Convert Training to Online

As instructional designers, we’re often asked to convert an existing classroom training program to an online or blended format. While clients and stakeholders might think that’s a simple process, just taking your existing PowerPoint slides and putting them online won’t be very effective. The conversion process is more about transforming the content and activities to provide a better experience and improve skills. In this post, I explain the analysis process for converting training to online or blended formats. Check out my follow-up post for additional details on designing online or blended programs converted from training.

Convert Training to Online

Is it a training problem?

Ideally, you should determine whether you can actually solve the problem with training during the intake process, before you even agree to create a course. When you’re converting existing face-to-face courses to online, we often assume training is the solution, but that’s not always true.

Ask, “Do employees know how to do the task?” If the answer is yes, training won’t fix the problem; it’s a question of motivation, resources, or the environment. Use training to address skill gaps, not for other problems.

The Performance Analysis Quadrant is one way to determine what kind of problem it is. Cathy Moore’s flowchart to determine if it’s really a training problem or not is another good option.

Once you know the type of problem, you can align your solution to that problem. If you discover that it’s not really a training problem, work on some other solution. That could be actions such as making a process easier, adding support, or rewarding performance. This is part of performance consulting.

Ask questions and gather information

First, review all the materials from the existing classroom training: slides, instructor guides, participant guides, videos, evaluations, discussion questions, quizzes, etc.

Second, ask questions. You can ask these questions of the trainers, SMEs, and other stakeholders.

Determine the problem, metrics, audience, and goals

  • What is the business problem we are trying to solve with this training?
  • How will we know if this course is successful? What performance metrics should improve as a result of this course?
  • Who is the audience for this course? Is it the same as the classroom training? Do different parts of the audience need different training?
  • What do learners need to DO as a result of this course? (Note that this isn’t about what they need to KNOW, but about what they need to do. Focus on actions and skills, not knowledge. This should relate to the business problem.)

Analyze the good and bad in the current training

  • What’s currently working in the classroom training? Which are the best parts we should maintain in the online version?
  • What currently is not working in the classroom training? What needs to change?

Additional questions

  • What do classroom trainers add to the training that isn’t reflected in the written materials? (I find this is a common issue: No matter how complete the PowerPoint deck or other materials, the trainers have additional stories, examples, or other information they add that isn’t recorded anywhere.)
  • What are the common errors learners make regarding this material? What are the consequences if they make mistakes?

Format to convert training

Determine the format of the course (self-paced elearning, blended, virtual training, etc.). This will often come from the stakeholder request and needs to take the budget and audience into consideration. The drive to move to online is often based on the need to scale up; the trainers just can’t reach everyone needed in person.

Duration based on format

Determine how long the course will be. This partly depends on the format. Realistically, you may have to adjust this for the budget and other logistical concerns.

Elearning

The general rule of thumb is that converting training to self-paced elearning cuts the time in half. There are exceptions, but this is a good starting point.

Example 1: If the classroom version was 2 hours, assume the online version will be about 1 hour.

Example 2: If the classroom version was 5 days long, assume 6 hours of instruction per day of training (subtracting breaks, intros, etc.). That’s 30 hours of content, which converts to 15 hours of self-paced elearning.

Blended learning

If you’re really looking at converting a full week of classroom training, you might not really want 15 hours of elearning. It’s just hard to sit through 15 hours of self-paced elearning, no matter how well it’s designed. Therefore, some sort of blended approach would probably be more effective. You can still scale up and help trainers reach more people by doing shorter live sessions combined with self-paced content.

Note that this is not scaling up by putting 100 people in a webinar and muting the chat. The number of participants for virtual training should be about the same as what you had in the classroom to maintain the interaction.

Example: If we convert a 5 day classroom training course to blended, I start with the same 30 hours of content as earlier. I determine that about ⅔ of the content is primarily information and foundational concepts that would be easy to create and practice in elearning. That gives me about 10 hours of self-paced elearning (20 hours divided in half).

The rest will be 10 hours of virtual training in Zoom. Divide that into 2-hour sessions, one every week for 5 weeks.

The original classroom training took learners a full 40-hour work week, plus travel time. With a blended online version, learners only need to spend 20 hours with no travel. Instead of the trainers training for a 40-hour week (plus travel time), now they deliver virtual training for 10 hours. Trainers could train multiple groups in a week at different times. If the trainers deliver sessions 8 times a week (2 per day, 4 days a week), that increases number of people they can teach without increasing the class size.

Virtual training (vILT)

Virtual training or vILT (virtual instructor-led training) is live, synchronous training with an instructor using an online tool like Zoom, AirMeet, WebEx, Adobe Connect, or similar tools. The time for virtual training is usually equivalent to the classroom training, but you eliminate travel costs. People can usually keep working for the rest of the week when they’re not in training, so virtual training is less disruptive to work.

Break up virtual training into smaller chunks than what you would use for classroom training. Aim for two hours as a good maximum for a single session. You can go as long as three hours with a break in the middle.

Spread out the sessions across multiple weeks if possible to take advantage of the spacing effect. By spacing it out, you improve retention by spreading out learning rather than cramming it into a short period of time.

Additional resources to convert training to online

Jane Bozarth’s From Classroom to Online: Think Transform, not Transfer provides both a process for converting content and an example of the process. My process overlaps with hers; some of the analysis questions above (e.g., what’s working and what’s not) are based on what I learned from Jane’s process.

My post on Time Estimates for eLearning Development explains how to use industry benchmarks to estimate how long it will take to create elearning. Converting training may take a little less time, but I find that it’s usually not much shorter than creating a course from scratch because so much needs to be adjusted.

Originally published 10/8/2019. Revised 5/16/2024.

2 thoughts on “Convert Training to Online”

  1. Pingback: Convert Training: Design Online or Blended Learning - Experiencing eLearning

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