It’s a common scenario: Your organization has great classroom content but needs to reach a wider audience. Or feedback shows that your facilitators present course materials inconsistently, so learners aren’t always receiving the same instructional experience.

At WorkingKnowledge, we see it all the time. And one obvious solution is to convert your classroom content to eLearning. But, for many organizations, how to make that switch in the most cost-effective and engaging manner is filled with uncertainty.

We’ve helped our clients convert hundreds of hours of instructor-led training to online delivery. In this article, we explore some of the key considerations you’ll need to keep in mind, best practices to help your conversion go smoothly, and some of the pitfalls we’ve encountered (which you can now avoid).

A Little Background

To help understand your options, let’s start by revisiting two terms you might have heard. Instructor-led classroom training, by its very nature, is always synchronous, meaning the student and facilitator participate in the class at the same time.

eLearning, on the other hand, can be synchronous (such as a live webinar) or asynchronous, meaning the learner can take the course any time without the active guidance of a live instructor. Asynchronous coursework, although it has limitations, is inherently more flexible for the learner and a simpler product for you. Once produced, it requires no direct intervention for each delivery.

The distinction between synchronous and asynchronous learning is critical to keep in mind. And, the approach you ultimately choose is likely to be one of the first decisions you’ll need to make.

Which Way to Go?

There are several factors that can guide your organization here:

1. First, what’s your budget? You have to be realistic. eLearning of any type requires dedicated up-front resources. The expression “Champagne taste on a beer budget” comes up quite a lot in learning circles. Let’s consider a few common online learning variations:

  • One of the most basic approaches is to simply record video of a live seminar or conference; save it as an MP4; and post it to your website, YouTube, social media account, or learning management system (LMS). We’re always a little concerned when organizations think of this as effective eLearning. Although fast and relatively inexpensive, it is, by far, the least impactful and engaging type of online learning. More often than not, participants report this as the online version of death by PowerPoint.
  • Next, you can be a little more thoughtful in your use of presenter-centric video content. You might conduct live webinars with some interaction, such as polls and occasional questions, which are a bit more engaging for the learner. If you find that your content is worth the investment, you can record the event and use it as the basis to create an asynchronous version, perhaps with built-in interactions.
  • And then there is eLearning with a higher production value. It can include video, animation, narration, and supporting materials. These courses, when created by knowledgeable instructional designers, include thoughtful objectives, interactions, and testing strategies to ensure that your participants have a great experience and learning outcomes. But, as you have already guessed, this is the more expensive route. And whether this direction is right for you depends on other factors that we discuss here.

2. What does your current training look like? Your content and presentational approach greatly impact how online learning might look. Conveying and assessing knowledge acquisition (think algebra or history) is one thing. But what if, for example, you require extensive experiential, hands-on learning? Do you include group activities to achieve shared goals? Do you teach skills and knowledge that require human assessment, or can you measure competence though machine testing? These and related factors influence whether online learning is even an option and, if so, which approach would work the best. (In some cases, you might find that a blend of eLearning and instructor-led learning events is the most effective choice.)

3. How “evergreen” is your content? When the subject matter is unlikely to change greatly for some time, higher-end asynchronous eLearning presentation may be worth the investment. Think about it: Good eLearning costs money. To ensure you see a return on your investment, a long shelf life for your learning products is key. By the same token, when you have content that requires periodic updating, such as to reflect regulatory changes, you might be better served by creating online learning that is more readily updatable, such as recorded webinars or eLearning that uses text, graphics, and interactivity but omits or makes limited use of narration.

4. What’s your schedule? By the time most clients realize they need eLearning, they’re under a deadline: The fiscal year is ending, a conference is coming up, or a new product is being released. As much as possible, you need to plan ahead. One hour of high-end eLearning can take up to 12 weeks to produce if all the stars align. Of course, if the project is well thought out, you may be able to develop multiple topics at the same time. Other options might be quicker to market, but you’ll likely have to make compromises as to how content gets to your learners.

5. Who are your learners? Last, but certainly not least, one of the most overlooked drivers of eLearning, and perhaps learning in general, is a learner-centric approach to your programs. It’s easy to get caught up in your organization’s needs and restrictions. Take the time to find out more about your learners. Don’t give them something they don’t want or can’t use. You can waste a lot of budget on the wrong learning intervention very quickly if you lose sight of this basic premise. This speaks to the concept of “scrap learning” or wasted effort. Even if you haven’t heard the term, you probably know it when you see it.

Taking these considerations into account can help ensure that you create an effective and budget-conscious learning plan. But, as you’ve seen, each aspect has its own inherent pitfalls that can undermine the success of any eLearning project.

So which approach might be best for you? You’ll need to take some time to find out. You have your own set of unique factors to balance: your learners, your organizational culture, your content, and your budget.