Fast Data Makes Educational Programs More Agile

For years, organizations have been focused on the concept of “Big Data,” which is having access to a large volume of customer, operational, and financial data derived from a variety of sources. By cross-analyzing these different data sets, we can extract insights that help us make more meaningful and measurable decisions.

In other words, “Big Data” provides a more accurate picture of what’s happening across the organization.

Recently, the focus has shifted from “Big Data” to “fast data.” We still need accurate business intelligence to make better operational, strategic, and tactical decisions. But we also need to make those decisions more quickly across the organization than ever before, and that includes our educational programs.

The Rising Trend of Fast Data in Associations

In a May 2019 article by ASAE, Fast Data—or the ability to apply data insights immediately to make real-time decisions—was identified as, “one of 46 drivers of change that are likely to have a significant impact on associations in the future.” The rate of change in our world has increased exponentially—from industry and technological innovation to consumer behaviors and preferences. Organizations must be nimble and responsive to keep up with these changes. Fast data is one way to achieve agility.

Applied to educational programs, fast data might look something like this: a training professional monitors member conversations and questions to identify opportunities for professional development and creates new courses or programs accordingly. Instead of planning everything a year or more in advance, these organizations are now leaving room to deliver the education their members need at the exact time they need it.

Fast Data is a Must-Have for Education Professionals Today

In mid-2019 when ASAE published their article, the concept of fast data and its application for associations was just starting to gain traction. One year later, fast data has become an absolute necessity. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change our priorities and in short order.

The Coronavirus has affected how every industry operates, which means at least some of our existing educational content may no longer be as relevant. We’ve had to pivot quickly to develop and implement new curricula that reflect ever-changing research, policies, procedures, and standards. Given how important it is that our learners understand, retain, and apply this knowledge quickly, we need to use real-time data, such as program and learner performance, to address any gaps immediately.

Fast data not only tells us what content to develop but how to deliver it. We have all gone virtual for the time being, but “virtual learning” is a fairly broad concept that can be executed in several different ways—from on-demand viewing of instructor-led videos to self-guided lessons and exercises. Exactly how do your participants learn best, and how do they want to engage with the content? Fast data can help you choose the tools and technologies that work best for both the subject matter and your learners.

Getting Started Down the Path to Fast Data

Creating a more agile decision-making process using real-time data should ideally be a strategy that is enabled and embraced across the organization. But for some, this will require significant organizational transformation to achieve. Regardless of where your organization is with your data access and intelligence initiatives, you can begin to adopt a fast data mindset within your own team or department.

Start by making a list of what data points you already have access to and those you could easily gain access to through collaboration from other teams, such as marketing. Some examples may include:

  • LMS or video platform user data, including participation rates and quiz or test question answer stats
  • Google analytics/website user data
  • Email performance
  • Member forums and chat topics
  • Social media conversations
  • Webinar data
  • Virtual conference chats and discussions

Determine which data sets will help you quickly assess whether your current priorities are performing as planned, and if not, which immediate levers you can pull to affect change.

Whether or not organizations are pursuing fast data as a strategic initiative, we still have an opportunity to make real-time decisions that positively impact our current programs. In most cases, we already have the necessary data. We just have to apply it in smaller, more manageable pieces to better serve our members, learners, and stakeholders.

Why Your Virtual Educational Event Shouldn’t Be 100% Digital

Over the past two months, we’ve experienced a race to go virtual across all aspects of our personal and professional lives. From birthday celebrations and happy hour meet-ups with friends. To meetings, conferences, and instructor-led training events nearly everything we do outside of our immediate household is happening online. But going online doesn’t mean that all of your educational content should be delivered digitally. In this (now) virtual world, there are still significant benefits to offering a blend of printed and digital materials to enhance learning.

Using a Mix of Media to Increase Learning Comprehension

Since the rise of the internet, e-readers, and mobile technology, researchers have been studying the differences in reading and learning comprehension when content is provided in digital format versus print. In 2017, the American Educational Research Association published findings from their research on the impact of reading print material versus digital and what effect each has on learning retention. Here is a summary of some of their key takeaways:

Reading on a digital device:

  1. Students prefer to read digitally
  2. They read faster online than in print
  3. There is little-to-no-difference in how well the student understood the main idea of the selected text when reading online versus reading in print

Reading printed material:

  1. Students tended to read more slowly in print
  2. Comprehension of more specific details and concepts was significantly better in print than digital

Reasons for the difference in deep learning on a digital device versus print

When you think about how we generally consume content online or on a mobile device, we’re conditioned to “scroll and scan” as a means of sifting through a tremendous amount of content—in our social and news feeds for instance—as quickly as possible. Interestingly, the act of scrolling itself was found to be more disruptive to comprehension than turning a page.

Additionally, researchers since the 1970’s have noticed that memory appears to be visual-spatial. The tactile sense of progress through a book aids the reader with understanding the progress of the story or text.

These findings, however, do not mean that a virtual course or conference is inherently less effective. What it does mean is that there is a place—and even a significant need— for both to co-exist as part of an integrated learning strategy, instead of the either/or approach that many organizations tend to take today with their educational programs.

Using a Mix of Media to Increase Retention and Application

Incorporating a blend of print and digital materials into your virtual educational programming does more than increase initial comprehension. Allowing participants to learn multiple ways also increases learning retention and application.

According to the Principles of Adult Learning & Instructional Design, we tend to retain only 10% of what we see, but 90% of what we see, hear and do. Judy Willis, a noted neurologist and researcher on learning and the brain observes, “The more regions of the brain that store data about a subject, the more interconnection there is. This cross-referencing of data means we have learned, rather than just memorized.”

Using a Multi-Media Learning Strategy in Your Virtual Educational Event

In-person events provide a tremendous amount of value that can’t always be easily replicated in an online environment. So instead of trying to mimic in-person learning, use your virtual educational event as an opportunity to re-think how a multi-faceted approach could work together to provide a better learning experience for participants. Some considerations include:

  • What is the role of each element of your course or event? For instance, the learning materials could serve as a general introduction to a concept, while the speaker or instructor video takes a deeper dive to help reinforce the content. Meanwhile, supplemental materials, exercises, and virtual discussion groups could help participants apply knowledge in practical scenarios.
  • If your in-person event uses printed learning materials such as manuals, books, proceedings, etc., why not send materials to virtual participants ahead of time? This will not only help maintain the value of the event, but it will also help to build pre-event anticipation to help boost participation.
  • If you are sending printed materials directly to individual participants, consider adding elements to the page that provide a gateway to a multi-media learning experience. One example would be incorporating QR codes that direct the reader to supplemental learning tools such as videos, interactive applications, or even a podcast.

While we don’t know what the future holds, it’s highly likely that virtual educational events such as training courses and conferences won’t fully replace in-person learning. Until these programs can resume, think about how you can use your virtual platform to deliver a more multi-dimensional approach to learning. Chances are, once we go back to in-person events, this same approach—engineered in reverse—will become a new standard for delivering education.

Deliver Online Instructor-Led Training During Social Distancing

In an effort to decrease the spread of COVID-19, many states are encouraging, if not mandating, residents to stay at home, while most others have eliminated any sort of in-person gathering. As a result, organizations have been forced to re-think the delivery of their in-person, instructor-led training courses. Maintaining this training is critical – not only does it create a much-needed revenue stream for many organizations, but it is also how mission-critical education information is delivered to members, employees, and learners.

Going virtual doesn’t have to be a daunting proposition. Omnipress has a quick and simple solution that allows your instructors to record and deliver course content as on-demand videos, while also supplying both print and digital course materials and supplemental resources.

Here’s a quick video by Omnipress Director of Marketing Tracy Grzybowski that explains our online video training platform.

1. Turn an in-person course into a series of pre-recorded videos

Work with your instructors to break up their partial day, full-day or multi-day course into shorter sections, and record these lessons using either our presentation capture and recording software or any other tool of their choosing.

2. Upload videos and accompanying PDF course materials

Your instructors will then upload these videos and any supplemental course materials, such as handouts, worksheets, quizzes and course evaluations to our secure Share File site.

3. Publish this on-demand course to your website, using our online video training platform

Once we have received all instructor videos and course materials, we will publish the on-demand course to your website using a simple line of code that we supply. Participants can then follow along with course content at their convenience.

online video training platform

4. Provide printed materials for enhanced learning

Create a blended approach to learning by supplementing the instructor’s on-demand videos with printed training materials like coursebooks, training manuals, workbooks, and more. We can easily print and distribute these materials—and any other items such as practice exams, handouts, etc.—directly to each participant at their home.

By turning in-person courses into on-demand video lessons, you can make sure the learning continues in this time of extreme uncertainty, while retaining at least some amount of revenue from your courses, and sets you up for greater flexibility in the future.

Printed Training Materials: Design Tips For Learning Retention

In recent years, the definition of a “successful” training program has shifted. Instead of being a numbers game (how many people completed a course), more emphasis is being placed on how well learning is retained and applied. In response, the continuing education classroom has evolved from a place where learners passively consume information to a more interactive, collaborative, and hands-on learning environment.

This has changed the role of the instructor, for sure. But what about your printed training materials? Does the design of your course books, workbooks, and training manuals support an interactive approach to learning?

Printed training materials have the power to serve as more than just text on paper. We’ve compiled these industry-sourced ideas to transform your course materials and support a multi-dimensional approach to learning.

  1. Consider User Experience for Print

Design plays an extremely important role in the usability of your training materials and coursebooks. White space, fonts, visuals, colors, and flow all play a role in how thoroughly and quickly learners not only consume but truly understand the information being presented.

  • Present Content in Shorter Sections. In today’s digital world, most learners have difficulty focusing on longer pieces of text. Consider reducing the length of your chapters and sections, and providing more frequent breaks in the material so readers have a logical place to pause and digest.
  • Turn Text into Graphics. Use supporting visuals and graphics wherever possible to accompany or replace text-only content. Iconography allows you to present complex visual cues quickly while minimizing the amount of text needed. If you are outlining list-based information, try substituting pages of text with a simple-to-follow infographic to help increase retention.
  • User-Friendly Production Specifications. How the book or material will be used dictates how it should be produced. If learners will need to write answers or take notes on the page, paper stocks and binding types matter. Use an uncoated stock for notes pages, as they are easier to write on. Additionally, ensure your piece lays flat. Coil binding works better than saddle-stitch for this purpose.
  1. Incorporate Multiple Layers of Learning

Mastery of a topic is rarely achieved by one read-through of a single piece of content. Most of us retain information by having that same content presented multiple ways. Here are some ideas of how to do that within your training manual:

  • Start each section or chapter with a quick overview of the topics to be discussed
  • Use call-out boxes that provide additional context, such as a “Putting It Into Practice” example
  • End each chapter with a chapter summary, highlighting the key takeaways
  • Incorporate quizzes and reflection exercises throughout each section to foster immediate retention and application
  • Create space for “brain breaks” or even doodling throughout your book to help learners refocus and refresh
  1. Provide a Direct Connection to Supplemental Learning Materials

Extend the learning beyond your book. Incorporate multi-media tools to provide real-world examples and applications.

  • Direct learners to supplemental online materials including videos, podcasts, and virtual renderings that can be accessed on a mobile device. Use easy-to-read vanity URLs or even QR codes—yes, they’re back!
  • If you’re looking to make a more seamless transition from print to digital while still providing the tactile experience of print, consider adding a companion digital flipbook. These multi-media tools have become more relevant in recent years because it’s now easier than ever to incorporate dynamic content such as embedded audio, video, and hyperlinks within printed text.

As you evaluate the strategy and design of your training programs to facilitate better performance from your learners, it’s important to also examine your printed training materials. Be sure to incorporate a design that not only reflects the quality of your training content but supports your learning retention and application goals as well.

Education, Training Pros: Weigh in on the Future of CE

For the sixth year, Omnipress launched our annual Training Trends survey and we need your input!

Each year, we collect data from continuing education and training professionals to understand trends surrounding educational content, including how learners want it delivered, how organizations provide it, and what changes lie ahead as new technologies are introduced and preferences change.

In March, we compile this data into insights that are published in our annual Training Trends Report.

The goal of this report is to use benchmarks and trend data to provide ideas as you set priorities and plan for 2020 and beyond.

Here is some of what we learned from the 2019 Training Trends Report:

  • Education professionals, who were already offering at least 11 different courses or programs, expected that number to increase in the coming year
  • These same professionals were also delivering content for each of these programs in a variety of formats
  • While educational programs have the potential to deliver significant value to the organization, there is was a self-reported gap between this opportunity and program effectiveness
  • Although widely discussed, many of the “hot button” learning trends like AI, VR, and mobile were only being put into practice on a limited scale
  • Organizations had not made significant advancements in preparing for Generation Z

What does 2020 look like for training professionals and what new challenges and opportunities will arise? We need your help to determine that.

The survey takes just 9 minutes to complete. All responses remain confidential for the report. As a thank you for your time, you can choose to be entered into a drawing to receive a $100 Visa Gift Card!

Please take a moment to complete the 2020 Training Trends survey. Feel free to pass it along to your colleagues too. We look forward to sharing the results with you in March/April.

Agile Training: A Crucial Piece of the Giant Training Puzzle

We live in a world where the ability to be nimble, flexible, and responsive is becoming increasingly more important. Demands on our time and resources continue to rise, while at the same time delivery and performance expectations have also increased. In response, many organizations (Omnipress included) have started to adapt and embrace a culture of agility—from how we develop and launch our software products, to how we approach our strategic planning and even our marketing programs. Until recently, it never occurred to me that the agile process also translates to training and development.

After doing some digging into what Agile Training and Development means, and understanding how it’s being put into practice by associations and corporations, a huge lightbulb went off and all the pieces of the giant “Training Puzzle” fell into place:

Most of the hot-button topics that we tend to focus on, such as micro-learning, mobile learning, just-in-time training, and peer-based learning are all the cause and the effect of Agile Training and Development. This means that we’re all currently working on agile learning, whether we realize it or not.

What is Agile Training and Development

The idea of agile learning design is not a new concept. Organizations have been discussing and experimenting with this principle for at least a decade.  Essentially, agile learning design takes the agile framework of IT product and software development—meant to increase speed-to-market and market responsiveness through an iterative process— and applies them to the practice of instructional design.

In contrast, many organizations have historically used an ADDIE approach (or Analysis-Design-Development-Implementation-Evaluation), where development follows a linear series of phases (best known as “waterfall” in the software development world).

Agile learning addresses both how educational content is created, tested, and distributed and how organizations structure themselves to create a culture of continuous learning.

Using the Agile Framework for Course Development

For course development, the traditional ADDIE approach dictates that all segments or modules of a course are scoped, developed, and tested together. While potentially more thoroughly vetted before release, this approach can take significantly more time to complete, and late-breaking changes more costly to implement.

Conversely, the agile approach prioritizes speed over perfection, breaking these segments into smaller pieces, which are developed in faster sprints. Each sprint is highly iterative, collaborative, and responsive to testing and feedback. As a result, training can be released and assessed faster, and, according to some experts, ultimately results in more successful programs.

The Need for an Agile Learning Culture

So, why the need to develop and release new programs and content more quickly? Because the world is changing faster than ever and we need to be able to keep up.

We have real-time access to more data than ever before and can use this insight to both develop and respond to new technologies, systems, expectations, standards, and processes. This fuels the need for more training and more training content. In fact, our 2019 Training Trends Report notes that 51% of survey respondents offer more than 10 different educational programs, and 60% expect this number to increase in the coming year.

Not only do we need agile processes to create training content, but organizations also need to foster an agile learning culture so that employees can adapt and change more quickly and effectively. In the IT or product development world, the agile framework promotes speed-to-market. In learning, agile promotes speed-to-proficiency.

For organizations, this means making learning part of a continuous, sometimes even organic process. It means on-demand access to educational content, at the times and places it’s most needed. And it means promoting peer learning and collaboration as part of the training process.

Sound familiar? This is the exact reason that topics such as micro-learning, mobile learning, just-in-time learning, and making learning experiences more hands-on and collaborative are so prominent in the training industry right now. These practices help facilitate agile learning in the workplace by making training and development more effective, efficient, and practical. At the end of the day, it’s all interconnected. We’re all in the business of agile learning, whether we realize it or not.

The Need for More Agile Trainers

What we’re hearing from many organizations is that one of their greatest roadblocks is the trainers, who may be used to delivering education in more of a traditional lecture style. Within the agile learning framework, these subject matter experts need to be nimble and flexible, too. Like what we’re seeing in the K-12 classroom, they need to serve more as a facilitator or moderator than a lecturer to foster discussion and collaboration. And they need to feel comfortable pivoting within the classroom if necessary, based on how learners are responding in real-time. As an industry, how do we collectively train our trainers to be more agile instructors?

While topics such as mobile and micro-learning have always sounded like a good idea, I’ve run into plenty of instances where organizations feel pressure to adopt these practices because they are becoming so prominent, without necessarily stopping to examine why. What is the driving factor behind these trends? The answer…agile. There is a growing need for all of us—designers, learners, organizations, and instructors—to be more nimble, flexible, and responsive so that we can keep up with the rapid pace of change, and, ultimately, do the great work that helps us fulfill our mission.

QR Codes: A Surprising Way to Deliver Just-in-Time Training

 

If you wrote off QR codes as an over-hyped and ultimately useless fad, you’re certainly not alone. But you may want to set those perceptions aside and take another look at how QR codes could help your association deliver just-in-time learning content without having to completely overhaul your educational materials.

QR Codes: A Useful Tool Introduced Ahead of Its Time

Invented in 1994 by a Toyota subsidiary to improve the manufacturing process, a QR code is essentially an enhanced version of a barcode, capable of holding nearly 350 times the amount of information. It wasn’t until 2010 that the first QR code scanner and reader applications were released for smartphone platforms in the U.S. Soon after, marketers, retailers, and other industries began using them on a wider scale to bridge the gap between print and digital content.

The QR code was made possible by technology—the invention of the smartphone and mobile web browsing capabilities. At the same time, its lack of success is also due to technological limitations. Essentially, the QR code was ahead of its time.  Back in the early 2010s, in order to use a QR code, the user had to first download a special app. They used this app to take a picture of the QR code, wait for the app to process it and redirect to a website—at a time when mobile internet connections were not nearly as fast as they are today. And on top of that, users were often directed to websites that were not optimized for a mobile viewing experience.

Why Now is the Time of the QR Code

Fast forward ten years and QR codes are making a resurgence—particularly among Millennials and Generation Z. Here’s why:

Social media platforms aren’t the only ones jumping on the QR Code bandwagon. Global industries such as food manufacturing and pharmaceuticals have implemented QR codes on labels and packaging to comply with new regulations.  For instance, as part of the Smartlabel QR Code initiative by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, prominent food companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Colgate include codes on their packaging to direct consumers to a website with more product information.

How QR Codes Can Provide Access to Time-Critical Information

One of the most valuable benefits associations provide to their members is knowledge and education. Most training and education—whether delivered as a pre-scheduled, in-person instructor-led class or as an on-demand web course—is typically consumed outside the window of time when the materials will actually be put into practice. While the learners walk away with a great foundational understanding of the material, they may not remember all the crucial details they need in a real-world situation.

For example, if you’ve ever taken a CPR or basic first aid class, you may have learned how to do proper chest compressions or how to use a defibrillator. Now fast forward six months or even longer, to the first time you need to apply this knowledge. Not only are you battling The Forgetting Curve, but you are also having to do so under extremely stressful circumstances, which further affects your ability to recall specific details.

Now imagine if there was a QR Code affixed on or near the available first aid equipment that immediately served a short demonstration video or the music loop for the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive” to help you stay in rhythm with your chest compressions. QR codes can be a much more practical way of delivering the exact information you need, without having to pull up and search through a website.

Other examples where QR codes could provide just-in-time learning reinforcement:

  • For employees of libraries, restaurants, schools, and even corporations who may need to access to public health and safety resources, such as how to handle a specific mental health situation, overdose, or allergic reaction
  • For medical professionals who may want access to point-of-care resources to improve health care delivery
  • For technicians who need assistance with diagnosis and repair of less-common mechanical issues while on-site

If like many of us, you wrote off QR codes several years ago as an impractical tool that has lost popularity, you may want to think again. Thanks to improvements in the technology that supports the adoption and use of QR codes, these square snippets of data are gaining traction once again and are being more widely adopted not just by marketers, but by industries and end-users—particularly young professionals. Because of their ease to create and implement, organizations should consider how to adopt QR codes as a simple and cost-effective way to take existing materials and re-package them as micro-learning resources, delivered just-in-time, when they are most needed by the learner.

To Overcome “The Forgetting Curve,” Re-Use Educational Content

 

For those of you who recently held a conference or training course, your members are about to forget everything you just taught them (if they haven’t already). It stings just a bit to hear that, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, science tells us it’s true. The good news, though, is that associations can (and should) combat The Forgetting Curve phenomenon, at least to some extent, simply by re-packaging and re-purposing this educational content. A little cross-departmental collaboration goes a long way, too.

The Forgetting Curve: Effects of time on learning retention

Educational content is by far the top value your organization provides to your members. But its value is only realized when it can actually be applied in real-life situations. Unfortunately, from the moment a course or conference ends, we find ourselves battling The Forgetting Curve—a term coined by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus to describe the effects of time on learning retention.

Within the first few days after a conference or training course, the forgetting curve is very steep. What Ebbinghaus found through his research is that providing “spaced repetition” of learning material can soften this curve, helping us to retain more information for a longer period of time.

In other words, your educational content needs to have a life after the course or conference.

In both of our annual reports—the 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report and the 2019 Training Trends Report—we asked respondents whether they re-use their educational content from the conference or training course for any purpose, and if so, how. The infographic below illustrates their responses.

forgetting curve association training pros meeting planners reuse educational content infographicMeeting Planners:

• 55% re-use conference content
• 26% use it to reinforce learning after the conference

Training Professionals:

• 77% re-use training materials
• 55% use them to reinforce key learning concepts after the course

While a majority of those surveyed are repurposing their educational content, fewer are using it to help promote learning retention—particularly in the case of conferences. This is not only a disservice to your participants, but it also diminishes the value of your program.

How can associations better leverage their educational content to help make learning stick?

1. Refresher courses and mini-events

Look at your most popular conference sessions and create short “refresher courses” on these topics. Add them to your training course roster or deliver them as a series of smaller, regional conferences. Not only does this increase your portfolio of programming as a member benefit, it can also create additional revenue opportunities for your organization.

2. Peer-to-peer learning sessions

ASAE recently published this article on the importance of peer-to-peer learning opportunities at conferences, recognizing the amount of collective expertise attendees bring to the table. What if you could take this one step further, and provide those peer-to-peer learning sessions after the conference or training course? Participants can have the opportunity to share their experiences and learnings as they apply the knowledge learned in the class or conference. Again, these could be developed as a series of smaller, regional in-person meetings, or as virtual events. Today, there are certainly plenty of tools and technology that can be used to foster face-to-face discussions such as WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Houseparty.

3. Develop post-event homework assignments

Looking to help learners apply knowledge in a practical way while also adding to your member resource library? We grew up doing homework in school for this very purpose, so why not add it as a component to your course or conference! Create a series of homework assignments for learners to complete at specific time-based intervals. If there’s an opportunity to have these count for additional CE credits, even better.

4. Create a post-event communications plan

Short, focused and frequent reminders of key points from an educational session or class is one extremely easy way to keep the material top-of-mind. Take a specific topic, session or chapter and break it up into a series of emails, each focusing on a single point or takeaway. This is not only a simple yet effective way to reinforce learning, it helps to keep your organization top-of-mind, which helps to boost retention, too.

Most of us recognize that learning is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process. But many organizations still deliver educational content as a one-time event—whether at a conference or in a course. Creating opportunities to provide this same content several times throughout the year will certainly increase the retention and application of the material. But there’s an additional benefit for the organization as well. By increasing your touchpoints with members, you can also increase member engagement and the value of your programs. It may require a little extra work, but it’s definitely a win-win.

Big Ideas for Training, Continuing Education Pros from ATD Conference

 

“Every human is looking for the exact same thing—to live out the truest expression of themselves as a human being.” – Oprah Winfrey, ATD 2019, Keynote Address

In her opening keynote speech at the Association for Talent Development’s annual conference and expo, ATD 2019, in Washington D.C., Oprah Winfrey spoke to a packed house of training and continuing education professionals about the idea of living out the truest expression of ourselves, applying it to the crowd of thousands of training and development professionals seated before her. She explained that by applying our talents toward the greater good, a paradigm switch from the conventional business mindset, we can achieve even more benefits from our own talents—an idea that resonated with the education professionals in the audience.

As training professionals and association leaders, you are responsible for fostering the advancement of your industry through education. In essence, you are helping others develop and apply their talents toward the greater good.

As organizations that set the standards for an industry, associations are also catalysts of change. It’s your role to both lead change based on new industry developments and respond to it, as societal norms and expectations change.  Seth Godin, best-selling author, entrepreneur, teacher and ATD 2019 keynote speaker put it eloquently (and bluntly) when he stated at the top of his address, “The essence of your work is that you make change happen – or why bother.”

Adapting Technology for Educational Programming in a Changing World

We know what we do and why, but how do we stay at the top of our game and keep up with the ever-changing needs of learners who are now accustomed to remote work settings, the gig economy, and of course, technological advances in their field? Walking the floors of ATD it was apparent how fast-changing and competitive the education technology landscape really is. So, all we need is new learning technology and all our nuanced challenges as trainers and educators will get better, right? “Crapola!” pronounced an energetic Elliott Masie, education technology expert credited with coining the term “e-learning” and ATD 2019 speaker.

In his speech, Masie focused on first discovering how learners are changing and then deciding how and what technology to apply in order to make their experiences better.

So, how are learners changing? Thanks to the advent of the internet and mobile technology, learners can now search for answers by themselves, without a formal manual or instructor. They are engaging in self-directed, curiosity-based knowledge consumption. And what they find must be highly relevant, bite-sized content for microlearning—education industry jargon Masie sardonically called “learning words”. He suggests that we not pigeonhole ourselves into industry terminology, but rather focus on providing value to learners and their changing needs with the technology we choose to implement or create.

Other adult learners may want to gain the knowledge they need on the job, at the exact time they need it—just-in-time learning. In other words, people don’t want to memorize information and wait a long time before they can actually use it. Masie suggests there is “too much training at the wrong time.” And he’s not just talking about this in reference to millennials, which is often the microcosm for discussion among training pros on such topics.

“I’m not a fan of the millennial conversation. I don’t believe millennials are different. Anyone living in 2019 is different.”

Education professionals have historically relied on developing learning programs and strategies based on demographics. But this isn’t a relevant way to think about education anymore. We have all become equally reliant upon technology and tend to use it fairly similarly. Instead, think about how to use technology more thoughtfully to support the learner experience at any age.

Do Better, Not More

As training professionals walking the floors at an international conference and expo like ATD, it’s easy to not only be inspired by the advances in education tech, but it’s also quite easy to be intimidated—especially for association leaders who many times feel they are already behind the ball of their corporate counterparts. Stay calm, it’s ok to feel overwhelmed or to feel that you or your organization could be doing better when it comes to implementing technology into your programming. Instead, focus on doing better at meeting the needs of your learners with thoughtful curriculum. Start incorporating technology by breaking up and reorganizing your existing training content into bite-sized chunks that your learners can access easily on their mobile phones. Test and experiment with content delivery methods for effectiveness first before jumping into a costly overhaul of your education technology.

After speaking with attendees at ATD, we know that technology updates are top of mind. And according to our annual training trends report, they have been for quite some time.  Across industries, whether association or corporate, be assured that not everyone is there yet. Not everyone needs to be there yet. Be thoughtful in your approach to how you implement technology and your courses and your learners will be better off for it.

The Google Effect on Your Training Program Courses

Once upon a time, associations were the singular source of industry information and knowledge. Today, associations find they are up against an extremely intelligent and almost omnipresent competitor: Google. The behemoth search engine’s complex algorithm delivers answers to questions almost instantaneously and, often, for free. These search results are getting smarter, too—more predictive and conversational, with the focus shifting from targeting keywords to answering questions. What’s more, is that younger learners have been conditioned from a very early age to rely on Google as a primary source of information.  In order to remain relevant and drive program growth, associations need to think about how to make their protected content accessible to search engines without decreasing its inherent value to members.

Young Professionals are the Key to Training Program Growth

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Millennials in the U.S. has eclipsed Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, Bloomberg estimates that Generation Z will surpass Millennials in size. This means the pipeline for prospective learners is substantial, if organizations can connect with them and deliver the value they’re looking for.

Unfortunately, according to our 2019 Training Trends Report, associations are not yet seeing a corresponding rise in the number of Millennial and Generation Z members or learners. According to the report, Baby Boomers, on average, make up about 50-70% of training course attendees.  On the flipside of the equation, Millennials only make up about 20-30% of learners, and Generation Z is about 10% or less. The reason? A significant percentage (49%) of organizations have not yet developed a strategy to address the needs and preferences of younger professionals.

The good news is that early observations note that Generation Z is a more pragmatic generation who are actively seeking out professional development opportunities. This, coupled with their size, make them a prime target for training programs…if these young learners are aware of them, that is.

The Case for Making Training Program Content Searchable Via Google

As organizations think about how to develop educational programs that are relevant to younger learners, the emphasis is often placed on content accessibility and delivery. Much of the discussion in today’s professional development circles centers around themes such as micro-learning, mobile learning, and gamification, for instance. There is significantly less discussion around the discoverability of this content—what questions are young professionals asking, and where and how are they finding the answers?

In 2012, Pew surveyed middle and high school teachers to understand how their students conduct research for a class assignment. Ninety-four percent of participants said their students were very likely to use Google as one of their primary tools, far outweighing any other information source, including Wikipedia, social media, peers or even textbooks. Today, these students from the 2012 survey are Generation Z young professionals. They are conditioned to look to Google for the very information and knowledge that most associations provide.

Many associations “lock down” educational content to protect both the value of that content and the integrity of their training programs on behalf of the industries they serve, and understandably so. Content exclusivity is what drives member value. The negative consequence of this, however, is that it is often done in a way that prevents search engines like Google from crawling that content as well, making it more difficult to attract new learners.  In order to grow training program attendance, associations will need to strike a balance between making educational content searchable by search engines, without giving it entirely away for free.

Use Content Marketing to Strike the Right Balance Between Value and Accessibility

As our 2019 Training Trends Report illustrates, 77% of respondents do re-use the content from their training programs. However, it’s primarily being used to reinforce key learning concepts to those that attended the course. Only 33% of respondents indicated they are using content to market and promote training courses. To get your programs in front of more prospective learners, it’s important to think about how to re-package and re-purpose smaller snippets of your course content as part of a larger content marketing strategy. This will not only help you get in front of search engines, but it will also give prospective members a useful sample of the types of questions your organization can answer and the development opportunities you provide before you convince them to register for a course.

Here is just one example of how to do this.

Finding Relevant Topics

Start by evaluating your most popular training courses and the specific topics covered. Use Google’s “Searches Related to” tool found at the bottom of search results pages to see what types of topics and questions users are searching for that may be related to your educational content. There are also several free and paid tools on the market that find the most popular questions asked across the web on specific topics, like SEMrush and BuzzSumo.

Publishing Content

Turn snippets of your most popular course material or relevant Google search queries into blog articles published on your website. Better yet, ask your instructors or subject matter experts to contribute, if possible.

Promoting Content

Promote your blog article via email, through social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and through any industry partners.

Associations don’t need to open their training material to non-members if it doesn’t align with their organizational strategy. But there are ways that organizations can, and should, openly publish samples of their educational subject matter for prospective members to discover.  Like it or not, Google is key to organizational growth.

Mobile Training Programs: Optimizing Educational Content for Mobile Learning

Is your association considering—or currently offering—mobile training programs? Follow these simple steps to optimize your existing educational content for mobile learning.

Why Consider Mobile Training and Learning Programs?

One of the top trends in training and education is the development of mobile training and learning programs to make learning more accessible. Mobile content is not only convenient for the learner, but it can also increase retention and productivity by delivering critical knowledge at the exact moment it’s needed. Also known as “just-in-time training,” organizations are recognizing the benefits of pairing in-depth learning with opportunities for real-time reinforcement and practical application. For this to truly be effective, however, content needs to be optimized so that it can be searched and delivered quickly on a mobile device. The practical applications for just-in-time learning are considerable. For example, think of the technician who is on-site to install or repair a specialized piece of new equipment. Although they were formally trained on the process months ago, the ability to access reinforcement material will help increase accuracy and productivity.  Simply by scanning a QR code on the equipment, or clicking a link to a searchable resource library, that technician can pull up the exact documentation they need to complete the task quickly and accurately.  Within the office environment, just-in-time training resources empower employees to make decisions and handle difficult situations with greater confidence. In a perfect world, this just-in-time content would be developed specifically for mobile training. Short instructional videos or easy-to-follow visual documents tend to be the most user-friendly in these situations. But developing all new content may not be practical for many organizations due to limited financial and personnel resources.  However, it is possible to use the content you already have for a mobile learning program if you take a few simple steps to ensure it can be delivered to the user quickly.

  1. Provide a centralized “home” for your mobile content

Members and employees need to be able to find relevant content easily. Provide cloud-based access to a centralized library where this content is stored, whether that’s within an existing LMS or an online resource library.  Whatever tool or system you choose, make sure the search functionality is powerful and dynamic enough to provide robust search results for the user.

  1. Modify document layout, if possible

While it may not be possible to completely re-create shorter, more visual content, look for opportunities to modify the layout of existing, multi-column documents to a single-column format where possible to reduce or eliminate the need for left-to-right scrolling. While vertical scrolling is common on mobile devices, horizontal scrolling is extremely disruptive to the user, increasing the time it takes to read a document while reducing overall comprehension.

  1. Minimize the file size

Mobile devices, although convenient, are limited when it comes to processing power. The last thing a user needs in a time-critical situation is to attempt to access a PDF file that takes minutes to open or download. If you are developing new content for mobile training and learning, create it with the intention to minimize file size. Limit the number of fonts and use lower resolution photos and graphics. If you are working with an existing document, there are several file optimization tools available in Adobe Acrobat®. The exact steps will depend upon which version of Acrobat you’re running, but some general guidelines include:

  • Use the Reduce File Size command or PDF Optimizer
  • Enable Fast Web View in the File > Preferences dialog box
  • Unembed unnecessary fonts
  • Downsample or compress images
  1. In longer documents, create bookmarks or hyperlinked table of contents

If your educational content takes the form of a longer textbook or training manual, it may be impractical to break it up into separate, shorter documents. But it is possible to make these documents easier to navigate by creating bookmarks in your PDF to create jump destinations that link to other documents or web pages.  If you are housing your educational content in an online resource library, each publication can be broken out into easy-to-navigate, hyperlinked sections and backed with contextual search capabilities so users don’t have to scroll through hundreds of pages to find the answers they need.

Mobile Training Can be Worth the Time it Takes to Optimize Educational Content for Your Learners

Providing quick, easy, and just-in-time access to learning and training materials is going to continue to be a key component of mobile training programs moving forward.  It not only increases retention and success for the learner, it also increases program value by providing practical application of education concepts when they are needed most. Eventually, educational content will need to be designed with this in mind. But if you don’t have the resources nor bandwidth to tackle this today, don’t let that stop you from testing some small pilot programs. It is possible to re-use existing content by taking a few, simple steps to optimize documents for mobile delivery.

Just Released: The 2019 Training Trends Report

 

Hot off the presses! Our 2019 Training Trends Report is available for download. As a new year kicks into high gear, changes in technology, learner demographics and preferences are creating new challenges and opportunities for training and continuing education professionals.

For the past three years, Omnipress has surveyed over 100 continuing education and training professionals from associations, corporations and other organizations to understand how education is being delivered to learners today, and which trends training professionals are keeping an eye on for the future. This year’s report highlights just how valuable training and education is for organizations, as most have plans to increase the breadth and depth of their programs in 2019. But for training professionals who already manage a significant content portfolio and a wide array of responsibilities, this additional growth may create strategic tradeoffs.

For instance, this year’s report indicates that 51% of respondents currently offer at least 11 different programs or courses, with 60% of respondents expecting to increase that number in 2019. Education professionals are also delivering this educational content in a variety of formats to address the diverse preferences of learners. As a result, respondents are spending more time than they would like on tasks such as managing content changes, and less time on strategic initiatives designed to advance and grow the organization.

What are some other key findings in 2019?
• On-site, instructor-led programs are still the predominant way organizations are delivering courses and workshops, although there has been a noted year-over-year increase in self-guided e-learning opportunities
• While educational programs have the potential to deliver significant value to the organization, there is a self-reported gap between this opportunity and program effectiveness
• Although widely discussed, many of the “hot-button” learning trends are only being put into practice on a limited scale, if at all
• Organizations have not yet fully addressed the needs of younger generations

The purpose of this report is not just to shed light on common trends, but to help spark a strategic conversation on how organizations can leverage their greatest asset—educational content—to strengthen their connection with new and existing learners.

Download the free report to read the full results.