A Good Example of Webinar and Virtual Training Done Right

Last Updated Jun 16, 2011 12:06 PM EDT

Training by virtual conferencing and other distance learning gets a bad rap. Sometimes that reputation is deserved (death by PowerPoint, no interaction, presenters who don't know what they're doing with the technology) but when it works well, it can save a lot of money, interest and engage learners and actually do what it's intended to do.

A case in point is the institutional food services company Sodexo. The circumstances for using virtual training tools were all there:
  • Time was of the essence. Their education market group (think school cafeterias) is a seasonal business. They had a window of a couple of months when things were slow that could be used constructively for education and training.
  • They had a large, geographically diverse group. Their 4500 managers were scattered across all 50 states and, indeed, the globe. The logistics and costs associated with bringing all of those people together were prohibitive.
  • They needed to have a mix of live and on-demand learning opportunities. Not all training needs to be done in a classroom, live. Sometimes you want interaction and live conversation with subject matter experts, sometimes people want information just in time and just what they need to know at that moment.
Given those circumstances, they put together a training curriculum and process that got the information out to the field, engaged the learners and saved them over $1.4Million and got better participation than past training efforts. So what did they do that so many others haven't figured out?
  • They chose a tool that allows for multiple types of presentations and recording. In this case, they used ON24, which has multiple ways of delivering live content, then recording it for later access. This included "virtual conferencing" with all the bells and whistles for big roll-outs and showcasing addresses from VIPs like the CEO. It had the standard webinar interface for smaller, less video-dependent training. Most importantly, they took full advantage of the recording and archiving features. This allows people to use the recordings for reference, or to catch up if they couldn't make the original event. It saved time and money because they could present material once and get great usage from a single event.
  • They updated content frequently. Because virtual training is largely digital in nature, it takes much less effort and cost to update than traditional classroom materials like workbooks. Also, rather than have to reschedule everyone who's taken a program, they can make small tweaks and improvements available via email links to recordings.
  • They merged virtual training with standard webinars, online documents and other tools. Because everything's online, it's easy to use hyperlinks to help learners get reference materials and find other tools they need. This requires a lot of thought and preparation, but saves time, money and makes it easy to hold learners accountable for their learning and development. A good LMS (Learning Management System) is a must to coordinate training activity.
  • They used internal resources to bring in subject matter experts who didn't have to worry about the technology. One of the big problems for trainers moving to these tools is trying to be good communicators while worrying about not looking like idiots with the tech. By having a core group of people who's job was the technology, they could bring in subject matter experts that drew interested audiences, but didn't have to rely on them to be technology-savvy. This idea of "visiting experts" often is appreciated by audiences who want to hear from people in the trenches of their industry, not people sequestered in the training department.
Tools like On24, Webex' Training Center, Digitell, and others have a mix of live and recorded functions that, with some planning, can make your team or your company's training efforts really pay off.

What are you using, and how's it working for you and your company?

Read more: photo by flickr user Extra Ketchup CC 2.0
  • Wayne Turmel

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