Convert Training: Design Online or Blended Learning

When you convert training from classroom to online or blended learning, use a backward design process to focus on the objectives and important skills.

In my previous post on converting training to online, I provided questions to ask and tips for analysis. In this post, I’ll dig deeper in how to design an online or blended learning program based on an existing classroom training program. I mostly use a backward design approach, starting with the end in mind. That means I start with the objectives, then plan assessments, practice activities, and content.

Convert Training: Design Online or Blended Learning

Objectives

Review the existing learning objectives, if any. Revise them to focus on actions if needed. Any objectives with verbs like “understand,” “know,” or “learn” should be removed or revised to focus on skills and performance. All objectives should relate to what you determined learners need to DO during the analysis phase. The objectives should align to the performance metrics you determined during the analysis.

Assessment

Plan how you will assess each objective. You don’t need to write the full assessment at this stage, but you need at least a high-level plan on how you’ll determine performance.

Design the assessment first and tie it to the objectives. For larger programs, I often create a matrix mapping each objective to the corresponding assessments and practice exercises.

The assessment should be as close to the real work environment as possible. I often use scenarios for assessment because they provide opportunities to assess realistic decision-making skills.

Note that the existing classroom training may not have any assessment, or it may not have any useful assessment. Review anything available from the previous version of the training, but don’t use it unless it aligns to the objectives.

Sometimes, especially in shorter elearning, I don’t have a separate assessment. I just focus on opportunities for practice with feedback.

Practice Activities

Identify practice activities to prepare people for the assessments. Again, the practice activities should be realistic. Use the practice activities to help learners work through the common errors identified during your analysis. The feedback for the practice should help people improve their performance.

Practice activities often break down part of a skill. I often do shorter practice activities, like one-question scenarios, as quick practice interspersed throughout a module. Then, at the end, I use a longer branching scenario as a culminating practice.

If you’re not sure if you need an activity for a particular objective or not, ask yourself if people can reasonably be expected to change their behavior without practice. Sometimes just knowing is enough, but usually people need to practice.

Content and Information

After you’ve planned assessments and practice activities, identify what information is needed to prepare people for those activities. Focus on what’s important. Only include what people need to complete the practice activities and assessments.

Don’t include all the content just because it was included in the original classroom training. Anything that doesn’t directly support the performance measures doesn’t belong in the course.

What if the SME insists on including it?

If a SME really, really insists that certain information be included even though it doesn’t support an objective, create a section of additional resources and reading. Supplemental information is OK for those who want it, but don’t force learners to wade through a bunch of information that doesn’t actually improve their job performance.

In an ideal world, I probably wouldn’t include that kind of supplemental information. But, the reality of working on teams is that sometimes compromise is necessary.

What if some information is only relevant to part of the audience?

If some information is only relevant to certain learners, plan for the rest of your audience to be able to skip that. Either give people the ability to jump past that content (and tell them what it is so they can decide if they need it) or create separate courses for different audiences.

If one part of your audience needs a small amount of additional information, it may be best to just include it as a supplemental resource. Maybe it should be a job aid, performance support, or separate microlearning instead of part of the main course.

Planning Blended Learning

If the converted training will use a blend of self-paced elearning plus other modalities, decide which tasks are best suited to each method. Start with the assessment planning. Can you assess this skill online?

If you can assess an objective online, you can teach it online.

Jennifer Hofmann, InSync Training

Sometimes the SMEs or stakeholders will argue that everything has to be done with an instructor, and none of it could possibly be done online. Be creative in thinking of ways to assess skills. If you can assess performance online (either through elearning or virtual instructor-led training), then you can teach it online too.

Self-paced elearning

Anything that is primarily information delivery and recall assessment should be self-paced e-learning.

You can use self-paced scenario-based practice as preparation for or reinforcement after live training.

In an instructor would do something exactly the same regardless of whether any learners are present or not, then you don’t need a live instructor. Make it self-paced and save the instructor time for interaction.

Instructor-led training (virtual or on ground)

Role plays and other interaction practice are best live with a trainer or facilitator. That could be on ground (if that’s part of the blend), but also works well in virtual instructor-led training (vILT) using tools like Zoom, Adobe Connect, or WebEx.

As much as possible, focus the live parts of a blended program on the skills that require practice and immediate, personalized feedback. That gives you the greatest impact from your trainers and uses their time for what’s hardest to replicate.

Additional Reading

My process overlaps somewhat with Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping. Her book Map It provides a detailed, step-by-step process that can be used for developing any training program, whether it’s converted from existing training or not.

Backward design comes out of education rather than workplace training, but I find that this approach works well for training adults. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe explain backward design in detail, including prioritizing which skills are most important and requires “enduring understanding” versus what information people can just be familiar with.

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