Interview with Microassist’s senior learning architect Kevin Gumienny and instructional designer Brandon Winston on what it takes to convert classroom training to elearning. Topics covered include:
- What is elearning?
- Advantages of elearning over classroom training
- How to make sure you create effective elearning when converting from classroom training
- How long does it take to create elearning? How much does it cost?
- How effective is using elearning vs instructor-led training?
- How Long Does it Take to Create Elearning, by Chapman Alliance, September 2010
- Development Benchmarks for Large-Scale Blended Learning Projects, by Chapman Alliance
- How Long to Develop One Hour of Training? Updated for 2018 by ATD, January 2018
- Medical Training: How do Online Classrooms Compare? by Elearning Inside News, August 2017
- Getting Started with Accessible Elearning (and 2018 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference Takeaways) by Microassist
- The Year in Learning—89 Hand-Picked L&D-Related Articles from 2017 by Microassist
- A Large Sample Comparison of Grade Based Student Learning Outcomes in Online vs. Face-to-Face Courses by Online Learning Consortium
- Elearning for Undergraduate Health Professional Education: A systematic review informing a radical transformation of health workforce development by Imperial College London
Converting Classroom Training to Elearning, Transcript
Sanjay Nasta: Hi, this is Sanjay Nasta. I’m here with Microassist’s Senior Architect, Kevin Gumienny, and Instructional Designer, Brandon Winston. Kevin, would you like to introduce yourself?
Kevin Gumienny: I’m Kevin Gumienny. I’m the Senior Learning Architect here at Microassist, and I work with the learning development team to help develop learning products. A lot of what we develop is custom elearning. We also develop custom blended learning, custom instructor-led training, we also do some work with webinars. I work with a team of instructional designers and production developers and some multimedia specialists, and at the end of our products, we generally have a course of two or three that we are able to deliver to clients.
Thank you. We also have Brandon Winston. Brandon, would you like to do a quick intro?
Brandon Winston: Sure. Hi, I’m Brandon Winston. I’m an Instructional Designer here at Microassist. Like Kevin said, we work on a variety of different projects. The bulk of my experience is in elearning and instructor-led. I’ve done probably about 50/50 of each of them across my career.
What is Elearning?
So today we’re going to talk about converting instructor-led training or classroom learning to elearning. I wanted to start with talking about what the basic definition of elearning is, from your perspective?
Kevin Gumienny: Sure. Well, elearning can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, so the way that I generally tend to think about elearning as something that is, to kind of pull in our ten cent words, I think it’s something that’s asynchronous, that is it doesn’t have to happen everybody at once in a single environment and that it’s self-directed. So it’s something that a student can take themselves through, a learner can take themselves through at their own pace. And so with that, that lends me to thinking, “Okay, I’ve got some learning objects or some learning courses that somebody might take. It might be an hour long, they sit in front of a computer most often, or maybe a mobile device, and have an interactive learning experience.” That’s what we generally think of when we think of elearning.
But there’s this whole world out there about where we think where elearning can be thought of and is often thought of as sort of web-delivered training. And then that opens you up to all kinds of neat things like PDFs that you can read, that you can download, webpages that you can access, videos that you can watch, instructional videos, training videos, and then, in addition to that, we might have something like webinars are also thought of elearning. They’re not quite self-directed, they’re not asynchronous. They can be if they’re recorded, but often you’ve got a webinar, you’ve got an instructor who’s taking the class through and having that learning happen in an electronic environment.
And then the last sort of complication to toss in there is blended training, which I think is a real growth opportunity for elearning. I’ve seen a lot, lot more of people where they take a look at an instructor-led course and then they say, “You know what? This part of the instructional course would work really well if the students did it ahead of time and they could come in and focus on maybe skills building or interpersonal communication, or something along those line when they’re in-person.”
This has a lot of possible benefits both for making things easier on the students and on the learners because they can get those kinds of, I guess, non-skilled, they can get those kinds of informational knowledge and assimilate that ahead of time and then really leverage that instructor-led training when they arrive in the classroom. So it’s kind of a broad answer, but I think there’s a lot of possibilities in ways which people use elearning.
Brandon, is there anything you’d add to that?
Brandon Winston: No, I think that’s a very good overview of everything that falls under the elearning umbrella. I think the main thing that I would want people to remember is don’t get trapped in thinking of elearning as one particular type of training.
Benefits of Converting Classroom Training to Elearning
So y’all have done a lot of projects where you’ve converted classroom or instructor-led training to elearning. What are some of the benefits from the business’ perspective of converting classroom training to elearning? And then we’ll come back and talk about from the student perspective.
Kevin Gumienny: Brandon, do you want to take that one?
Brandon Winston: Yeah. When you’re doing classroom training, it is a resource-heavy environment from the cost of having the employees out of their office to renting space, if you don’t have space in your actual office, to the time of the employees, the time of the trainer. It’s a lot of money in one place at one time for that training to take place. And I say money, but it could be as well as just resources in one place at one time.
With elearning you’re actually moving a lot of those resources to the front-end, to the actual development of the training process so that you can defray it on the back-end so that, for example, if you have a 30-minute training course that 100 customer service agents need to take, it doesn’t have to be all 100 agents at one time taking it. Instead you can begin to schedule them and say, “Hey, we can afford to have 10 people off the floor right now, so let’s put these 10 on training and make it a little bit easier on your business instead of this you’ve got one place at one time that everybody has to be.”
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah, and I think that’s perfect. What I might add is taking a look at that from a slightly different perspective. Actually, I’ve just done some work on microlearning recently and I think that’s a really neat concept that I kind of like to play with. One of the basic ideas is if you’re using elearning as microlearning, then you’re able to deliver the training to the person in their work environment. As Brandon was saying, you don’t have to pull them out, you’re able to let people experience that education, experience that training right in the middle in their workflow, and the neat thing about that is they can access it when they need it.
One of the most effective methods of being able to, I guess, have really effective training in the sense that people are able to apply it and it makes a difference and it changes your business goals, is setting up a situation where people remember the training, where people apply the training, and if you can apply the training very soon after you take it, it’s much more likely that people are going to integrate it and it’ll become part of their efforts and change their behavior and do all that good stuff that we as instructional designers and designers of learning want them to do.
And so elearning gives you that opportunity in a way that a classroom training may not. I might go to a classroom training and I might not have an opportunity to apply that knowledge for two weeks, or a couple of months, or maybe half a year, and by that point I’m going back and I’m pulling out my old manuals and I’m trying to remember what it was about. Whereas elearning gives you that opportunity of, “Hey, I need to learn how to do this,” or, “I’m having this particular difficulty. I’ll take the course.” 10 minutes later, 15 minutes later, I’ve got the skills, I apply it and now it’s more likely that I’m going to be able to incorporate that into my behavior, change my behavior and apply that learning effectively.
Sanjay Nasta: Yeah, classroom training’s often determined by logistics of the classroom, logistics of the instructor. What you’re saying is training close to the point of need.
Kevin Gumienny: Yes, absolutely.
That was the start of the discussion of the benefits of elearning from the perspective of the student. What are some other benefits that you see from the perspective of the student?
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah, well, I would like to clarify a little bit. I think that as a business, if I’m a business leader, if I’m investing in training, I will get more out of my investment if my learners can actually apply the training right away, so I guess that’s where I was kind of thinking of taking that discussion and closing that loop.
For the learners, I think it does add to the ability to apply that knowledge. It helps them have training effectively. They can figure out what they need to have training on, and if you have something like a learning management system that has a course catalog they can select and apply and explore those areas that they see themselves needing effort in.
I think it’s incumbent on us as Learning Experience Designers, to use Connie Malamed’s term, to ensure that that experience is engaging. I think we’ve all experienced the kind of elearning where you read this and click next, and read this and click next, and read this and click next, and then take a test. That’s not engaging, and that’s not fun, and that’s not even effective. As Learning Experience Designers, we need to make the experience effective so it’s good for the learners, so they can apply it, they can be engaged when they need it. We have a responsibility too, as designers, to make sure that it is engaging and make sure that it is effective.
Brandon Winston: One of the things that I would add in there from a student perspective, what’s really nice is the … sounds simple, but the rewind button.
You can’t rewind a live person. If a student doesn’t get it in a live class, the trainer, you’ve got to set everybody off to the side and go through the concept again, whereas when a student, if they’re dealing with an elearning, whether it’s microlearning or more a longer form class, any concept that they aren’t 100% clear on they can actually just hit the back button and reload the slide and watch it again.
There’s also a lot of things you can do in your testing, your evaluation procedure that, hey, you did really well on eight of the 10 concepts, but why don’t you review these last two and take them back through a review slide? And I think that’s very powerful when compared to the traditional classroom.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah, where it’s just an information dump and then hopefully you got it, and if you didn’t, sorry, go look at the book another time. But here you can get that same experience again. You can see how you’re doing, and this is actually a benefit to the students as well.
I know, like Brandon was saying, as a learner, I want to assess my own knowledge as I’m going through it so I can take those tests and I can get an immediate response. If it is a well-designed quiz and if it is a well-designed activity, I can get feedback right away, which can be huge. Think about back when you were in college and you wrote that essay and then a week later you get your paper back from the professor and it’s all marked up. Well here in the elearning environment, I submit it and if it’s well designed I’ll get feedback not just saying, “Yes, you were correct,” or, “No, you were incorrect,” but, “No, the correct answer is … And this is why.” Or, even better, “That’s great. Have you considered this? Would you like to try again?” So give them an opportunity to learn by failing, give them an opportunity to build on their success and to learn through that experience.
Might get into this a little bit later, one of the great things about elearning from a student’s perspective is that elearning creates a safe place to fail. So if I’m going to mess something up, I’d really like to mess it up in an elearning environment because then it’s not live. Training does the same thing in person, but elearning I think allows a lot of flexibility and your ability to create scenarios and to craft feedback and to guide people in new paths. Of cour,se I’m talking in a certain sense about branching scenarios, would be the term that a lot of the Learning Experience Designers use to describe this, and it is one of the most effective ways to design training.
Sanjay Nasta: I think that safe place to fail is really important. It’s psychologically a whole lot easier to fail in front of a computer than in front of a classroom full of students and an instructor whose respect you want.
Advantages of Elearning
You started going into that a little bit already, what are some of the other advantages that you get from elearning that you do not have in a classroom from a learner perspective?. We did a couple of them already.
Brandon Winston: One of the ones … it is kind of a follow-on for a safe place to fail, software simulation.
There are a lot of times that you have new employees that as a business owner you don’t want a participant out on your system without training and as a new employee you are terrified about touching a computer system without training. You can build a software simulator that really not only trains them in the right way to it but lets them know, but lets them know, “Hey, if you click that button it would’ve deleted all of this information, so always click this one.” So I love software simulation and the repeatability of that.
I’m also a big fan of these trainings can actually be very entertaining and engaging. As a designer, you’re always trying to balance between the fun and the learning, but you want an engaging experience. And there’s an opportunity to have that more than when it is a one to many, an instructor or a trainer in front of the room trying to pass this information to 30 or 40 people. It can actually be a lot more personalized.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah, it can be personalized, and a lot of times when we look at elearning we do seem to think of things like, “Oh my goodness, how dull this is! It’s just pushing information at us.” But I think, in a certain sense, that’s one of the things I really love to think about is boundaries. I think having boundaries is good because having boundaries forces you to be inventive within those boundaries and push in different ways.
And so I think the default for elearning might be boring stuff, because it’s easy to do, but we can also, with a little bit of effort we can make elearning that is engaging and effective and are appropriate. We have to remember that for the most part we’re dealing with adult learners. We’re not dealing with kids who we’re just pushing information into their heads, we’re dealing with people who have their own experiences, who have their own thoughts, who have their own opinions, and we can help plug into that with effectively designed learning and allow them to kind of express those ideas.
The other thing that Brandon brought up that I’d like to add onto, and we talked a little bit about this earlier, is this idea of learner control. You’ve got the play button, you’ve got the pause button, it puts control into the learner. The learner starts their effort and goes for about 15 minutes and they get interrupted. Well most of the software delivery systems today, they can pause it right there, focus on that task and come back to the learning when they need to. It really puts that ability in the control of the learner. That, on a different level, and maybe we’ll talk about this a little bit, kind of helps learning become accessible as well. When you can have that level of control over the learning that you designed, and it’s difficult to do that in an instructor-led environment. The instructor really has to be on the ball, and no matter how much the instructor tries to give those appropriate breaks at appropriate times, it’s not going to be the right place for everybody. And then you’ve got people who need to answer an email, so they get up and they walk out of class because they can’t wait for a break.
And so there are those kinds of interpersonal elements. There are a lot of benefits to having instructor-led training, there are these elements of instructor-led training that elearning can help ameliorate, can help make easier for the learner.
Process of Converting Classroom Training to Elearning Effectively
Sanjay Nasta: Both Brandon and you, Kevin, have talked about learning experience design, how easy it is for learning to become boring. I think in the classroom, having taught in the classroom for many years, the instructor can alleviate that with personality, with energy. Can you talk about the process of converting classroom training to elearning, and what are some of the things that you’d do to make that process effective?
Kevin Gumienny: Oh, that’s a really good question, Because we want to take a look at instructor-led training, and a lot of people sort of look at this, I think maybe a little bit less so now, but certainly earlier the idea was, “Hey, I’ve got a PowerPoint deck that I go through in my training. Let me just throw that PowerPoint deck into an elearning system and then just set it up, record some voiceover of people reading the slides to you and hit Next,” and that leads to the boring elearning that we were talking about.
I don’t think we can take instructor-led learning, just pick it up and drop it into an elearning program. We’ve got to take it back to its bases. We’ve got to figure out. It does take time, it can be a lengthy process, but the end result can be so much better if you take a look at it, you strip it back. If you’ve got a good instructor-led program, you’ve got your instructional objectives, you’ve got the knowledge and the content necessary to enable the students to achieve those objectives, you probably have some measurement tools or metrics, take those ideas and then reinvent them in an elearning context.
So I’ve got an activity that worked really well in an instructor-led environment. Maybe that same activity can’t work because it is difficult to have people talk to each other if they’re all taking this course in an asynchronous environment, but what’s an equivalent activity that I can design to achieve that same objective?
Brandon Winston: You’re dead-on with the idea of interactivity that I think we joke about bad elearning, but I can guarantee that anybody who’s been through elearning has probably been a victim of bad elearning at some point. I think that interactivity is key because, it’s funny, when we move online we change our competitors, that when you’re teaching in front of a classroom you’re blocking them in. But when you move online, you’ve got to start competing with a lot more potential distractions, and I think interactivity and engagement is key to that.
But going back to the idea of, well, how do you convert a class? One of the first things I look for when you’re evaluating an instructor-led class is, okay, is this even something that we would recommend teaching online? There are some things that I don’t think elearning can do a good job on, and that’s where the blended solutions start coming in. Like, let’s take out what does work well in an elearning environment and let’s shorten the amount of time in the classroom to just those activities that really need the trainer involvement as a coach, or a mentor, to help their students.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah. I’d like to say, if my house is on fire, I don’t want a firefighter who’s just had elearning on how to put that fire out, I want someone who’s actually had hands-on experience. Yet, at the same time, to Brandon’s point, there’s aspects of that firefighting training that can be delivered in an elearning format: regulations, requirements, these kinds of things. And so they can take that in elearning then show up at a fire field, or fire practice field, and then practice putting out fires.
That really makes better training. It’s better for the student because they can experience their hands-on training in an arena that’s designed for hands-on training, and it’s also better for business because now your travel costs are less, because if they need travel to the training field they’re not there for as long because they can take a lot of other effort online and, depending on how the training’s structured, you might also have more time to work. It might be easier to maybe split half days and do half a day work, half a day training until you’ve got it set up in that kind of … Especially for time-sensitive jobs, that kind of setup’s not going to be really possible in an instructor-led environment.
Sanjay Nasta: For me, a couple of things that I’d gotten, and going back a little bit, was the conversion process should be very objective-based rather than being a one-to-one conversion, which I know is a familiar theme, really focusing on the objective base.
I’ll tell you that one of the highest ROI’s I’ve seen is with the blended learning where you basically level the playing field. There was an HR client where some of their employees had been working in the field for 20 years, and some of them had just been there for a year, and they cut two days off their annual conference and raised the ratings of their conference because they took the introductory information for their HR team and made it into elearning. I know the military does a really good job of that too.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah, the military’s a lot of cutting-edge stuff, especially in terms of things like serious games and allow people to really Because if you’re looking for a true need to have a safe place to fail, then the military’s a primary
Sanjay Nasta: Medicine, military.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah.
Sanjay Nasta: Brandon, you had talked a little bit about what’s not going to be effective in elearning. That’s one of the early questions you ask, and you talk about a couple of examples.
Brandon Winston: Absolutely. One of the things that I look at, or what may not be effective, or, I guess, a better way to put that, kind of my red flags for what may not be effective, are going to be things that are soft skills or things that are hands-on manual dexterity type skills.
Speaking of soft skills, we’ll start there. One of the best ways I’ve ever found to train soft skills is by having people practice those skills with one another. For example, in a customer service role, having one person play the customer and another person play the sales rep, work with that and have them work with each other so that they can actually practice, because not everybody is a born sales person and may not know … They don’t necessarily come into those jobs with the skills that they need for communicating with customers, or communicating with clients, and it can be very beneficial to have two people live, in person, working with one another to give them, again, the safe place to fail, an opportunity to practice, an opportunity to make the sales pitch their own.
Similarly, you think about engine repair. It’s one thing to show a mechanic where the nuts and bolts are that they’re going to need to make this repair, but it’s a completely different thing when the car is on the lift and they’re working on it hands-on and it’s a car that probably has a couple thousand miles on it and it’s dirty and it’s not that clean, sharp image that they see on the computer screen. I think those types of things, when it is essential, where performance is essential, it’s really good to have that hands-on experience, whether that is with a CPR dummy. Yes, you could learn the basics of CPR online, but there’s nothing like having that dummy in front of you to actually practice and build that kinesthetic memory, muscle memory of the actions you need to take.
Kevin Gumienny: Indeed. Building on that, another sort of training that might not be too effective is something along those … Leadership training. I’ve been in leadership training. You can certainly share principles online, just like you can read a book about leadership, but if you’re aiming to build a team of leaders and you’re hoping to encourage them to interact and to trust each other and do a lot of things that people involved in leadership training are doing, it is really difficult to do that in an asynchronous self-directed environment. You need to be in-person for that to happen.
How Long Does it Take to Build Elearning
Kevin, one of the things that you talked about is learning taking a long time to build. How long does it take to build? I know that’s a big question, but …
Kevin Gumienny: It is, and the standard answer is sort of it depends. It depends on the source material, it depends on whether or not subject matter experts are available, because I think one of the most important things is to recognize that a Learning Experience Designer is not a subject matter expert in the field that they’re designing for. They are a subject matter expert in learning experiences and the design thereof, but they’re not going to know firefighting, they’re not going to know a high level, deep involvement, and communication skills or leadership. I mean, there are experts in these areas, and so are the experts available for this? What’s the review cycle like if you’re designing for somebody outside of yourself? So there are a lot of factors in there.
I think what I would say, generally speaking, to design an hour’s worth of elearning, my rule of thumb would be about two months to develop an hour’s worth of seat time. That comes with a lot of caveats, though. That’s assuming that the material is well designed, it’s assuming that there’s no review cycle, that it is just somebody kind of going and blowing and figuring out what needs to be done and building it and maybe checking it at the very end. And then that, a lot of project management stuff — there’s no hidden stakeholders and all that kind of fun stuff — I think we can kind of do that in a couple of months.
But what becomes difficult is when you have to schedule in review cycles, so now, instead of me just going and blowing, now I design my objectives, Because I always do objectives. Doesn’t matter if it’s for me, or for whoever, or just myself, I’m going to write out those objectives before I get started, design the goals, and those kinds of things, but now they have to get approved. So now they go to my stakeholders, and that might be a couple of days where they’re all looking at it. And then they have some changes, so they come back to me and then I make those changes, then I send them back and then they’re approved and I can move onto the next stage.
But what might have taken me a couple of hours by myself is now a week because of all of the time and process of going back and forth, and then multiply that throughout the learning development process. So it does take time to develop elearning, good elearning. I mean, again, if it’s just me, myself, I can develop what I want, but if I’m designing elearning in a field that I don’t know, that I’m not an expert in, which is going to be most fields that I deal with, I want learning that’s effective regardless of whether it’s elearning, or whatever, and in order to do that I need to get input, I need to take into account that information and then that takes time.
Sanjay Nasta: That always gets the, “Oh my God, that takes so long!”
Kevin Gumienny: It does.
Brandon Winston: Do you know? It does. That’s always the scariest conversation. What I generally follow it up with is the idea that if you invest upfront and it’s well thought out, it can last a very long time that you may not need to revisit this training for two to five years, depending on what’s changing in your industry or changing in your business. But because it is that upfront investment, if you’re doing it and doing it well, you’ve got a product that has a nice long shelf life on it.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah, and the other thing is it’s that shelf life and also it exists independently of individuals, Because, I mean, hey, if I’m giving a presentation, give me a … Actually, I’ll tell you, it’ll take as long as I got. So if I have an hour to give that presentation, I’ll present it. Won’t be that good, but you give me two weeks, I will spend two weeks writing a presentation. Standard instructor stuff for those of us who have taught courses, right? Well, it’s just something we all know.
But what we’re doing, and Brandon kind of alluded to this, we build something to last the test of time, then we’re talking to our subject matter experts, we’re taking that time upfront, putting that into our training so now that when it’s delivered, I no longer have to depend on that individual SME. I don’t have to depend on an individual instructor to deliver this training. Now it can live on its own. So that upfront cost in terms of money, in terms of time, pays off in the long-term.
Sanjay Nasta: That’s a differentiator from classroom training, because a lot more of the costs in elearning are upfront.
Kevin Gumienny: Yes.
Scalability and Repeatability of Elearning
Sanjay Nasta: Which adds a scalability and repeatability to it. And that’s one thing I didn’t hear either of you talk about is the repeatability and consistency of elearning, which in some fields are very important.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah, and I think those two ideas can be discussed separately. So repeatability and scalability … Brandon, do you want to take one and I’ll take the other?
Brandon Winston: Yeah, repeatability is a big thing for me. One of my former responsibilities was the training for a customer service company. Their customer service would scale across the year, would grow and shrink by as much as 30 to 40%, the number of people that they had on the phones actively taking calls, just based with their sales cycle, and it was not as simple as, oh, we have all these new people are all in this one place.
No, they operated five different locations across the country, timezones and where people were available, and so being able to actually sit at my desk and send out to all the local trainers, “Okay, here is the eModule, or the elearning module that we’ll be using, and it’s up-to-date with everything,” and to be able to have that training be taking place at the same time in New York, Utah, Florida, Texas, taking place all at the same time and know, with absolute certainty, that all of these agents are getting the same message was just invaluable because it kept us as a company in sync with one another, and just that repeatability was incredible.
Kevin Gumienny: I think that having the repeatability is essential, because when you are depending on instructor-led training, you can train your instructors and you can give them the course manuals and you can give them all the curriculum and the PowerPoints, but every person who attends a class with a different instructor is going to receive a different experience, and when people attend the class of the same instructor, they’re going to attend a different experience.
Brandon Winston: Absolutely.
Kevin Gumienny: Building this repeatability is one of the great things you can do with elearning. And then I think in terms of scalability, and when you mentioned that it grows and it shrinks, can you imagine training a thousand people in instructor-led training on a topic? I mean, think about all the classrooms you have to rent and all the instructors you have to train and people you have to fly places and then the schedules you have to design, and it might take you half a year to get all those people trained. Whereas you take the time and effort, a well designed elearning module, yeah, it might take you a little bit of time to put together, but when it’s ready, boom, it’s outlaid to everybody at the same time. Really kind of cuts down on that. And then, instead of repeating that entire process next year for another six months, now you can make a few updates to your elearning module and then just distribute it again, so then you start to really start to see a benefit from that time you invested.
If you design a well developed elearning program, it really cuts down long-term because instructor-led costs are ongoing costs. They’re not going to get shorter, they’re not going to get smaller over time, but a well developed elearning module at the beginning, you’ll start to see a return on investment the longer you use it.
Effectiveness of Elearning
Sanjay Nasta: I think one of the biggest hidden costs of training, whether it’s elearning or classroom training, is the effectiveness of training. I mean, the training that costs the most is where it’s ineffective. Can elearning be as effective as classroom training? What are y’all’s experiences on that?
Kevin Gumienny: I think when you look at the research, there’s actually a fair amount of research out there, and we can include some links with the podcast that shows that yes, elearning is as effective as instructor-led training. There’s some areas where it’s been shown to be more effective, like procedural training or like in medical schools where it’s really kind of hard to go and take a look at the inside of somebody’s body, but they properly design a elearning course and video, especially video being a big help, you can be able to replicate that experience, put it in an elearning module and then everybody can view it.
What we’ve seen again and again and again is that if a group of students take an instructor-led course and then a group of students take a elearning course with the same material and then they take the same assessment, they tend to score about the same. Sometimes elearning’s a little bit better, sometimes instructor-led’s a little bit better, but it’s always about the same.
That’s not to say that elearning is better than instructor-led training, and we’ve talked about this already today. There’s some areas that it’s better, there are some areas that instructor-led training is better. It’s just to say that for those areas where elearning is better, you don’t have to worry about it being more or less effective than instructor-led training. It’s going to be as effective.
How Much Does Elearning Cost?
Sanjay Nasta: But we get to that other scary question. How much does this cost? And I know there’s not an easy answer for that. It’s always it depends.
Kevin Gumienny: The data that we have and the research that’s been done … Bryan Chapman, Chapman Alliance, put out a report back in 2010, so it’s really getting long in the tooth now, and they said it takes about around $22,000 to $23,000 to develop an hour’s worth of elearning. Problem with that is that just like for an internal group developing elearning, or is that for an external vendor to develop elearning? They didn’t really kind of discuss that question.
So if we’re looking for something like that, then, yeah, probably around there’s what would be a decent guidepost, but didn’t think about the other stuff that you need. I mean, do you have a dedicated SME? And who’s paying for the SME’s time? And what’s your project management structure like? Because we can tell you, from personal experience, that a properly managed elearning project is going to cost a whole lot less than when it does not have project management, Because you’re going to spend more time identifying what the project actually is, and more time going through reviews and then editing and making changes at the very last minute, so there are all kinds of stuff that goes into. So poor project management, it’ll cost more. Better project management will help reduce the cost.
Brandon Winston: I was just going to mention that ATD just released an update to the hours. I think Dr. Chapman has gone back and done another survey to calculate the hours. It doesn’t look like the hours have shifted that much from his original. They’ve come down a little bit, but not significantly.
One of the things that I would say, if you have someone who is really looking to do this (create elearning) in as an economical fashion as possible, the best thing you can do as a program manager is to get your materials together.
Understand where you want to go as a business, what your overall objectives are, and what materials, whether it is documentation, SMEs, or things like that, make sure that your side of the equation is as prepared as possible before you bring in somebody from the outside. Because a professional Instructional Designer, or a Learning Experience Designer, they don’t need to sit there while you figure out what it is you want to do. They want to come in and start helping you from the get-go. Of course they’ll help you figure it out if that’s part of their mandate.
Kevin Gumienny: If that’s what’s needed, yeah.
Brandon Winston: Yeah. But if you have a good sense of what you’re trying to accomplish before you engage them, then that can make the process run much more smoothly for everyone, and it’s something that an Instructional Designer appreciates.
Kevin Gumienny: Oh, absolutely. Because then, on that time factor that we’re talking about too, if the person who needs a course can provide that kind of information, then there’s less time waiting around while that kind of comes together. Absolutely. And a good Instructional Designer will always prepare. They’ll always get a good idea of what your subject matter is as much as they can. They’re not going to be an expert, but they’ll be able to ask intelligent questions, and so I think that’s kind of the compliment.
So the client comes in with their material in order, the Instructional Designer comes in as prepared as possible, so when you put those two together if you give your Instructional Designer that information and your Instructional Designer knows it and then they meet with the SME, everybody’s time will be well spent. The designer and his SME will be able to build off of each other.
The other thing that I would say that affects cost and time is having the right people in the room. I think that’s something that tends to get overlooked a lot, but I might have a project manager in the room, “Here, all you need to do is just do what’s in this deck.” Well, the designer might have a lot of questions that the project manager just can’t answer, we need a subject matter expert for.
And let’s not forget the learner, right? They’re the end point of this whole thing. Having a learner in the room, a learner representative, having some kind of information about the learner is going to make this go so much more efficiently and help your final product be effective when you’re able to sort of see what does the learner actually need?
A lot of times, you know, a lot of times, what a project manager or a subject matter expert thinks that a learner needs is not really what the learner needs. You’re going to get that best when the Instructional Designer’s able to talk to the learner directly.
Elearning for Software Development, Sneaky Stakeholders, etc.
Sanjay Nasta: We’re getting to that question that any good interviewer always asks. What do we forget about? What does a customer forget about when they’re saying, “Got this elearning project. We need to do it.” What are some things that they just don’t remember?
Brandon Winston: I don’t know that they forget about it, but a lot of times they expect training for software before the software has been developed.
Sanjay Nasta: Oh yes.
Brandon Winston: And that is a tremendous challenge because, as Kevin was saying, having the right people in the room, well, that now involves your software development team. It can be done, but it is challenging. I think that is something that a lot of clients in the software space overlook is the idea of, “Wait, if we change something in the development process, it has follow-on effects into the training.”
The other thing that I think people forget about the most is when it comes to stakeholders and identifying those stakeholders. Who’s back there that could actually put the kibosh on all of this and shut it down? Is it an HR director that could decide, no, we don’t want to approach this way.
Kevin Gumienny: Hey, does the CEO want a final look before it goes live?
Brandon Winston: Right. And those types of things. Sanjay, you mentioned the most expensive training is the ineffective training. I would say I agree with you, and another expensive training is the one that never makes it into the learner’s hands.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah, absolutely. I think those are wonderful points. I mean, the sneaky stakeholder scenario has happened more times than we care to consider it and we’ll ask that question in our project kickoff meetings. It’s just something that people don’t necessarily think about. It’s just kind of a last minute thing.
But I think what I would add is, I think a lot of people, especially if you’re not used to doing elearning, you don’t necessarily think about where the training’s going to live. So with face-to-face training, with instructor-led training, it’s going to be in manuals and then the manuals are going to be in a classroom and the instructor’s going to deliver it. So all you need is a room. A conference room. Big office. Whatever. But elearning’s different because it needs to be delivered electronically. Yeah, you could give it out on CDs, I guess, or USB sticks, just throw it up on a webpage, I guess, but I think a lot of times you’re going to want to be able to track.
Even in an instructor-led class, you’ve got sign-in sheets, you’ve got certificates, you know who took the course, who showed up, who completed it. Especially if you’re designing training for some kind of compliance requirements, you’re going to want to know who took the class, how much time they spent at it, whether or not they completed it, whether or not they passed an exam. You can’t do that easily off of a webpage. You find yourself tending to look at solutions like learning management system. Doesn’t have to be a full learning management system, but consider when you’re delivering this training, what kind of metrics do you need to have? Is it private training that can only be limited to a certain number of people? Maybe you need to … you know, some kind of gating function.
So consider where it’s going to live, what the requirements are, what the reports are, and then figure out that software requirement of how you’re going to deliver it.
Sanjay Nasta: One of the ones that I’ve seen is sometimes one to the sneaky stakeholders’ regulation and compliance that affects training, and we don’t think of that often.
Kevin Gumienny: Yeah, that’s an excellent point. Sometimes we’ll design courses for continuing education units, so people take this course and then they get a CU, or a CE. Depending on what field you’re in they call them different things. And that’s real pull. I guess in a lot of ways it’s a really kind of great thing because now you’re giving people a reason to take this training not just because, “Hey, it’s fun, it’s great. Let’s do it.” You’re saying, “You’re going to get something out of it.” But what does it take to get that CE credit? And you might not be able to.
Oftentimes when we design training, we’re not able to take the training through the full process, because that’s a lot of organizational stuff and tracking and that kind of stuff, but as a custom elearning company, we don’t deal with, that’s more what our clients will deal with, but there is stuff that we can do. So a lot of times what we’ve seen quite often is for continuing education units, the accrediting office will insist that objectives have to be written in a certain way. You can’t use action verbs like “understand” or “no”. They have to be measurable. Well that’s something that we can do. Sometimes it’ll be, “Hey, you know what? You need to have a specified seat time.” Well, that’s really kind of good to know. I mean, that’s also something that we can set up.
The third thing that I would mention is a lot of times I’ve seen them need a certification exam that meets certain standards, at least 10 questions, right? Or sometimes it’s you want 30 questions so you can pool and populate a test bank of 10 questions. We’re not going to be able to get your course accredited. Most custom elearning companies probably aren’t going to be able to do that organizational bit, but if we know that’s there … Sanjay, as you pointed out, this can be a sneaky stakeholder, but if we’re aware of it when we start, we can build it in from the beginning so that when we’re done, you got everything in your course that’s course-based so that you can meet your accreditation standards.
Sorry, Brandon. Did you have anything? I just kind of jumped right on that.
Brandon Winston: No. I think that’s a great explanation.
Sanjay Nasta: Well, I appreciate both of you spending the time this afternoon. Anything to add?
Kevin Gumienny: Just thank you, Sanjay, for inviting us to talk about this stuff. I will talk about this all day. That’s the downside of podcasts is there is no end time except, of course, when they turn off the mic on me.
Sanjay Nasta: About to happen.
Brandon Winston: Thanks, Sanjay.
Sanjay Nasta: You’re welcome.
Other Helpful Resources
Below are additional articles that may be useful to you as you consider converting your classroom training to elearning:
- Creativity within Constraints: When Cost, Resource Scarcity, or Deadlines Make Effective Elearning Seem Out of Reach
- Questions to Ask Before Developing Training In-House
- Elearning Development Resources: Develop the Elearning Your Program Deserves [Links to books, articles, and tips for creating elearning]
- The Training Manager’s Guide to Accessible Elearning [In-depth guide on creating learning that works for everyone, including learners with disabilities]
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