourth months with the system had averaged 72%.

Following a euphoric first month, Darryl was extremely frustrated with the turn this project had taken. He was also concerned about the waning support for the system that he was sensing from senior management (or perhaps it was waning support for him).  Still, he was not ready to call this project a bust quite yet.  But he was also running low on ideas for how to re-energize the company around the online training portal.

Part 2: Some Real-life Training Professionals Weigh In on Darryl’s Situation

Rethink your statistics and the way you use online learning

The convenience of online learning is sometimes your learners’ biggest barrier. Online learning is always there, so it’s easy to push off until it’s “more convenient.” For employees who are used to a more social learning environment, online courses can seem boring and harder to relate too. Find your barriers and address them. In my agency, this is what I share with employees:

  1. Schedule it. Put learning on your calendar.
  2. Create a space that is disruption free. Close down Outlook, put a sign on your door or go to another part of your building so you can focus.
  3. Get support. Make taking one or more courses part of your professional development goals and get support from your manager.
  4. Learn with a friend. Most of us learn better with others so consider taking an online course with a colleague who shares your interest.
  5. Share the learning with others.  Present key lessons to your colleagues or discuss what you learned with others.
  6. Learn with your team. Identify a course that is relevant to all and complete it as part of your team’s learning agenda.

Completion rates simply show that an employee took a course, not what they learned or if they are actually applying the learning. Learners may be using courses more as just-in-time learning, pulling out the few nuggets of information they were seeking without bothering to finish. My organization only seeks completion rates for our required, all-employee courses. It’s more important for us to know they are getting value out of their courses whether or not they actually complete them.

Shannon Dowd (eLearning Specialist, PATH)

It always comes back to the question: what’s in it for me?

Only after the novelty and buzz of a new initiative (like implementing an LMS) wears off can you truly measure whether that initiative was actually developed to meet a business need.  Course offerings can only meet that business need if they are directly connected to professional development plans or competency models and if they are seen as credible information sources by supervisors and managers.

If I was in Darryl’s shoes, I’d spend time over the next several weeks exploring the best way to connect the Online Training Academy with skills gaps – whether that means creating jobs aids for supervisors (“Hey managers, if your employees need development around customer service skills, then perhaps they should access the customer service course on the new Online Training Academy”) and/or perhaps working more closely with HR in connecting course offerings to the company’s performance management system.  He may also want to think of spending some time around the proverbial water cooler, asking staff and managers why they are (or aren’t) using the system.

Lecture Isn’t a Teaching Strategy (Part 2): A Parable

Last week’s post focused on three major problems with lecture and offered suggestions on what to do about them. As a reminder, the three problems were:

  1. In lecture, the presenter has no idea whether or not the learners get it.
  2. Belief in the myth that lecture is simply faster and easier for both learner and presenter to just tell people what they need to know.
  3. Lecture doesnt always provide a direct connection between the content at hand and how it can be applied to meet the needs of the learner in real life.

This week, I’ll illustrate those points with a short parable of how one attorney decided to eschew the organization’s typical lecture on sexual harassment during their new hire orientation in order to engage his learners and ensure they each understood the concepts.

Josh had been delegated the sexual harassment talk for the upcoming new hire orientation. His boss provided Josh a Word document with 19 bulleted points on the topic and a video to show next week’s group of 4 new hires. When asked for any words of wisdom in presenting it, Josh’s boss explained: “It’s pretty straight forward, just show the video and answer any questions. Check it off the box and let the new folks go to lunch. Anyone who’s ever heard of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill knows that sexual harassment is a bad thing. We just need to be sure we cover it.”

At 11:30 on Tuesday morning, Josh arrived at the training room, ready to ensure that the four new hires he was about to meet would always remember the organization’s policy on sexual harassment.  Josh found the new hires unattended at the moment by any staff members.  They said the previous session had ended a few minutes early and they were given a break until this session.  They were all hungry and looking forward to lunch after this 45 minute session.

Josh surveyed the faces of each new hire – they all looked relatively young.  Definitely in their early 20s.  After greeting them, he asked if any of them knew who Clarence Thomas was.  The new hires looked at one another, and at in unison two of them said: “a Supreme Court justice.”  One new hire continued on: “Jinx!  Buy me a coke!!”

Ignoring the last comment, Josh asked if any of them knew who Anita Hill was.  The new hires again looked at one another.  Nobody responded.  The room was awkwardly silent.  So much for “anyone who’s ever heard of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill knows that sexual harassment is a bad thing.”

“You know what, never mind about those obscure references.  As you can all see from the agenda, we’re here to discuss sexual harassment.  What is sexual harassment?”

Silence again.  The new hires looked around the room.  Stared at the ceiling.  And the floor.  There was no eye contact with Josh.

“Actually, it’s not a rhetorical question.  I really want to know what you all know about the topic.  Why don’t we do this: each of you pair off and take 45 seconds to share with a partner everything you know about sexual harassment.”

After a moment or two, the new hires turned to a neighbor and began sharing thoughts.  Forty-five seconds later Josh brought their attention back to him.  “Well, it sounds like some people in here know something about sexual harassment.  What did you talk about?”

One pair shared that they thought sexual harassment had to do with hitting on co-workers, even after being told to stop.  The other pair mentioned that they had heard the term “hostile work environment” but they weren’t quite sure what that meant.  A five minute conversation around the overall topic of sexual harassment ensued.

Once the conversation and questions began to wane, Josh announced that they were going to watch a video.  The video had four different scenarios.  Josh gave each new hire a piece of paper to take notes.  In one column, new hires were asked to jot down one ah-ha moment, question or take-away from each scenario.  In a second column, new hires were asked to jot down any themes that arose from the initial group discussion on sexual harassment that they observed in any of the scenarios (i.e. do any of these scenarios illustrate the idea of creating a “hostile working environment” that we discussed in our initial conversation?).

Following the video Josh led a conversation about each scenario using the notes that the new hires jotted down.  In order to wrap up the 45-minute session, Josh quizzed each new hire on a hypothetical situation and what each new hire would do if confronted with such a situation.

As Josh released the new hires for their lunch break, one commented that this was the “fastest 45 minutes of the day so far.  I mean, time really flew by in this session.  And I have to say, I was expecting someone to just talk at us about the topic for 30 or 40 minutes and then pass us off to the next presenter.  That’s how the rest of the morning has gone so far.  And it hasn’t been easy staying awake or paying attention to those sessions.”

A second new hire added, “Yeah, I always expect new hire orientation sessions to be quick ‘check off the box that I learned this or that topic.’ It seems like it would just be easier to tell us the information and move on.  But I really appreciated this session.  I can definitely say I will remember it.  While the topic itself is dry and quite frankly kind of icky, this session was very interesting.  Thanks for getting us talking.  And thinking.”

As a presenter, is it more fun to talk at the learners or engage in dialogue with the learners?  As a learner, is it more valuable to have a chance to discuss ideas and thoughts with other learners and the presenter, or do you want to just get the information and move on?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Parable of the Part-time Trainer (Part 1)

The Parable of the Part-time Trainer  – Part 1

From time to time, all of us have probably been asked to be a “part-time trainer”, we’ve been asked to present something to a group – in front of classmates, in front of co-workers, in front of new trainees, in front of a jury.  The following parable illustrates how presentations can go – both how presentations can go in the moment and the impact of these types of presentations later down the road.  Next week, I’ll spend some time analyzing the good, the bad and the ugly about the events in this all-too-common story of a part-time trainer.

Note: This parable provides hyperlinks to sample materials that you may find of interest in order to get a more complete understanding of the story

Lin is the Director of Human Resources for a non-profit organization whose mission is “to ensure every child has access to education in order to make their lives, their communities and the world a better place.” The organization employs 298 staff working in 24 centers of learning, located in four different states and the District of Columbia.

During this year’s annual management retreat, Lin was asked to facilitate a 2-hour presentation to unveil and train any staff with direct reports (28 managers) on using a new, standard annual performance review system for employees. As Lin put together her lesson plan for this presentation, she struggled to fit everything she needed to present into the 2 hours she was allocated.  At the same time Lin was attempting to make the session engaging for the managers (the session was immediately after lunch).

Lin began the session by dividing the managers into groups of 7 and explaining the instructions of her ice breaking activity: The Human Knot. This activity took a little longer than Lin had planned for, but the managers seemed to find it fun right after lunch. As soon as the small groups got themselves untangled from their human knots, Lin began the actual content of the lesson. She had prepared a PowerPoint slide deck to illustrate the points she wanted to make and provided handouts of each document that was to be used in the employee review system. Lin took about 60 minutes to talk about each section of each form. She allowed for 20 minutes of questions and answers at the end of her session.

The group seemed quiet, but they did ask some questions at the end. Lin wasn’t sure how she did, but she was pleased to see scores of 4s and 5s (on a 5-point scale) on the training evaluation forms. She was also heartened by the comments such as “great job” and “this looks like a very useful performance management tool”. The only negative comments (“room was too cold”) were out of her control anyways.

Marques was a site manager, supervising 12 employees, at one of the four Washington, DC-based education sites of Lin’s organization. He found this new format to be a lot of work, but after six months he concluded that it was well-worth the time and effort. The performance development tools had helped give structure and guidance to the way in which he offered feedback and created annual performance reviews. When Marques met up with the other Washington DC-based site managers for a happy hour, he was surprised, and a bit frustrated, to learn none of them were using the new system. One colleague said he had tried to use it when he had first returned from the management retreat, but it was a lot of work and he had too many fires to put out.   

Three weeks after the happy hour, Lin was touring the various DC-based educational sites. During her meeting with Marques, he commented on how he was enjoying using the new annual review tools and system, but he knew that there were other managers who chose not to use it. 

Following this conversation, Lin began to check on how many managers had actually begun to use the system. She found that seven months after the management retreat, only four of the 28 managers were using it.

The training got such good reviews and early on it seemed like there had been a lot of buzz and excitement about the tools provided. Lin was completely deflated. What happened?!

To be continued…

Have some thoughts on what went wrong?  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comment area below.  Part 2, next week, will analyze this situation in more detail.