When a team member needs some training and development, consider an online course as an option.
Although we’re still in the early days of online training, it’s still advanced far enough to be valuable. It’s also fast, accessible and affordable, which makes it ideal for your team members.
For some of your team members, particularly the digital natives who have grown up with online access, learning online is natural, and they wouldn’t want it any other way. Even if they had the option to learn the same material in a training workshop, they might prefer the online version.
Why choose this option?
Online courses are generally more efficient than traditional training courses, because:
- Your team members don’t need to “down tools” for entire days or weeks. They do the online training modules in smaller chunks, fitting it in around their other work, and some will even do it on their own time.
- Even if the course runs to a particular schedule, they can do it at their own pace (for example, skim-reading material they already know if they want to go faster, or watching a video three times if they need to go slower).
- It takes up less of your time supervising and coaching them.
But be careful, because it’s easy to take online training for granted! Because you don’t have to engage a trainer, book a training room, and set aside time for the participants, it’s tempting not to take online training as seriously as a workshop. But treat it with the same respect as any other development activity for your team.
Evaluate the course
First make sure the online course will deliver what you need.
You can do the research yourself, or ask your team member to do the research and bring it to you for review. Then ask these questions about the course:
- What will they learn?
- Is an online course the best way to learn it?
- Why did they choose this course, and from this provider?
- How much time do they need to set aside – including the online lectures and reading, assignments, study and tests?
- When will they do the work?
- How and when will they check in with you to report on progress?
- How will they apply this in their work?
- How can they share their learning with the rest of the team?
These questions will help them get the most value from the course, and will help you leverage that value in the team. However, don’t push too hard to force them to justify their choice. They shouldn’t feel that they have to do a full cost-benefit analysis! Ask these questions to help them, but give them the benefit of the doubt.
Online courses – and MOOCs in particular (Massive Open Online Courses) – have their share of critics. Most of the critics point to the high drop-out rate, which can be as high as 95%. That sounds terrible (and is, compared to an in-person training course), but happens because it takes almost no effort to sign up. Many students enrol without making a real commitment to seeing it through to the end. Some are just curious about the technology, others underestimate the effort involved, and others choose a course without checking the content. So don’t judge a course by its drop-out rate.
Enrol in online courses yourself
In my conference presentations, I often ask how many people have done any online courses. Typically, only about 10% of people raise their hands. If you’re like the majority and haven’t yet attended any online courses yourself, it’s time to do so! Until you do, you won’t really understand their strengths and weaknesses. Don’t start with a large MOOC provider such as Coursera.org, because that takes a large time commitment. Start instead with a smaller – but still reputable – provider, such as Open2Study.com, which is backed by leading Australian and New Zealand academic institutions. The courses are shorter and less intensive, but still give you a taste for online learning.