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How to apply interactive technical training to business eLearning

How to apply interactive technical training to business eLearning - eFront Blog

A client, who had recently moved to an online sales system, asked to review an interactive technical training course that they had developed to train employees on the new tool. Apparently, during the 7 months or so that the course had been in use, it had failed to deliver the technical learning experience the client was expecting.

As a result of thorough analysis, what was found was an eye-opener about interactive technical training program development and some of the things that instructional designers should NOT do when designing technical training courses for business applications.

What is Technical Training?

Because most instructional designers have had success designing interactive training sessions in the past, they sometimes lose perspective of the term “technical training”. And that’s where everything goes wrong!

While interactive technical training courses sometimes tend to be overbearing for learners – especially the less tech-savvy ones – they can be made fun and engaging if instructional designers understand what’s involved in producing them.

So what is technical training, and how is the process of developing such content different from designing “atypical” interactive training content for most business applications? The fact is that developing “technical” content IS different than designing non-technical learning content.

And unless we appreciate those differences, we may not be able to produce highly engaging and effective interactive technical training for employees. To understand the differences, let’s take a look at two real-world situations.

  • When a company introduces a set of revised HR policies, they often roll out such initiatives using training courses containing plenty of interactive learning activities. Since the “technicality” of policies and procedures are relatively verbose in nature, the focus of such activities is to “Learn by showing”. Course designers use lots of examples, use cases, and hypothetical scenarios to illustrate the application of the new policies and procedures.
  • On the other hand, when a company introduces a new online Accounting system or launches a highly automated production line, the “technicalities” are far more hands-on in nature, requiring a far different approach to interactive technical training. Such training requires a “Show, Do, Practice” approach to achieve its objectives.
  • Some real-life training applications of the term “technical” might be subtle to recognize. However, understanding them is paramount if we are to succeed in designing effective content on technical training topics for employees in a commercial setting.

The Theory Behind Interactive Technical Training

One of the pioneers of the application of technical learning, in business and commercial settings, is Dr. Ruth Clark, a leading expert in workforce learning and evidence-based performance improvement.

Dr. Clark has advanced a series of 6 principles that instructional designers should keep in mind when designing interactive technical training for employees.

The essence of these principles give technical content designers an insight into balancing the use of text, graphics, audio, video and other design elements to produce highly effective technical training courses:

1) The Multimedia Principle: Supplementing text with graphics to enhance learning

While the text is a great medium of expression, most interactive technical training program development calls for the use of appropriate multimedia components. The word “appropriate” is the key here! For instance, simply filling a screen with lists of features and functionality of a Sales Tracking software tool isn’t appropriate.

Instead, supplement that with graphical simulations of the entire sales process to enhance the impact of the text on your learners.

2) The Contiguity Principle: Synchronizing text and graphics

When using interactive technical training modules to teach new concepts, such as a new way to close a sales loop, it’s most effective to have learners watch, see and hear (multimedia) everything related to what they are reading (text). However, the content must be presented in a contiguous and related way.

Designing non-contiguous content may mean learners are reading something (e.g. How to make a Sales Pitch) while watching graphics about something completely non-related (e.g. How to Log Sales Leads in the system). This is disconcerting and defeats the learning objectives.

3) The Modality Principle: Supplementing complex graphics with other learning modes

When designing interactive learning activities that involve multifaceted concepts, it’s more effective to use other modalities – such as audio – to make learning more effective.For instance, a sales cycle is often long and complex, involving multiple steps.

For instance, a sales cycle is often long and complex, involving multiple steps. Designing graphics for technical training topics for employees means the learner has to then focus 100% attention on the animation, which makes it difficult to also read the accompanying text at the same time.

In such cases, adding audio to explain the graphics can be of great help.

4) The Redundancy Principle: Avoid the use of redundant modalities to prevent “overload”

One of the more effective interactive technical training techniques is to provide multiple ways – animation, text, audio – for learners to grasp complex new concepts. However, this approach can sometimes lead to information redundancy.

For example, if your graphics is about “The Art of Closing The Deal”, it would be nice to supplement that graphic with additional textual content – to explain the nuances that graphics alone might not capture.

However, this principle of effective interactive technical training program development suggests that it might be redundant to then also have verbatim audio narratives of the text. The audio will likely pose a distraction to the learner.

5) The Coherence Principle: Sometimes “KISS” is the best

When it comes to interactive technical training, sometimes applying the KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) principle is best. The well-intended effort to teach salespeople “1000 ways to log sales call” may lead to making technical learning content in-coherent.

Where possible, only provide text, graphics, audio, and other content that serves to enhance a learning experience. Avoid non-essential content that may pose a distraction to learning ability.

6) The Personalization Principle: Create content that learners can relate to

Interactive technical training for employees becomes more effective when learners relate to situations or scenarios being presented in the content. Where possible, therefore, introduce references and associations common to an environment that the learner is familiar with.

For instance, in an environment where such a role exists within the organization, using a familiar title (such as Sales Supervisor) to present content in graphical or animated sequence can psychologically help learners personalize their technical learning experience.

Additionally, the use of 1st and 2nd person references help in personalizing your content.

Following these 6 principles, and incorporating these interactive technical training techniques when designing technical content can go a long way in developing courses that meet, and even exceed their training objectives.

How to apply interactive technical training to business eLearning - eFront Blog

Making a Difference – Balancing Theory and Practice

When faced with a project to develop content featuring specialized interactive learning activities, we approach the task the same way as we would when designing any other business or commercial training. Instead, the interactive technical training techniques we use must correspond to the practical application for which we are designing content.

As the instructional designer was reviewing the course discussed in the scenario presented at the beginning of this article, he realized that the designers had done a great job of covering all the features and functionality of the new tool. However, the interactive learning activities included lacked proper focus for that type of application.

A lot of effort was expended on TEACHING employees about the tool, with not much emphasis on DOING – which should be the hallmark of interactive technical training.

A lot of effort was expended on TEACHING employees about the tool, with not much emphasis on DOING – which should be the hallmark of interactive technical training.

Introducing plenty of graphics, scrolling lists, and pop-up video content during interactive technical training for employees is great; however, these must be balanced in terms of the objectives of the training – which is “Learning by doing”.

It was no wonder that the client found employees were well-versed in what the tool could do, but they lacked the technical ability to actually apply that knowledge and use the tool!

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