By necessity, almost all education is happening online at the moment. However, the trend of online education likely will continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Online learning is often more convenient than in-person training, and because the methods and techniques for online education are evolving and improving, it quickly has become a preferred business tool.
“Online training has always been a cost-effective and efficient way to deliver training to employees, members and clients,” said Dan Belhassen, president of Neovation Learning Solutions.
It reduces or removes the costs associated with in-person training, he told the E-Commerce Times, including travel, accommodation and venue costs, as well as the loss of productive work time for trainees.
With long-form training broken down into modular daily or weekly online sessions, “learners are able to engage, absorb, and retain their training material,” Belhassen said.
Benefits of Going Online
There are, in fact, many benefits of online education for everyone involved.
“Online courses have benefits for both the trainer and the student,” noted Greg Smith, CEO of Thinkific.
“Coaches, experts and entrepreneurs who deliver in-person lessons can create more leverage in their time and scale their businesses effectively by teaching online,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
One of the primary benefits of online education is that it potentially can reach many more students than location-specific training.
“Many entrepreneurs teach thousands of students from all over the world every day, expanding their reach and revenue,” said Smith.
“Teaching online can help you connect to a larger audience since you’re not bound by a geographical area. Large organizations delivering product training and employee onboarding can also achieve a more streamlined training process and save time by putting their content online,” he pointed out.
There are also many benefits for students.
“Online training makes it easy to learn at your own pace,” said Smith. “In an in-person setting, it can be a challenge for students to keep up with the pace of lessons, depending on their level of understanding coming into the course. Being able to go back to review lessons helps each student master the material.”
Meeting the Challenges
Online education does present some unique challenges, both for learners and for educators, but adaptibility and willingness to experiment can go a long way toward meeting them.
Making students feel like they’re right there with the instructor relies on the smart use of existing and evolving technologies.
“The use of online meeting and webinar software overcomes the perceived lack of face-to-face interaction that was seen as a deficit in the early days of online training. Many of the old objections just don’t apply anymore with the changes in technology,” explained Belhassen.
“In some cases, online training can be less engaging,” admitted Michael Daecher, chief marketing officer of Thought Industries.
However, “this is overcome by a customer training platform that has dynamic learning methods, gamification, and communities,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“Not losing the personal touch and closing the distance between trainer and trainee is another challenge to overcome, but it can be done with the right balance of dynamic content, user communities, personalized recommendations, and virtual events alongside self-paced training. These methods can simulate a more interactive experience,” Daecher said.
Even if the benefits are clear, getting a new program off the ground may seem daunting.
“There is a slight misconception that it takes a long time to develop an online training course, but that is not necessarily correct,” said Belhassen.
“We have been working with both existing and new clients to quickly convert existing course materials into an online format,” he continued. “If a client doesn’t have pre-existing training materials, then the process involves proper subject-matter-expert interviews, storyboarding the new course, and then building it out — but it can take much less time than a client anticipates.”
The best online education uses a variety of methods and strategies to keep students engaged and learning. One strategy for online educational success, for instance, is to use content that will appeal to a variety of learners and learning styles.
“Courses with the highest completion rates and student satisfaction heavily use video, along with a mix of other content types like text lessons and PDF resources,” said Thinkific’s Smith. “Videos are great for simulating a connection between the instructor and participant. Offering a variety of content types will help you serve students with varying learning styles.”
Creating a sense of interactivity and community also is vitally important.
“Courses that include interactive elements are correlated with higher levels of course completion and student satisfaction,” Smith noted. “Creating touchpoints for your students can drastically increase their engagement and retention. This could look like offering an exclusive community or membership site for your course, or setting up automated emails to keep in constant communication with your students.”
In addition to live virtual classrooms, self-paced courses can be a good option for some students and learning situations.
“The benefit of the fully self-paced online course is evergreen enrollment, and learners can dedicate time, whenever and wherever they have it, to training,” said Thought Industries’ Daecher. “In addition, there are exponentially higher margins than in-person training, as you’re eliminating the costs and logistics of teaching at a specific place and time.”
The Future of Online Learning
Online education is evolving to become increasingly mobile, in order to satisfy the needs both of students and instructors.
“Our learners increasingly want to access training on their own terms, at their own best times,” said Neovation’s Belhassen.
“Mobile-first training allows you to take your daily training on your phone during your commute, before or after your shift, at any time convenient for you. Mobile devices can deliver all the rich media we have come to expect in traditional long-form training — videos, audio-clips, etc.,” he noted.
Learners are demanding more autonomy and flexibility, and the online training world can deliver that with increasing quality right into the palms of their hands,” Belhassen said.
Over time, online education likely will come to be seen not simply as an option, but in many cases as a necessity.
“The online training market is rapidly expanding its reach and transforming into a way to stay connected and informed. It’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ for businesses; it’s necessary to reach their client-base, both locally and abroad,” said Daecher.
In the subscription economy, where it’s easy for customers to switch to another provider, retaining the customers you have worked so hard to obtain becomes that much more important,” he added. “The faster your customers are educated on your products and services, the faster they will derive value and stay with you.”