What Sugar Cream Pie Taught Me About Online Training Courses

I was feeling pretty confident the day I made my first sugar cream pie. As an Indiana native, I figured it was my duty to learn how to make this classic Midwestern dessert. So with clear eyes, a full heart, and my grandmother’s recipe in hand, I put on my apron and started baking. 

It wasn’t long before disaster struck. Within a few hours, it was clear that my sugar cream pie was actually a sloppy mess of sugar cream pudding. Where had I gone wrong? 

As it turns out, I accidentally omitted a key ingredient: cornstarch. While it may not seem important, cornstarch is essentially the glue that holds the whole pie together. I was so focused on the milk and sugar, that I overlooked the single most important ingredient. 

This has happened before. 

I had a similar experience when I sent out my first online training courses. Even though I spent a painstaking amount of time collecting and organizing the information, the learners were confused and overwhelmed. What I thought would be a collection of the best online learning courses to take had flopped miserably because I was focused on the wrong things.

Looking back, there were four key ingredients I missed that really should be included in all online learning:

1. Learning Outcomes

Just because you know why the course is important doesn’t mean your audience does, so tell them why it matters and how they can use it. Consider these questions:

  • What new skills or knowledge will they gain?
  • How can they apply it to their work this week? Today?

If you take a look at some of the best free online training courses with certificates, the learning outcomes won’t be hard to find. For example, the Harvard free online courses list a “What You’ll Learn” section at the top of their course description pages.

For your course, share learning outcomes clearly and early on. The more a learner believes in the value, the more effort they’ll be willing to give.

Tip: Include a pre-test with situational questions related to your learning outcomes. Your learners may not ace the test, but they’ll connect the dots on how this training impacts their day-to-day work.

2. Micro-learning

Whether your training is part of an elite training program or a free online learning course, delivering bite-sized amounts of information at a time will make it more digestible. 

For Example: As a learner, which is more approachable? Reading a 200 page manual your first day on the job, or reading 20 minutes a day over the course of a month. 

Keep things short and sweet. Don’t be scared to break a single topic down into multiple sessions. You can still string those small pieces together into a cohesive course.

3. Multimedia

While there’s a lot to be said about online learning advantages and disadvantages, one big win you get with the best online learning course platforms is the ability to incorporate video, images, and other interactive elements. When you consider how to create the best online training courses, it’s nearly impossible to overlook the benefits of including multimedia.

So, what exactly are these benefits? Many online learning articles point to how multimedia elements boost learner engagement. As the saying goes, “variety is the spice of life” and, chances are, if you’ve taken any free online courses, there was probably a video or at least a picture included somewhere along the way to help keep you focused. Media makes it interesting and can get a learner’s attention.

On top of that, multimedia supports a variety of learning styles. Sometimes presenting information in a video vs. text is the key to making it stick from one learner to the next. Bottom line, using multimedia helps keep each member of your team on track, no matter how they learn.

Tip: Variety is good, but integrating too much multimedia can be distracting. The best online courses use multimedia to serve a purpose by supporting learning outcomes.

4. Knowledge Checks

Here’s a list of 9 letters: ZYXWVUTSR. If you were quizzed on those letters tomorrow, how might you study today? You might re-read the letters until you’re sure they’ll stick. Or, you might read the letters once, shut your eyes, and then try to recall them from memory.

Science says the latter is more effective. There’s a lot of data around the practice of retrieval enhancing your long-term memory, so why not include that as part of your online training program? Adding in some questions along the way can help improve the “stickiness” of your information by letting the learner practice.

Tip: The less time between learning experience and feedback, the better. Consider this example: You recently met Sally, and the next time you see her, you accidentally call her Janet. If Sally corrects you in the moment, you’ll likely remember next time. But what if Sally waits a week to correct you? A month? It gets a lot harder to unscramble the cobwebs of your brain the further you get from the original error, so keep the feedback loop short.


Want to stop making metaphorical soupy sugar cream pies?

Lessonly helps nearly four million frontline teammates become exceptional at their jobs through great training, enablement, and coaching. If you think your team could use a tool like this one, book a 15-minute, no-pressure call with us at lessonly.com/demo.

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