Online training courses have become an essential part of the learning experience for many people with demand continually growing. But how do you create an online training course? There are a number of considerations, including the type of training course you’re going to deliver, the content you have and the format of delivery.
Online training has enabled instructors and trainees to maintain their continuity of learning during the pandemic. What’s more, its popularity is likely to continue if, as expected, higher levels of homeworking remain after the return to offices. Last year, the CIPD discovered that, from over 1,000 UK employers, over a third (37 per cent) of the workforce on average is expected to work from home on a regular basis beyond the current crisis. That’s double the 18 per cent of before.
As in-house learning and development departments and providers of training courses continue to develop their digital capabilities, we take a look here at how you can create an online training course.
Types of online training courses
Before we cover the necessary steps for creating an online training course, it’s important to understand the different types of online courses you can offer. In the classroom, training leads will make use of a range of teaching aids, such as textbooks, videos and demonstrations. Online provides similar opportunity to use a range of content formats. The difference is, of course, that the trainer and the course attendees aren’t together.
That means that learning doesn’t necessarily have to take place at the time the trainer provides the information. Once learning materials are available online, learners can manage their own time to progress through the content. Yet, neither does online mean the trainer and learners never interact in real time. Online courses can be asynchronous, synchronous or a mixture of both.
Asynchronous Online Courses
An asynchronous course doesn’t take place in real time. That is to say, the trainer isn’t on screen, teaching whilst the learners are also online at the same time for that training session. Instead, learners have access to the course material and work through it in their own time, within the timeframe of the course.
The content can still include the trainer talking through the subject, but that would be in the form of a pre-recorded training session. Of course, that means interaction doesn’t take place in the same way it would during a ‘live’ session; instead learners make use of other digital tools, such as discussion forums, to put questions to the trainer. They can interact with peer learners in the same way.
An asynchronous online course can include content in a range of formats such as video, presentations, documents, audio files and web links. Learners can complete quizzes and assignments to demonstrate their knowledge. A significant advantage is that trainees can fit their learning into their work and home life schedules, studying at times that suit them because they aren’t constrained to a training session schedule.
Synchronous Online Courses
Synchronous online courses do bring together trainers and learners in live sessions online. This type of course delivery is more akin to classroom-based training where training leads talk learners through the subject and interaction is live and in real time. The only difference being that the tutor and trainees are at home, or their own place of work or wherever they’re accessing the session from, and everyone is interacting digitally.
Discussions can take place via audio or chat, in which case questions or comments are typed into a message facility. This type of online course is high on interactivity but low on flexibility because it commits learners to training sessions at set times.
Hybrid or blended learning courses combine a mix of asynchronous and synchronous tuition. Learners will typically have a schedule for a smaller number of live online sessions than they would for a synchronous online course, and will be expected to work through course content in their own time outside of these sessions.
This type of course provides learners with the discipline of set times, when they will meet as a group, with the flexibility of working through their training when they’re able to in between the live virtual sessions.
Steps for creating an online training course
Once you’ve decided on the type of online training course you will provide – synchronous, asynchronous or a blend – you will need to set about creating the course. There are many different ways to do this, but you will want to make sure you cover the following ten steps:
- Set the topic subject
The title of your course needs to clearly tell learners what they will be studying and the knowledge they will gain from taking the course. If a topic is extremely broad, it makes sense to break it down into a number of courses. You could create a set of courses with a trainee having to complete all of them to successfully complete the training. If training is a regular requirement, such as a health and safety course that needs to be taken every year, it might make sense to call it out as an annual course in the title.
- Research the topic and other courses
You’ll probably already have a fair idea about what you need to cover in your course, and you’ll need subject matter experts on board to help provide content, but you should still research the topic. You’ll need to ensure the course covers everything it needs to for learners to get the most out of the time they spend. You’re sure to find additional angles that you hadn’t thought about before.
Taking a look at other courses that are out there covering the same topic will give you a good feel for how others have approached it. At this stage, learner input will be invaluable. Ask the people who you intend to take the course what they expect to see in it and what they need to learn. They will know better than anyone!
- Plan your online training programme
With all the research under your belt, it’s time to start planning out the online training programme. It’s a good idea to start by brainstorming everything you’ve decided and discovered from steps one and two. Jot down all your ideas about what the course needs to cover and how. A ‘mind map’ will help you to organise the information with your course title in the centre and sections of the course radiating outwards. This way, you’ll develop a firm idea of the small number of sections within the course and the, most likely larger, number of sub-sections within each.
- Decide on learning outcomes
This is a really important stage in planning your online training course. You must be clear on what you expect learners to gain from the course. What is it they will know, or be able to do, once they’ve completed the training? What does ‘success’ look like for course completers?
The foundation for the learning outcomes will probably have come from the research with target learners you conducted earlier. Once you know what the learning outcomes are – for the whole course and each section within it – you can refine your plan accordingly.
If content you thought you would include isn’t going to contribute to learners reaching their goals, it’s probably best to leave it out. If there’s a critical learning outcome that people who take your course should gain and the plan doesn’t include a way to get them there, you may need to rethink.
- Choose your learning platform
The learning platform is much more than a content repository. It provides an online learning environment for instructors and learners, offering structure, navigation and access to all resources.
The platform must have a clear, intuitive navigation and be accessible to all. Learners will access it from a range of devices, such as mobile phones as well as laptops and tablets. The user interface must provide a good learner experience across all these devices.
There is scope to provide a great deal of variety in your course, with motivating tools and techniques, if the learning platform you choose supports a range of formats and mechanisms to engage and encourage learners. Personalisation tailors courses to suit individuals and there are a range of ways a learning platform makes this possible.
There are a number of things to consider when selecting a learning platform so, rather than try and cover them all here, take a look at this ‘12 questions to ask‘ guide and take a look at what a learning platform can provide.
A learning management system (LMS) is software to manage the delivery of educational or training content. Find out more.
- Create course content
Now you’re ready to create your course content. Remember, it’s best to use a range of formats so plan for video and/or audio content as well as written.
Video and interactive content can really bring a subject to life. If the course you’re designing teaches learners a practical skill, video or live demonstrations are likely to be essential to show, as well as explain, how something is done.
Think about the visuals you want in your videos. You will probably want to include some instructor pieces to camera to describe the topic, some graphics or text with a voiceover explaining the information, and some demonstrations. Video role plays might work well for courses on conducting interviews or building leadership skills. Through the online learning platform, trainees can record their own progress and upload for the tutor and their peers to feedback on.
Don’t be afraid to link out to reputable sources online for further background for students. Gather all the material you already have and spend time thinking about how it translates to an online course. Work with your subject matter experts and the instructor/s who will be delivering the course. If your course includes synchronous instruction, set the timetable.
- Include ways to interact
This will be very important for motivation, engagement and to provide opportunities for students to learn from each other. Just because some, or all, of your content is online, that needn’t prevent a learning community from forming. Through discussion forums, social chat and opportunities to review and feedback on each other’s progress, learners can pick up valuable tips, form connections and get support.
Consider gamification techniques within your course approach. Gamification draws on features that people are increasingly familiar with from gaming, such as rewards and a clear roadmap to the end goal. These features help enhance the learning programme and keep students engaged.
A learning platform provides the means to engage and interact with varied communication paths that aren’t limited to tutor to student and student to tutor.
- Gather student feedback and adapt course content
You will want to test out your course on some learners and will probably find that you’ll need to make some tweaks, perhaps to content, structure or navigation, as a result. This kind of early feedback will be invaluable in ensuring your course meets its objectives, delivers on its promises and gives students and instructors the most rewarding learning experience possible.
- Promote your course
Whether you’ve created your course for in-house training or are marketing it externally, you’ll still need to promote the course and encourage take-up. No-one will know the training is available if you don’t tell them about it and make it clear how to find the course information and enrol. Word of mouth, particularly from the learners who provided input and tested the course, will be valuable as you build awareness.
- Refine and evolve
Once your online training course is out there you will want to maintain it. Refining and continually evolving the content will keep it fresh and up to date.
Online training provides a convenient and effective way for organisations to build and maintain skills within their workforce. Employees can find digital learning a flexible way to build training into their busy schedules. Whether the training you’re providing is fully or partly online, and if it’s live with a tutor or self-directed by students, online learning provides many benefits to instructors and learners.
By breaking down the activities that go into creating an online course into simple, achievable steps, you can efficiently deliver a compelling and successful training course. Always keep the needs of learners, instructors and administrators front of mind and you will ensure the course is clear, effective and able to produce great learner outcomes.