Like many training managers, I used to struggle with finding a workable solution for updating our online training courses. Do we pick a handful and update them each year? Do we do something as simple as going in alphabetical or chronological order? While these ideas sounded plausible, in 2017, I decided I needed something sustainable that my leadership team could understand and embrace. I found that the best approach was to dig into the numbers and use data.

When I decided to use a data-driven approach, we had 52 online training courses (we have 64 today) in our catalog. Our training courses are mostly compliance-driven, so unless there is a change to federal or state regulations or university policy, the training stays consistent. The courses are available to all faculty, students and staff at the university, which is an audience of over 40,000 people, and roughly 1,500 external clients. On average, we see 30,000 people per year complete one of our training courses. Over the past five years, we have averaged a 12% growth in course completions. Our learners were using our training, so it was important to keep it relevant. Here’s how I approached this task.

1. Gather Data

The process started with gathering a lot of data:

    • A complete list of all our active online training courses and the year they were new or the year they were last updated. I gathered both calendar year and fiscal year completion numbers, because I report using both.
    • Data for courses that we had consolidated from multiple courses and for courses that were previously one course that we split into multiple courses.
    • Which group owned the course. We have a few courses that several of our groups have pieces of, but each course is owned by one group.
    • The total number of completions for the past five years (2012-2016).

2. Organize the Data

After gathering my data, I built a spreadsheet that broke out course completions by year, calculated the five-year average of completions for each course and calculated the trend from year to year. Today, I have eight years’ worth of data in the spreadsheet. I use the year-to-year trending information when meeting with our program managers to discover if there have been any changes on campus that could drive usage up or down for a particular course. These changes could be something like a particular group on campus that added or removed a course from its training regimen or an incident on campus that prompted a university-wide training initiative.

From the initial spreadsheet, I built a spreadsheet ranking our courses from most completions to fewest completions. This spreadsheet has been a great tool for me in multiple ways:

    • I discovered that seven of our 64 classes were responsible for nearly 63% of our total completions (18,960), while the other 57 courses were responsible for only 37% of total completions (11,138).
    • Our No. 1 course was responsible for almost 25% of all completions. The next closest course had 10% of the total completions.
    • Forty-one of our courses represented less than 1% of our total completions.
    • One program area owned three of the top seven courses.
    • We have seven program areas that produce training in our office. Only five had courses in the top 15, and six had courses in the top 25. One program area had no courses in the top 25.

3. Create a Schedule

I used all of this data to build out my online course update schedule. First, I built the parameters:

    • Eliminate 13 courses from the list: Five were courses purchased from an outside vendor, three courses were retired, and five others were new in 2020. I have no data on the new courses, so in 2021, I will add them to the rotation.
    • Group courses into three categories: good, better and best. The 36 “good” courses were the ones with the fewest completions. They are on a five-year or six-year cycle for review. Our eight “better” courses are on a four-year review cycle. Our seven “best” courses are on a three-year review cycle. We made a rule for all courses that if there is a change in regulations or policies, we will update the course no matter where we are in the review cycle.
    • After grouping the courses, I created our update schedule through the next 12 years. This extended period provides a minimum of two updates for each course.

4. Present the Schedule

Next, I presented my schedule to our leadership group in the form of a workable plan, based on real numbers, that was fair to everyone involved. This method does not play favorites but, rather, prioritizes the courses that carry the weight of our training completions. Our leadership team appreciated the thought I put into the plan and allowed me to implement it.

5. Implement the Plan

We developed design criteria for our online courses based on whether they were good courses, better courses or best courses. Our best courses receive the most attention, because they are carrying a bulk of the weight. This process was the biggest hurdle I faced when implementing the new update schedule, because subject matter experts (SMEs) can be passionate about their courses. I found, however, that if I spent a few minutes with them to explain the process, they understood.

The Benefits

The biggest benefit of this process, for me, is being able to plan. Having a yearly schedule in place, I can plan our year and develop a schedule that works for each of our program areas. If I have a program area that is particularly busy during certain times of the year, I plan their work for other times.

My team likes this approach, because we know how quickly we can turn over each course. We also know when our downtimes are and can plan to focus on other work during those times. This process has enabled us to have a steadier workflow rather than lots of highs and lows.

My advice to my fellow training managers: Data is your friend! I know many of us have leadership teams who thrive on data, so take advantage of the data you already have! Your leadership will appreciate the time and thought you put into the process, and your team will appreciate being able to see a long-term plan for their work.