Free online courses – actual content or blatant sales?

ecommerce-2140604_960_720I recently signed up for a live online webinar-based free course. It’s delivered over twelve sessions and boasted plenty of interaction. It states that you would walk away an expert after finishing. I’m not going to name and shame here, but I do want to walk you through the experience I had and some of the learning points with regards offering free content marketing.

I have completed the first session and the divide between content and sales was shocking!

Shameless plug webinar?

If a company or anyone is doing something for “free”, there is likely some motive behind it. That is obvious and I was expecting some parts of this course to do just that. I was interested to see how it would be done, some presenters and webinars are more sophisticated than others.

I’m perhaps the type of person who would look a gift horse in the mouth and wonder what the real motives are. Others might have a more optimistic view of these things than I do – after signing up they would see more positively the information in the emails that the course will be focused on learning, content with high interaction and that you will get great value from it.

Timings and breakdown

A webinar or live online session is often planned and created like writing a story. You need to split it into different areas of focus: welcome; introduction and expectations; learning content one then discussion; learning content two then discussion – as an example.

From being a producer on webinars and courses I am normally the one keeping a close eye on the time and ready to let the host or facilitator know to speed up or slow down. It’s now a curse that when I attend a session I am time focused and trying to reverse engineer the timings and layout the host has in their mind! This is what I did for this first session.

The sessions are one hour long, which I know from experience is tight for time when delivering great content and having quality interaction. Of course with my pessimistic view I knew there would need to be some time for a sales plug or direction towards some form of marketing outlet, it is a free course after all!

fishing-2665085_960_720.jpg

Bait and hook

Warning signs right from the start! There was a twenty second introduction from the presenter, then over nine and half minutes devoted to try and bait you into sticking around for the rest of the course: “On session X you get a chance at winning course books, on session Y you get a chance at winning a premium course.”

There was also a mention along the lines of: “Sessions eight, nine and ten are amazing and we really made sure these session names had all the buzz words and the main part of your reason for signing up for this course.”

The way I approach content design and delivery is to captivate people from the first few minutes with the content and experience that they want and have signed up for. If you are having to wave the carrot at such an early stage I would question how pedagogically sound this really is.

The free webinar sessions that we offer at Lightbulb Moment… shameless plug I know, but…  We always focus on the compelling content and quality interaction. As I said before, when something is free there’s always a reason for it and we’re honest, it’s our marketing. But we try to take the approach of marketing the very same quality you’ll get in the paid-for product.

Where has the interaction gone?

After putting up with being told what I could win just by sticking around it got to the part which was the reason I was there, the content!

The presenter said she had crammed a ton of content into each session so that we could get real value from it. Session one had four main areas to go over and each area was quite a large discussion point. There were 50 minutes left and, factoring in interaction, meant this was going to surely be tight?

The “interaction” as they called it was the fact you could post a question to the presenter and they could respond. You could not see anyone else in the session or the questions they asked as there was no attendee chat available, a shame as I feel open chat normally makes for a better experience. Jo has blogged about it here.

The Q&A system was very rarely used to answer a question about the content. Instead it was used as a way to get people to agree with yes statements, using the “Yes Set Close” sales technique.

“Do you want a chance to get a course for free?” the presenter would ask. She would then mention names from the people who used the Q&A pod, “I can see Bob, Jane, Steve, Alice oh wow your all saying yes!” This was building up hype and getting people in the habit of saying “yes”. It’s a technique I have seen used often on free webinars.

book-1738607_960_720

Finally some content

Each of the four main points of content could have had hour long sessions themselves, but the content section only had 30 minutes. That is seven and a bit minutes to go over large topic areas. As you can imagine, unless you had lived in a cave all your life, even the most complicated sections of content were dumbed down and it was reduced to just being made aware of their existence rather than learning anything substantial.

There was a real shameless example using a “real world” business model to help explain one of the content areas. The business they chose for this example from was their own business. It consisted of how great they are to their customers, how the customers love their “premium service” and so on.

Bits of the content briefly highlighted what you would get from the premium service, such as spending a minute explaining how a technique for doing a certain thing is great. They said that in this course it is not covered but, you guessed it, it is covered in the premium course. Some of that is fine and to be expected as you do want to promote the difference between a free option and something that people will get if they invest more.

More sales

With twenty minutes left and only half an hour of actual content, of which at least half was highlighting their premium service, it then moved on to the real sales part. They explained the premium service, signing up to the website and the like.

I felt there had been passive sales all the way through and this was now just a kick in the teeth!

Q&A… well… Q!

The last ten minutes was devoted to answering questions and the presenter said people could log off if they wanted. Not many people had questions about the actual content because it was so light – or because I could not see other people’s questions!

As I couldn’t see the questions there was an opportunity for the presenter to only answer the questions about the sales part and not content related. I did ask a genuine content question that was not answered. We were advised that, of course, anyone who still had questions as the hour was rounding out could email the sales team…

thought-2123970_960_720

Thoughts

I would have had less or no issues at all if the session and course had been titled correctly. It was really an “Introduction to X and what you can gain from COMPANY NAME sessions”. They marketed the course as learning events. Whilst I reiterate that I understand about using free as a marketing tool, this course is not what they promised. It’s a flashy sales brochure.

I stick with my thoughts from before: as a company if you are offering something for free there is a need to get something from it. If you are attending something for free you still want some value from it and are expecting the quid pro quo at some point.

When delivering free content, you need to deliver excellent value. Then people will believe in your approach and more likely to actually listen when you do sales and marketing that is genuine rather than based on questionable techniques.

What are your thoughts?

What sUX about L&D design? 

As part of the Modern Learning Leader Programme, Barbara Thompson delivered a webinar on UX.

UX is “User Design” and encompases so many things, partly the visual elements, but in this case more about how things work, or can work better!

History of UX from Wikipedia:

The field of user experience design is a conceptual design discipline and has its roots in human factors and ergonomics, a field that, since the late 1940s, has focused on the interaction between human users, machines, and the contextual environments to design systems that address the user’s experience.With the proliferation of workplace computers in the early 1990s, user experience started to become a concern for designers. It was Donald Norman, a user experience architect, who coined the term “user experience”, and brought it to a wider audience.

You can listen to a podcast from Good Practice about user design and how it can be applied to L&D.

Barbara shared that UX contains elements as follows:

The following image was shared with Barbara to highlight what UX actually covers:

I wasn’t 100% sure about what “heuristic” meant, which Barbara explained really well. The dictionary tells me: “enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves.”

I love the image that Barbara shared, below, to highlight how our stakeholders can get in the way of what the user really needs out of a product of any kind, be that a physical product, software, app, system or process.

Below is a methodology that Barbara uses in her work. She highlighted that it was a modified from ADDIE. I like steps one and two, which are taken from UX, as they focus specifically on performance objectives.

Logicearth have a blog post about UX tips. It’s more specifically for e-learning, but a useful review for all.

Saffron Interactive also have a great blog post about improving UX (and UI – user interaction).

This topic has some links to Design Thinking:

“Design thinking is also an approach that can be used to consider issues, with a means to help resolve these issues, more broadly than within professional design practice and has been applied in business as well as social issues.”

For the Modern Learning Leader programme I’m reading Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation by Idris Mootee. I’ll do some writing on that separately.

Josh Bersin’s article highlighted: “Research on global human capital trends shows that 84% of business leaders cite the ‘need for improved organisational learning’ as a top priority, and 44% say it’s urgent”.

The article goes on to say “Unfortunately, the problem is not one of designing better programs or simply replacing or upgrading learning platforms. Rather, there is something more fundamental going on — a need to totally rethink corporate L&D, to shift the focus to design thinking and the employee experience.”

This is a great point about how UX (and Design Thinking) are important for organisations now. Barbara shared this:

And Barbara shared this as a summary:

You can read my other Modern Learning Leader blog posts

  1. What is a Modern Learning Leader?
  2. The human condition
  3. The human condition – faces and social learning
  4. Instructional design – reminder notes
  5. What sUX about L&D design?

Four classic mistakes made when creating virtual versions from face-to-face learning

Mark Gilroy guest blogger for Lightbulb Moment

In volatile and uncertain economic climates, it’s essential for businesses to leverage the latest technologies to adapt to client demands. For TMSDI, an international provider of psychometric profiling tools, a key component in staying VUCA-proof has been the introduction of webinars and virtual classrooms to cater for train-the-trainer accreditation sessions. Although our traditional “on the ground” workshops have remained popular, in recent years we have found a strong demand for learning in a virtual classroom. Whether it’s for dispersed teams, clients who have limited travel budgets, or the time-poor learner, webinars have helped our business stay agile.

That’s not to say that we haven’t made any mistakes. Here are some that we’ve encountered, and some ideas for how to avoid them:

1) Preparing the same type of slides as you’d use in a face-to-face session

I’ll be honest- I’m not a huge fan of PowerPoint. In a face-to-face sessions I frequently work with flipcharts, physical props, and movement to help convey important concepts. Any slide decks that I do use are often very limited, and ideally there as a last resort to complement what is being discussed/shared.

Webinars demand a different approach. Assuming you are not using video/webcams, your participants will have just your voice to go on, so any visuals you have should be there to complement your audio content, capture attention, and inspire learning. In a virtual environment, the number of distractions is multiplied exponentially – it’s your job to use visuals as part of your toolkit to help maintain attention.

After much experimentation, we discovered a sweet spot: that 1 new slide should appear every 1-2 minutes. More-frequently and your audience will start to experiencing a strobing effect, less-frequently and attention begins to wander. And forget about the snazzy animations – in most virtual learning environments they will judder to a halt by the time your participants eventually see them due to limited bandwidth. Keep any slide builds simple, and go heavy on images, light on text. Haikudeck is a great place to start for webinar-friendly inspiration.

2) Forgetting to manage the energy in the room

Many trainers/facilitators share a preference for Extroversion.**

Depending on the psychometric tool and/or school of psychology that you subscribe to, this means that these types of facilitators have a high need for people contact, talking through their thoughts/ideas, and receiving energy/praise from others. Moreover, the energy that an Extrovert gives out should ideally be returned back to them in a continuous loop.

This can be a challenge when delivering in a virtual environment. For those who have a need for people contact, the lack of non-verbal, in-the-moment feedback is something that can feel a little like flying a plane in fog. Taking time to charge-up your personal energy before and after delivery will help, as will acknowledging that a more-extroverted presenter may feel more drained than usual compared to a piece of face-to-face delivery.

The same goes for participants. They also need to know you’re with them even if they can’t see you. How will you include their thoughts, questions, and contributions in the classroom to ensure no-one feels left out? Which brings us neatly to the other tools of the virtual learning trade…

**Disclaimer: This is, naturally, a sweeping generalisation, based purely on my own experiences of working with a wide variety of trainers/facilitators. Importantly, this is not to say that Extroverted facilitators are necessarily better than those with an Introvert preference (I would go as far as saying some of the best facilitators I’ve worked with are more-Introvert). But…this is all still worth bearing in mind when managing your energy as a presenter.

 

3) Ignoring the features of a virtual classroom because you wouldn’t/couldn’t use them face-to-face

Most webinar platforms include tools that you often wouldn’t get an opportunity to use when face to face. They can add a lot to a session to assist in gauging your learners’ engagement, adjusting your pace, and creating virtual communities:

Polls are a great way to punctuate virtual learning- as part of a ‘what brings you here today’ intro, a mini-quiz to test knowledge, or a round-up activity to check-in on pace. Most webinar platforms enable live polls to be set-up either on-the-fly or before the webinar begins. The results can be displayed in real time and also as part of tailored follow-up to support learners long after the session finishes.

Collaborative whiteboards can be a great way of capturing questions/comments/ideas, ready for playback in the session, or afterwards. Some platforms (e.g. Webex) allow for breakout sessions and multiple whiteboards, meaning that you can split groups off to work together, then bring them back in plenary to share the output of their discussions. Plus, they can all be recorded automatically to save anyone having to type them up.

In an “on the ground” learning session, it can be disruptive to have people chatting throughout. In a virtual environment, live chat is an effective tool to help learners build connections, check their understanding, and capture questions in real time for the facilitator to tackle at an opportune moment.

4) Assuming technical difficulties won’t happen

There’s a delicate balancing act to tread here. It can be a big drain on resources to go ‘looking for Murphy’ and analyse every possible technical issue that could occur. On the other hand, neglecting to anticipate the most likely issues can mean, at best, your webinar starts much later than planned, or at worst – you have to cancel and reschedule.

Some of the most common issues we have found are:

Internet connection issues

We resolved this in two ways:

1) From our side – to avoid any interruptions or issues with bandwidth, we installed a dedicated broadband line just for webinars. This may seem a step too far, but it’s important to have a Plan B in the eventuality that your internet connection goes down.

2) From the participants’ side – making sure that they are aware that a minimum connection speed will be necessary, and that joining using a mobile data connection or free coffee shop wi-fi is unlikely to cut it.

Audio issues

Most virtual learning solutions have a built-in audio check, to test that the computer/device speakers are compatible with the learning platform you’re using. Label them and make sure your learners know that they’re there when they arrive.

If you’re running a virtual learning session, encourage people to join far ahead of time so that any issues with audio can be ironed out in time for starting. For high value training sessions, we also offer a one-to-one test a week or so beforehand to help make sure the experience is as it should be. Five minutes spent here could save a whole heap of worry on ‘show day’.

If you can, make sure you have a colleague on standby to direct your participants to for tech support so that your presenter can focus on their presenting.

Finally – if in doubt, use a headset. No-one likes the never-ending echo effect in a webinar where others are talking.

The ‘what does that button do’ problem.

A savvy webinar presenter needs to be a master of their panel of controls in order to deliver swan-like, whilst all manner of notifications, alerts and messages are appearing around them.

There’s an easy solution here. Practice, practice and practice again.

Practice ‘driving’ a webinar, pushing all the buttons – just to see what they do – in a safe environment, so that you can be super-confident of your tools and how to use them when the time comes. Of equal importance: practice being a passenger so that you can a sense of what your participants are hearing/seeing/experiencing as you guide them through their learning journey.

Mark GilroyPlease get in touch or leave a comment below to share some of your experiences delivering learning solutions in the virtual classroom.

About our guest blogger

Mark Gilroy is Managing Director of TMS Development International Ltd, a leading global provider of psychometric development tools designed to create, nurture and sustain high performing teams. Mark has a background in psychology and has been working in the L&D arena as an executive coach and team development facilitator for over a decade.

Instructional design – reminder notes

As part of the Modern Learning Leader Programme, Ross Garner of Good Practice focused on “What is instructional design”.

Right at the beginning Ross made sure that the focus of Instructional Design (ID) is on what the real problem is and making sure that the solutions are related to that.

And Ross used Star Wars as a good example, whereby Luke Skywalker needed to learn the force, and he didn’t do it through an e-learning module…

After an example where the solution was jumped to, Ross explained a modified version of Cathy Moore’s brilliant Action Mapping process for getting to the point of the business problem. Ross calls it “a safe collaborative space” to work on business challenges and solutions.

Below is Ross’ example of the Action Map as he might apply this when a client has asked for an e-learning course to cover the absence policy:

There was an interesting interaction during the session, about how L&D can use Action Mapping. There was a comment about using Action Mapping on our own and my focus was that it is collaborative – if we are using it on our own we aren’t using it fully and as designed!

How to design solutions

Ross strongly recommended Julie Dirksen’s book Design for how people learn. A great book to look at all sorts of different angles on this topic.

This is a page from Julie Dirksen’s book – there are also lots of photo’s and diagrams, a really visual book

Ross shared the performance gaps that Julie expands upon in her book, highlighting that training isn’t always the solution when there are other issues at hand.

Julie was on Colin Steed’s Virtual Learning Show some years ago, and this is a blog post with my notes.

And this slide showed some of the problems that Ross thought that instructional designers often make!

You can read my other Modern Learning Leader blog posts

What is a Modern Learning Leader?

The human condition

The human condition – faces and social learning

You can come along to the webinars and also the workshop too.

There is also a Twitter conversation on the #MLLeader hashtag.

Micro learning

On 26th July 2017 I’m delivering a webinar for Bray Leino Learning about microlearning!

Defining micro learning is a challenging concept, as different people think of different points. Shannon Tipton at Learning Rebels states that “microlearning is NOT a new term. It’s just new to the buzzword vernacular. Microlearning has been around for as long as people have been creating work aids to put toner in copy machines.”

In The LMS Features That Drive Employee Engagement (Software Advice, 14 Oct. 2014) Brian Westfall states that “58% of employees say they’d use their company’s learning software more if the content was broken up into shorter lessons.” This highlights the need to move away from scheduled menus of training sessions way off in the future, or the 1 hour click next poorly designed e-learning modules.

What is microlearning supposed to do?

An in-depth read is Micro Learning in the Workplace and How to Avoid Getting Fooled by Micro Instructionists that focuses on the work that Christian Glahn has done for a number of years as Professor for Blended Learning and the Director of the Blended Learning Centre at HTW Chur (University of Applied Sciences in Chur, Switzerland).

He states that “the goal of micro learning is to increase the time on learning and thus reducing the time needed for getting started with new more complex learning activities.”

Later in the article Professor Glahn goes on to say that “the key challenge for micro learning is not its potential but its operationalisation.” He expands on this by looking microlearning with regards to motivation and performance of the learner in a self-regulated environment as well as feedback and reflection.

Get to the point

This Training Zone article has tips for developing microlearning and highlights that “creating concise, focused content is harder than it sounds. Don’t fall into the trap of bloating content and taking it off focus.” This really highlights the point of the microlearning, that it’s one discrete item and not reliant on other materials for understanding.

The same article also encouraged us to “embed microlearning right into the applications and systems that your users use every day” rather than locking it away in a Learning Management System. This is great advice as it makes sure that the learning is in the workflow, where people need it.

Focus on the business need

This Knowzies article highlights the need to focus on “backward design” for microlearning, encouraging us to “identify the results desired and then design activities that will make desired results happen. Microlearning is outcome oriented and so following the backward design method or using approaches like action-mapping can easily assist in creating bite-sized modules that perfectly fit the purpose.” I’m glad to see other organisations also recommending the brilliant Action Mapping, and we should be doing this for all business challenges and learning interventions.

Some other nuggets

Grovo have developed a microlearning infographic you can download that has a lot of different information in it and highlights their approach about shrinking attention spans.

Lastly, this list of tools for learning when you have a short attention span has some great ideas for platforms and apps that may help with your own, or organisational learning.

Get involved

To discuss microlearning some more, come along to the free Bray Leino Learning webinar where I’m guest speaker on 26th July 2017.

Learning transfer – the what and the why

Learning Transfer Research 2017 – INSIGHTS FOR IMPACT is a new research report launched this month, from Lentum Ltd and Lever Transfer of Learning. As the title states, it focuses on making an impact around learning transfer and it’s the first in a number of years to look at this issue globally.

To discuss this research we were delighted to have Mark Arneill, Founder of Lentum Ltd, as our guest on the Lightbulb Moment webinar series.

You can watch the recording of the free webinar from Wednesday 19th July at 10am UK time.

The introduction of the paper states: “Learning transfer is a decades old problem. Businesses globally have grappled to understand how best to increase the performance of their workforce in order to improve productivity, efficiency and engagement.”

What is learning transfer?

The reference in the report uses the 2015 definition from Jefferson, Pollock & Wick (The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results): “The ability of a learner to successfully apply the behaviour, knowledge, and skills acquired through learning to the job, with a resulting improvement in job performance.”

The focus here is on job performance, which should be the focus of all learning interventions in the corporate space. If we aren’t impacting what people do in their work why are we bothering?

There is a delineation here between “behaviour, knowledge and skills” which is an important one. Often in L&D people start with “what do people need to know?” rather than “what do they need to do?”.

Starting with the knowledge aspect drives a content delivery approach, rather than a practical approach to change behaviour. You can read more about this on Cathy Moore’s fab website for her Action Mapping approach to organisation challenges.

An overwhelming 66% of respondents suggested learning transfer "could be improved"

From the Learning Transfer research report by Lentum and Lever

 

Why is Learning Transfer important?

It’s a fundamental part of our job in L&D. If we teach something in our classroom, and the attendee can’t replicate that in the workplace, what was the point of them coming to class?

Of course, there’s all sorts of different learning situations and contexts, not just a face to face classroom. So, for any learning intervention at all, why bother with it if it isn’t helping people to do something?

This is why it’s important that we understand the issues and challenges around learning transfer.

In the report the authors Mark Arneill and Emma Weber state: “Learning needs to be more efficient and more integrated into business impact and outcomes. Increasing
the amount of learning transferred from 10%-20% up to 70%-80% or more will give organisations a significant advantage.”

 

You can learn more

If you haven’t already, remember to download your report.

To get to grips with some of the research insights, discuss where the challenges and gaps are, and ideas on solutions, you can watch the recording of the webinar with myself and report co-author Mark Arneill.

As part of the registration people asked questions, such as:

  • How to get it right?
  • How to make learning stick with sale people?
  • How to measure impact and ROI
  • In a fast paced change environment, what helpful hints do you have to make learning stick?
  • What encouraging messages can we share when highlighting the relevance and application of learning?
  • What can make it more likely to stick?

We answered these in the webinar.

Add your thoughts below!