10 Tips for Online Training

As a project manager, there never seems to be enough time for training. Certainly if your experience is anything like mine, you move from one project to the next, often finishing one and starting another simultaneously. That means when you do make that commitment and schedule (pun intended!) time for training, you need to make sure it’s going to give you the knowledge and skills that you expect.

Fast-paced and more mobile lifestyles are changing the way that people learn; we want to be able to access training when and where we want it. The world of project management is no exception. Next-gen eLearning is taking a greater role in organisational learning due to its enhanced interactivity, speed, convenience and reduced cost in comparison to traditional training and educational channels, especially for remote workforces. Also, the prevalence of digital devices, such as tablets, has prompted a 40% increase in the popularity of online enterprise training (as reported in the 2012 Digital Learning for Business report by the ILX Group). But all online training is definitely not the same! So here are my top tips to help you get the most from online learning.

1. Choose wisely!

Do your research and ask lots of questions. Once you’ve established that the provider knows the subject, it’s important to look at the course itself. Start with the level of interactivity. Ensure that the course requires you to do something – click here, read that, take a quiz, watch a video. The more interaction, the more likely it is to hold your interest, to motivate you to continue and – importantly – to ensure you remember what you’re being taught. Look also for variation in the way the course is structured – if it’s the same style all the time, it’s like having someone speaking at you in a monotone. Make sure too that the course has consistent navigation – if it doesn’t, you’re going to get distracted trying to figure out how to move through the course and you won’t concentrate on what is being taught. Finally, get a second opinion. While it can look good on paper and the demonstration or sample module may look great, the whole course may not be like that.

2. Check system compatibility

A common trap with online learning is that your system is not compatible with the technology through which the online content is delivered. For example, if you intend to do the training on an iPad, you may not be able to open Flash files or the streaming file may be large and be extremely slow to download, which affects simulations or your ability to watch multi-media. One way to avoid this is to check the stated software requirements and the quality of instructions before you purchase the course. Ask if there is a module that you can trial to test your system compatibility. This way, you can avoid a number of technological frustrations.

3. Do the training when you learn best

Slot the training into your day when you are at your peak. For some, that may be between 10am and 2pm or perhaps before work, or perhaps you may learn better at the end of the day when the disruptions are gone.  Because it’s online, you can do it when it suits you, so make sure you schedule it for a time that suits you personally and when you’re going to get the most out of it.

4. Minimise distractions and interruptions

While it can, technically, be done anywhere, anytime, online training courses still require you to concentrate. Two common barriers to successful eLearning are distractions and interruptions.  You can easily lose your place in an online course, which disrupts knowledge retention. So plan to undertake online learning in a quiet area with minimal distractions. Tell those around you that you are about to do some online training. Ask for privacy and minimise interruptions. If you are going to do it while on the move, perhaps try noise-cancelling headphones. It takes discipline to ensure the benefits are realised – but it’s worth it.

5. Break it up!

Spending hours and hours in front of a screen very quickly becomes monotonous and strains the eyes of even the most committed learner. Plan how you will complete the training – break sessions into half-hour ‘chunks’.  Even taking a mini-break every half-hour will reduce strain on the eyes and refresh your energy levels for each new online session.

6. Don’t rush it

Make sure that what you are viewing on your screen is sinking in. If your mouse is continuously hovering over the ‘Next button, it can be easy to feel the need to press on without properly digesting the information. Take your time – revisit any modules or scenarios that you are unsure about. This is especially important with step-by-step tutorials.

7. Put it into practice

While someone else can show you how, when learning any new skill, you need to practice it. So when possible, don’t do the training unless you have the ability to apply what you’ve learnt away from the eLearning environment to be sure that you have grasped the content. While that may not always be possible – especially if you’re trying to learn new skills and knowledge – do all that you can to put into practice what you’ve learnt as soon as you can.

8. Match your career goals

When you sign up for a course with the intention of broadening your career options or job understanding, make sure to seek advice from your colleagues, your boss or those in positions that you are striving for. Individuals who have strong ideas about your industry’s future may well be able to define particular skills and recommend courses that will get you ahead.

9. Believe in its merits

E-learning means you will be interacting with the newest technologies at your own pace, with the best tools available. But it is vastly different from the face-to-face education you may well be accustomed to. So your attitude is important – to be successful, you will need to believe in its potential to provide quality education – education that is being continually improved thanks to advancements in our understanding and implementation of online learning. If you start out with the wrong attitude, you won’t get the most from it.

10. Understand its limitations

Online learning is not ‘a silver bullet’: you can’t learn everything you need to know from spending a couple of hours in front of a screen – but it can give you a great start. However, it is usually only one element of the overall learner experience and knowledge build. Often real-life, on-the-job, coaching and mentoring experience are additional core components of the learning path. Approach online learning with this in mind and supplement the online content with additional learning methods and tools.