Course creation can feel like a moving target. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which courses your team needs the most, but it’s even harder to create a course that hits the right notes. Simply put, you want to create training content that is entertaining, interactive, and useful. Plus, if training can be plugged into the flow of work, you’re setting up your team for the best learning outcomes.
We asked experts from our L&D Collective to share their secrets for creating effective training content. Here are 10 actionable tips that you can put into practice right away.
Alexandra Gold Smith, senior manager of learning and development at Brivo, emphasizes the role of interactivity in your training content, whether it is an online course or a quiz. Interactivity can be simple. You might ask a learner to click on their screen to identify a correct answer or create a video where a character highlights key concepts by pointing to them.
At Brivo, it’s tough to learn about their cloud-based security platform without interacting with it. Smith and her team address this challenge in their online university with interactive learning modules. For example, they implemented interactive exams where items can be dragged, dropped, and organized like a simulator of the actual experience.
April Petrey, director of L&D for several SaaS startups, points to the importance of learner value over technical expertise. ”Just think about how many poorly produced YouTube videos have been watched around stopping leaks or fixing an air conditioner. The production value is much less important than the learner value,” she says.
Petrey designed a course titled “Start Here… Don’t Panic” to help learners navigate a new LMS. She wanted employees to understand how the organization intended to use the learning management system before they started their learning process. She also customized the learning content to reflect company values and outcomes. “It went a long way to supporting the introduction of the new LMS and having a little fun. The learner value was a 10/10,” she explains.
"Just think about how many poorly produced YouTube videos have been watched around stopping leaks or fixing an air conditioner. The production value is much less important than the learner value.”
David James, chief learning officer at 360Learning, points out that the ultimate goals of L&D are to help people become better at their jobs, to prepare them for imminent changes, and to ensure the organization has a pipeline of internal talent for what the organization needs next.
“Too much training aims to be ‘engaging’ but doesn't hit the mark with learners,” he says. He also notes that if learning solutions help employees with what they're trying to do when they need help, they will automatically be engaging. “Data and evidence-based practice will ensure L&D professionals develop solutions that make a planned difference,” he explains.
His advice? Understand the challenges faced by those we seek to influence in order to be there when they need us so we can guide and support them. Do this with bespoke resources aimed at affecting performance in the context of the organization and their role in it.
Dolores Gaut, training specialist at Cognizant, says the first step to creating training content is to get to know your audience, their training needs, and your options for making learning sustainable. “Once I figure that out, I do what I can to get people to participate,” Gaut says. “Sometimes it involves gamification, and sometimes it involves using the chat or unmuting for a one-on-one chat. It just depends on the audience size, purpose of the training, and whether it's a virtual, hybrid, or in-person training.”
Gaut’s very first training program was for front desk student workers at the on-campus gym in her university, in which she blended technical skills, soft skills, and psychological safety. “I built in a job shadowing portion, a test (that they had to get a 90% on to pass to be able to manage money), and there were refresher courses for the beginning of each semester,” she says, explaining the technical skills component.
For a staff supervisor position, Gaut built a program to help students learn leadership and teamwork skills because students would be covering manager shifts in a high-trust environment. This is where she weaved in soft skills and psychological safety. “If we had to say ‘no’ to an applicant, we put them on a plan to help them learn the skills they needed to turn that ‘no’ into a ‘yes.’ It showed the team how we take their opinions into consideration and how we had their back.”
“Too much training aims to be ‘engaging’ but doesn't hit the mark with learners.”
Erica Mahler, senior tech learning and growth manager at Xandr, a Microsoft company, recommends using the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) principle as a guide for your training. “Write learning objectives to convey what they [learners] will be able to think, feel, or do after the training. Be specific—these should tie into the tasks and responsibilities of your learners,” she points out.
Naturally, when learners see how the training will help them, they’re motivated to complete the course and more likely to retain what they learn.
Mahler has three more tips for content creation:
Jessi Burg, founder of Outgrow Your Garage, says training works best if it is immediately applicable. Yet all too often, training content focuses on lessons without the opportunity to practice. Burg advises, “Intersperse practice sessions into every training, with no more than 5 or 10 minutes of content at a time. If it’s a video training, aim for the shorter side, and always make sure your videos are captioned.”
Burg teaches a workshop for small business owners on building effective FAQs for their websites. As part of the workshop, learners flesh out the actual questions and answers for their websites. They walk away with content they can publish soon after the training. After all, the business owners are their own subject matter experts. “They’re excited that they are able to post the content quickly and easily because we started the building process during the workshop—they didn’t have to go back and do all the work later,” said Burg.
Joshua A. Luna, founder of Mgmt On-Demand and author of a weekly newsletter titled Teachable Moments, believes in the “less is more” philosophy when it comes to the length of a session, as well as the actual training content.
He cautions against reading your slides and recommends using key talking points and quick takeaways. “Use conversations and real-life examples with the audience to flesh out what everyone sees on the screen. This is more memorable for the audience compared to listening to a lengthy PowerPoint presentation,” he says.
Lee Savage, corporate trainer at ConnectWise, creates training content for four different learning types. “It doesn't matter if the training is two minutes or two days, I make sure I have a little something for everyone in terms of visual learners, reading learners, auditory learners, and hands-on learners,” he says.
To engage all four types of learners, Savage recommends mixing up the training formats and follows the 15-minute rule: ”Never do one activity or topic portion for more than 15 minutes. Give the brain some time to digest, then return and build.” In a recent two-hour training, Savage designed a mix of in-person and online training and used shifting techniques—working in group and individual settings—to achieve a 100% completion rate and a 9/10 satisfaction score on learned skills.
"Never do one activity or topic portion for more than 15 minutes. Give the brain some time to digest, then return and build.”
Mehdi Boursin Bouhassoune, L&D manager APAC at Euromonitor International, takes a “performance consulting approach” to training. He admits that often, stakeholders don’t fully understand the root cause of their challenges and request training as a response. “The performance consulting approach… helps stakeholders and the L&D team understand the root cause of challenges and where training would be a value-add activity that moves the needle,” he says.
He recommends considering the three types of training—compliance, performance improvement, and experience—and the aim of each before designing training content. His other tip? Use the nudge theory. “For example, if you can add links in your performance management system, add links to resources for team members and people leaders on how to have a great performance conversation and nudge them with useful resources at key moments,” he says.
Rory Sacks, L&D leader at Komodo Health, likes to approach training with empathy, whether it is an online course, in-person training, or blended learning. He asks a simple question, “If I am going to attend this training, would I find it engaging?” to get a gut check on whether his training content will appeal to learners. “If I, as an individual employee, go to this training and think it’s boring or not intuitive or the flow is off, then chances are the rest of the employees that are supposed to be there doing the training will also.”
And there you have it, our ten tips for creating training content that is entertaining, interactive, and useful. We hope you'll be able to put these best practices to good use. If you're looking for more insights like these, why not join the L&D Collective, below?