One common request from clients and stakeholders is to convert an existing classroom training program to an online or blended format. Just taking your existing PowerPoint slides and putting them online won’t be very effective. The conversion process is more about transforming the content and activities to provide a better experience and improve skills. In this post, I explain the analysis process for converting training to online or blended formats. The next post in this series will provide additional details on designing these converted online or blended programs.
Is it a training problem?
Ideally, you should determine whether you can actually solve the client’s problem or not with training during the sales process, before you even agree to create a course. When you’re converting existing face-to-face courses to online, the assumption is that training is the solution, but that’s not always true.
Ask, “Do employees know how to do the task?” If the answer is yes, training won’t fix the problem; it’s a question of motivation, resources, or the environment. Use training to address skill gaps, not for other problems.
The Performance Analysis Quadrant is one way to determine what kind of problem it is. Once you know the type of problem, you can align your solution to that problem.
First, review all the materials from the existing classroom training: slides, instructor guides, participant guides, videos, evaluations, discussion questions, quizzes, etc.
Second, ask questions. You can ask these questions of the trainers, SMEs, and other stakeholders.
Determine the problem, metrics, and audience, and goals
- What is the business problem we are trying to solve with this training?
- How will we know if this course is successful? What performance metrics should improve as a result of this course?
- Who is the audience for this course? Is it the same as the classroom training? Do different parts of the audience need different training?
- What do learners need to DO as a result of this course? (Note that this isn’t about what they need to KNOW, but about what they need to do. Focus on actions and skills, not knowledge. This should relate to the business problem.)
Analyze the good and bad in the current training
- What’s currently working in the classroom training? Which are the best parts we should maintain in the online version?
- What currently is not working in the classroom training? What needs to change?
- What do classroom trainers add to the training that isn’t reflected in the written materials? (I find this is a common issue–no matter how complete the PowerPoint deck or other materials, the trainers have additional stories, examples, or other information they add that isn’t recorded anywhere.)
- What are the common errors learners make regarding this material? What are the consequences if they make mistakes?
Determine the format of the course (self-paced elearning, blended, virtual training, etc.). This will often come from the stakeholder request and needs to take the budget and audience into consideration. The drive to move to online is often based on the need to scale up; the trainers just can’t reach everyone needed in person.
Determine how long the course will be. This partly depends on the format. Realistically, you may have to adjust this for the budget and other logistical concerns.
Converting training to self-paced elearning cuts the time in half.
Example 1: If the classroom version was 2 hours, assume the online version will be about 1 hour.
Example 2: If the classroom version was 5 days long, assume 6 hours of instruction per day of training (subtracting breaks, intros, etc.). That’s 30 hours of content, which converts to 15 hours of self-paced elearning.
If you’re really looking at converting a full week of classroom training, you might not really want 15 hours of elearning. Some sort of blended approach may be more effective. You can still scale up and help trainers reach more people by doing shorter live sessions combined with self-paced content.
Note that this is not scaling up by putting 100 people in a webinar and muting the chat. The number of participants for virtual training should be about the same as what you had in the classroom to maintain the interaction.
Example: If we convert a 5 day classroom training course to blended, I start with the same 30 hours of content as earlier. I determine that about ⅔ of the content is primarily information and foundational concepts that would be easy to create and practice in elearning. That gives me about 10 hours of self-paced elearning (20 hours divided in half).
The rest will be 10 hours of virtual training in Zoom. That will be divided into 2-hour sessions, one every week for 5 weeks.
What originally took learners a full 40-hour work week, plus travel time, now will take them 20 hours with no travel. The time for the trainers to be actively involved goes from a 40 hour week (plus maybe travel) to 10 hours of delivering virtual training plus maybe 5 hours of prep. Trainers could train multiple groups in a week at different times. If the trainers deliver sessions 8 times a week (2 per day, 4 days a week), that increases number of people they can teach without increasing the class size.
Virtual training (vILT)
Virtual training is live, synchronous training with an instructor using an online tool like WebEx, Adobe Connect, or Zoom. It’s sometimes called vILT (virtual instructor-led training). The time for virtual training is usually equivalent to the classroom training, but you eliminate travel costs. People can usually keep working for the rest of the week when they’re not in training, so virtual training doesn’t disrupt work as much.
Virtual training should be broken up into smaller chunks. Two hours is a good maximum for a single session, although you can go as long as three hours with a break in the middle.
Spread out the sessions across multiple weeks if possible to take advantage of the spacing effect, where retention is improved by spreading out learning rather than cramming it into a short period of time.
Jane Bozarth’s From Classroom to Online: Think Transform, not Transfer provides both a process for converting content and an example of how it’s done. My process overlaps with hers; some of the analysis questions above (e.g., what’s working and what’s not) are based on what I learned from Jane’s process.
My post on Time Estimates for eLearning Development explains how to use industry benchmarks to estimate how long it will take to create elearning. Converting training may take a little less time, but I find that it’s usually not much shorter than creating a course from scratch because so much needs to be adjusted.