After 20 years in mainstream corporate education, eLearning has long earned the credit it deserves as a legitimate and necessary approach to training and developing employees. However, its effectiveness is still up for debate. The migration to virtual workspaces during the 2020 pandemic forced many organizations to rapidly embrace electronic methods for conducting business. From the use of web-conferencing services, apps and screenshare, organizations scrambled to keep business moving quickly and as smoothly as possible while mastering a new modality. Spring of 2020 saw many organizations upgrading their infrastructures to take on the heightened burden to their systems: increasing VPN bandwidth, revamping firewalls, updating software, revising work-from-home polices and suppling remote working tools. For organizations like Google, Microsoft and Airbnb, the temporary shift has become permanent.

Training and development professionals have seen an increase in demand for virtual training but a decrease in time to design it. Suddenly, everyone needs scalable solutions for improving and building employee skills outside of the walls of a classroom or office. While most organizations may have had eLearning platforms in place prior to the pandemic, they may not have resources committed to evaluating and ensuring that these platforms provide meaningful learning experiences for their employees.

On-the-job training frequently upstaged the online learning environment until it was no longer an option. The acceptance and widespread implementation of eLearning is exciting, but it can spell trouble if accessibility to training usurps the impact of training. Learning professionals have a duty to keep their eyes on the effectiveness of their learning programs. There are four simple do’s and don’ts for creating and implementing meaningful eLearning.

1. Do Ensure Content Is Relevant and Timely

Learning for the sake of checking a box or meeting an obligatory training requirement is meaningless, and most learners will treat it as such. Compliance training is a great example of obligatory training required by government regulations or policies. Most employees would agree that the content is important and necessary for their jobs, but they may also find it frustrating and time-consuming.

Recently the training industry has been infiltrated with content providers using modern approaches to instructional design to offer more engaging and meaningful compliance courses. Microlearning has also been embraced as an option for offering content in small, on-demand chunks for employees to access at their convenience. Open access to content gives learners the opportunity to prioritize content that is most meaningful to them. Don’t erect too many unnecessary barriers for learning, and be mindful of approvals and prerequisites. They can be discouraging.

2. Do Build in Interactivity

Learners want an opportunity to discuss their opinions and provide feedback, and these tactics are important drivers for learner retention. Learning and development (L&D) professionals know that learners retain only a fraction of what they learn from books, manuals and presentations. It has long been accepted that providing learners with opportunities to put new information to the test reinforces knowledge acquisition and application of new information on the job.

Interactivity is often sacrificed when instructor-led training (ILT) is converted to the virtual environment. It can be difficult to duplicate group exercises and encourage participation in a webinar. Audience size, audience composition and time to learn often change based on method of delivery. As a result, converted training doesn’t always translate well. Conversion isn’t just a matter of presenting the same materials and information via a web-conferencing system. Successful conversion does not compromise the learning experience. Learning leaders should collaborate with subject matter experts (SMEs) to ensure that they are respecting the design process. Consider that the way we approach and execute training now has implications for how it will be regarded by our audience long term.

Interactive components enforce training’s staying power. Online courses are attractive because of their ability to get information to a large audience in an asynchronous manner. Interactive courses provide learners a self-directed way of learning and engaging in meaningful activities that promote behavior change. Interactivity does not have to include virtual reality or complex simulations. Quizzing and live polling offer opportunities for learners to immediately put new information to use. Even a strategically placed, well-written fill-in-the-blank can help lock in learning.

Perhaps the simplest way to create interactive eLearning experiences is to host subsequent follow-up conversations. The flipped classroom has gained some traction as a method for incorporating live user discussions with prepackaged content. When that is not an option, manager follow-up can be paired with eLearning to culminate in an interactive eLearning experience. Don’t let operational managers become passive partners. Most employees will readily complete training courses if their manager recommended it or discussed it with them.

3. Do Make Your eLearning Engaging

This is the number one objective that differentiates eLearning from videos and presentations. Teaching new information is more than just presenting it. Consider how engaged you’ve felt listening to a lecturer. Now think about a workshop that required you to spend a few hours with peers doing activities and working with peers. Which had the most impact? Which felt more fulfilling?

The human components of presentations – moderated tone, eye-contact and audience members’ attitude toward a facilitator or presenter – are factors that automatically set the tone for learning in a classroom. In-person speakers and presenters can monitor and adjust based on real-time audience feedback and behaviors. Whereas, online learning is mostly static. In the case of webinars, participants have the ability to hide behind their screens. Do not allow this to happen. Successfully engaging learners encourages them to participate in a substantive manner.

Learner engagement measures not only the way learners engage with the facilitator but also the way they participate with other learners. Chatrooms offered in most web-conference tools offer convenient methods to create breakout rooms, discussion rooms and follow-up forums. Encouraging learners to take advantage of these features is good; requiring that they participate in discussions or work together to create and post summaries is better.

4. Do Encourage Personalization

In workplaces new to the virtual environment, operational managers are eager to find ways to increase their own and their teams’ visibility. Many use eLearning courses to ensure that their team members are online and productive. Online courses are an easy method for mandating engagement, because they are readily available, log attendance and completion, and are often on topics general enough for widespread implication. Don’t let this practice go unchecked. Training professionals have a responsibility to push back on this use of eLearning. Once learning develops a reputation as busy work, its credibility as a meaningful method of developing skills is severely compromised.

Identifying and creating relevant learning requires a thoughtful, strategic approach to course creation and assignment. Trainers and operational managers should partner to discuss how learning can be positioned to address current problems facing the organization. Managers can partner coaching conversations with the assignment of eLearning to set learning goals. Follow-up after courses can include team conversations or one-on-ones that debrief concepts covered in the course. Explaining the relevance of a course and debriefing afterwards shows learners that training has value.

Aligning courses with organizational competencies, development goals or performance objectives is another way to help learners see the relevance of eLearning. Learning professionals can work to create course maps that easily allow managers to prescribe courses based on individual needs, level of tenure and job position. Demonstrating course value in a personalized way makes learners feel respected.

eLearning’s rise in popularity was catapulted by the limitations of the pandemic. Learning professionals have a responsibility to protect the integrity of this modality by ensuring that it is meaningfully implemented. Meaningful eLearning starts with identifying methods to make courses interactive. Interactivity is an outlet for learner action and differentiates training from presentations. eLearning should also engage learners with opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other. Finally, eLearning should be relevant. Prioritizing these characteristics reinforce the importance of training as an organizational advantage.