Although online education is still relatively new, its profound impact can’t be ignored. Nearly 25% of all students enrolled in an accredited university are enrolled in at least one online course and millions of others are enrolled in certificated programs and workplace training programs.
While online learning has made it easier to roll out programs with lower costs and wider distribution, it’s important to know how best to design programs that both meet the needs of participants and the organization administering them.
The intentional development of a new educational plan is referred to as instructional design. By understanding how people learn and process new information, instructional design can help you create learning plans that yield the most effective results.
Program design typically begins with understanding four key points that help you understand your learners’ needs. Throughout the design process, continually revisit these points.
1) What are the demographics of the learning group and what are they trying to learn?
2) What constitutes success in your program?
3) How should the information be presented to achieve success?
4) What tools and practices will you use to measure effectiveness?
Defining the Group
Although an organization may have a diverse group of employees, varying in both age and experience, many of them likely still share common experiences that will allow them to be categorized.
The newness of an employee to your organization, or enrollment in a retirement plan, may be enough of a commonality to group employees together for the rollout of an educational program.
When designing a new educational program, individual stresses and ideologies don’t have to be addressed in detail, but instead can be grouped together for efficiency. While a program may affect every employee differently, its effects on a subset of the larger group can be measured.
Try to understand in advance how different parts of an educational program may affect each group of your employees. Survey your employees and build personas to understand how your employees needs can be categorized and addressed.
The advantages of adult learning
Adults learn differently than younger students. Typically, adults enter new learning programs with a wealth of experiences and background knowledge that they expect to be able to use to build on top of.
Additionally, adults like to know how and why new information will be relevant to them and how it can be used to solve direct problems, rather than learning just for learning’s sake.
As you design new programs, keep these points in mind so that your programs address the specific needs of your employees, rather than just contribute to background knowledge.
Starting with the End
The next key point to remember when building a learning program is to start with the goal in mind and work backwards to create a program that achieves that goal.
Knowing what constitutes success will keep your program focused and relevant and can also help provide a framework on which to build your educational directives.
Presenting Content the Best Way
Online learning provides flexibility in presentation that often can’t be achieved with traditional textbooks or in-person training. Enriched media like video and interactive content are perfect for both beginner and advanced topics, as they can easily adapt to the needs of each participant.
In some cases, content may be redundant, as it’s used across different learning paths to aid different learning styles and temperaments. Create clear benchmarks of success in each learning path so students can know how they’re progressing.
Although online programs feature little human supervision, they should still be humanized to create an engaging and memorable experience.
Examples of Effective Programs
Some ideas about how to include effective online education in the design of employee programs include the following examples:
New Employee Onboarding — Highlight your organization’s culture and let new employees see what it’s like to work at your company. Successful onboarding programs use both digital and printed materials to lead the experience.
Managers should use these materials to build trust, give enough background information on how to succeed at the company, and how additional training will be introduced. Give opportunities to new employees to seek feedback from HR or management during the onboarding process.
You can use online tools to reinforce onboarding training and to document results.
Participating in a Retirement Plan—While many employers already offer retirement programs to their employees, many employees still feel confused by their offerings and how to make the most out of a retirement program. Changing requirements at some government jobs also adds to the confusion employees feel.
Teaching employees about their retirement readiness should be part of any successful benefits program, including both information that addresses employees’ current goals and stressors, as well as helping them plan for the future.
Online education can distribute learning resources, as well as tools like retirement calculators, investment applications, and real-world case studies of how to apply financial knowledge to everyday life.
Selecting New Benefits — At large companies, the benefit selection process is usually done at formalized info sessions that can overwhelm employees. The impacts of benefit selection can be felt for years to come, so getting it wrong comes with consequences.
Using online programs before employees show up to these sessions will help them research their options, come up with questions they’d like to ask, and generally feel more prepared with which benefits they’ll select.
Additionally, financial wellness benefits made available to employees will help them understand how their decisions will impact their personal finances.
Finally, online benefits selection and information sites should include ways to ask confidential questions to HR professionals to help employees make even more informed decisions.
Online Education is Here to Stay
Online education is utilized differently in all of the above examples. Some utilize it as a reinforcing component to simply act as a resource library and act as a supplement to in-person training. In others, videos and educational resources are put online to make distribution at large organizations much easier.
Depending on how complicated a training method is, or how individual employees prefer to learn, online learning can substitute or complement in-person guidance and instruction.
Creating effective online programs rarely happens overnight. As you apply the principles of educational and instructional design to your organization, you’ll learn about what works best for your employees.
Ultimately though, using effective educational design to understand the needs of your employees, what goals they’d like to accomplish, and presenting the information in such a way that sets them up for success, can all be achieved with effective instructional design principles.