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Optimizing Your Content for Today's Learning

Good content is always critical to good learning. Without it, training wouldn't matter - or even be needed. Yet in today's competitive and budget-conscious world, learning initiatives have an all-new goal: to disperse good content in the smartest and most cost-effective way, so that employees are both educated and engaged.

In recent years, all the rules have changed. Decades ago, content was almost always delivered via classroom-based, instructor-led training (ILT). And for good reason, since a good instructor could tailor material to an audience, change things up on the fly, and connect personally with learners through questions, exercises, roleplay scenarios and discussions. It's still a highly effective way to deliver content.

Yet ILT also has its drawbacks, including the high cost of travel, inconvenience for learners and an overall loss of productivity when students are out of the office. So it's no surprise to learn that while ILT is still an important part of the overall training mix, it's no longer many organizations' primary delivery method. Research shows many companies are getting even better results (at a very low cost) using newer content and delivery strategies.

Shifting Priorities: A New Day, New Learning Methods

According to ATD's latest State of the Industry Report (2014), for the last five years, high-performing learning cultures and the average performers have spent about the same per employee (around ,200). However, employees at the high-performing learning organizations are consuming 58% more hours of learning!

Optimizing Your Content and Delivery Budget for Today's Learning

What are these high-performing learning organizations doing differently - and so effectively? What are their new areas of focus?

Benchmark data from ATD and Bersin by Deloitte point to companies moving away from instructor-led training to various forms of virtual learning, but one study done by Bersin earlier this decade offers a much better picture of what's going on. According to Bersin's most recent research study on high-impact learning organizations1, high performers scaled back traditional training methods and invested their training dollars elsewhere.

For example, organizations using in-person workshops dropped from 86% to just 41%, during the three years between surveys. These training dollars are now being poured into more virtual, independent and social learning methods. The top three:

  • Self-directed online learning (62%, up from 34%)
  • Social/collaborative learning (62%, up from 14%)
  • Webinars (55%, up from 28%)

Not only is virtual learning more cost-effective for organizations, it's better for learners, too. It offers the anytime, anywhere convenience that today's employees want, plus flexibility to plug in from a variety of devices (even after hours). Some methods are also interactive and social, elevating engagement, which generally leads to better learning outcomes. No wonder the shift is so profound.

Five Content Strategies for the Budget-Conscious

If your organization is serious about revamping its learning mix - either to save money or simply get more bang for its buck - consider investing in any (or all) of these winning strategies.

Strategy 1: Save Money with Virtual Classrooms

Depending on the size of your organization and your travel budget, the cost savings you can realize from virtual classrooms, webinars and on-demand recordings can be enormous. Aside from the huge financial benefits, these methods also boost employee flexibility and convenience (resulting in more completions). With virtual classrooms and webinars, employees can participate from any online location (even a mobile device), while on-demand recordings enable them to take advantage of self-directed learning anytime, from anywhere. Recordings can also be edited and indexed for quick access and just-in-time support, or split into smaller sections for bite-size learning.

Strategy 2: Save Time with Pre-Packaged Content

Pre-packaged content or off-the-shelf e-learning is another strategy that has real value, but is often underutilized. The quality of these e-learning courses has improved greatly in recent years, and many vendors offer high-quality training content that covers a wide variety of business basics, and even some advanced skills, in the areas of compliance, customer service, leadership and sales. Training bundles also include practical job aids (e.g., worksheets, checklists) that make learning more experiential.

Pre-packaged programs are also highly versatile. You can use them as standalone programs, tag them as prerequisites for workshops or even enhance their impact by adding social communities and designating time for group discussions. By using this content for basic-level training, you can optimize your instructional designers where they are needed most - to focus on unique skills that are critical to your organization. Best yet, the low cost of pre-packaged content can dramatically reduce your learning-per-employee cost to mere fractions of what it would be with classroom-based training.

Strategy 3: Cut Costs with User-Contributed Content

Social learning can be another great way to increase learning effectiveness, without a hefty cost. When a group of employees take the time to learn some content - then discuss it in a social platform - it increases engagement and drives knowledge retention because they are interacting with the material more than they would otherwise. Since social platforms are also mobile-friendly, this strategy enables peer-to-peer discussions, just-in-time learning and even real-time discussions.

In some cases, learners will have some expertise in the topic and can bring relevant information into the discussion. And because people are leveraging the web for information in blogs, wikis, videos and articles, this strategy can greatly reduce the cost of developing content, while expanding the point of view and keeping courses fresh.

Strategy 4: Boost Productivity with User-Generated Content

Many organizations are also giving their internal subject-matter experts (SMEs) the ability to create and publish content. By giving them access to simple recording tools (e.g., phones, screen recorders such as those prevalent in web meeting tools), SMEs can now create their own tutorials and save time training other employees on repetitive administrative tasks. For example, a Finance expert could create a short recording on how to open a Purchase Order or complete an Expense Report. A salesperson could recap the best practices and skills used during a big win. Or an HR administrator could generate a video on how to complete performance reviews, set goals or request time off. These user-generated resources don't cost a lot, yet they can save time, divert questions and greatly enhance long-term productivity.

Strategy 5: Get Specific with Custom Training

Once your organization has saved loads of money by shifting from in-person to virtual training, you can focus your limited budgets where they can do the most good - on high-value learning projects. These initiatives can concentrate on building specific employee skills and strategic expertise needed to set your organization apart from the competition. Smart choices are programs that involve highly interactive and immersive exercises, multi-group workshops, team-building initiatives, e-learning simulations and more.

Video Learning: Video, live and recorded, has been an important facet of corporate learning since the early 1990s when video conferencing systems as well as learning content published on CD-ROMs become popular. Today, the ubiquity of Internet video sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, along with phones, tablets and PCs that can all record (and edit) video, make video a key component of all of these strategies, but especially user-contributed and user-generated content.

How to Get Going in the New World of Content

Is it time to rethink your learning content - and how you're delivering it? If your organization is like most, creating a more diverse mix of content and learning strategies could be your ticket to optimized budgets and maximized results. Here are a few tips to get your started:

  • Start with the business strategy, then determine how your learning initiatives can help.
  • Prepare for hard work. Revamping your content strategy and learning objectives, and relating them all to your business goals does require some careful thought and planning.
  • Know your metrics - and determine how you'll measure your results. Understand your per-employee learning budget and be prepared to explain how investments in new content strategies can improve them.
  • Check your team's mindset. The strategies, especially 2, 3 and 4, require the learning team to be more of a facilitator and curator of great content versus a creator. Be sure you're ready for this shift.
  • Practice patience. Remember, learning cultures don't change overnight. It takes time and effort to get people to adopt new interactive and collaborative technologies. Be prepared to readjust and reprogram as rapidly as you can.

1 Bersin by Deloitte, High-Impact Learning Cultures, 2012. Referenced by Todd Tauber, Vice President of Learning Research, Bersin by Deloitte, in "Social, Mobile, Intelligent: The Future of Learning Is Now" webinar, February 2014.

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