Sometimes it feels like we never really leave school. Whether we’re three years into our career or thirty, there’s always more knowledge to gain. As the saying goes: “Never stop learning, because life never stop teaching.” Some businesses have taken this to heart, implementing online learning platforms to make sure that their employees actually never stop learning.
Online learning platforms — otherwise known as online training platforms, learning management systems or LMS — provide businesses with courses that help their employees develop important skills. Not all of these are so-called “hard skills,” which are the specific, measurable skills such as proficiency in Excel formulas or coding languages. Other skills that are just as important are “soft skills,” which are more abstract. These include things like emotional intelligence and office etiquette.
No matter what type of skills you’re trying to help your employees develop — whether they’re hard or soft, marketing or engineering — online learning platforms can transform your employees from solid talents into indispensable assets.
Benefits of Online Learning Platforms
There’s no shortage of benefits that businesses receive from online learning platforms. Although developing your employees is the biggest benefit of all, there are other advantages that make online learning platforms irreplaceable.
Thanks to laptops and, even more so, phones and tablets, you can access eLearning courses from anywhere, at any time. This opens up a world of possibilities for your employees to do their readings, watch their videos and/or do their coursework on their own time. With a traditional course, they’d be restricted to receiving lessons in-person at a specific, inflexible time. By utilizing an online learning platform, however, they can learn whenever and wherever they want.
For example, your employees could do their reading during breakfast, watch a video during their morning commute (as long as they aren’t driving!) and take a quiz at a park near the office on their lunch break. Even more useful is if an employee is away from both home and the office, e.g. while on a business trip. Even if they’re out of the country, as long as they have access to the internet, they can keep the learning going.
Your traditional stand-and-speak lecture followed by a worksheet for practice isn’t exactly the most exciting way to learn. No matter if you’re a first-grader or an industry professional, you’re always going to prefer the more fun way of learning, as long as both are effective. Online training platforms provide learners with exactly that.
Online courses, by nature of being online, offer lots of engaging learning content that ensure your employees fully immerse themselves in the learning. Interactive videos are great for testing how well your employees understand the concepts. Gamification, where you practice the concepts in some kind of game format, does the same. This type of learning, in terms of the engagement it produces, is far superior to a traditional lecture (no offense to all the teachers and college professors out there).
Instant Results and Personalization
One of the great advantages of online learning platforms is that they provide instant results and feedback to their learners. A traditional test done on paper, even if it’s a scantron, takes at a minimum several hours before you can see your results. Online tests, quizzes and other learning content appear the second you finish. This reduces the anxiety that’s common for people as they wait for their results.
In addition, online learning platforms can analyze the results and provide quality feedback. Some systems do much more than simply show you what you got wrong. They can display which concepts you, and you alone, need to improve on. They can also highlight relevant content to review so you can get a better understanding of what you messed up.
Instant results also benefit the business as a whole. Chances are, if you’re investing in an online learning platform, you’ll want to check in on the results of your employees’ learning. Instant results helps with fast reporting, too. This means that you can create up-to-the-minute reports on your employees’ progress so you can see who’s on top of their learning, who’s lagging behind and how well each employee is picking up the concepts.
Wide Range of Choices
Online learning platforms offer a huge variety of topics and skills to focus on. Since you access all of your courses online, the only factor that limits what you choose is cost. You don’t need to find a suitable instructor to come to the office to teach specific skills, and you don’t need to buy any fancy equipment that’s only good for one type of course. Therefore, you have immediate access to just about every kind of course you can think of. Isn’t a lack of limits wonderful?
Challenges of Online Learning Platforms
Unfortunately, online learning platforms aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are a few disadvantages that every business needs to take into consideration before adopting their own system:
No Hands-On Experience
There are lots of things you can do online; in fact, in today’s world, you can do just about everything online. But there’s no replacement for hands-on experience. In some cases this isn’t too much of an issue; writing and coding, for example, are done on a computer no matter what. But in the case of, for example, engineering or field service, you need to physically work with your hands and interact with the equipment you’re working with.
No matter how advanced your online learning platform is, it can’t simulate physically interacting with equipment. They’re more than adept at providing your employees with the conceptual breakdowns of everything, but practice is just as (and probably more) important.
Less Human Interaction
The internet may connect us, but there’s still no substitute for connections made away from the screen. To the credit of online learning platforms, they provide plenty of collaboration capabilities. Most have forums for learners to ask questions and messaging services to interact with others during lessons. But it’s not the same as learning alongside the rest of your fellow students.
This isn’t as big of an issue when learning concepts such as HTML syntax or Excel formulas, but it presents a greater hurdle when learning soft skills. You can’t effectively learn skills such as emotional intelligence through a forum. What you need is real practice with your fellow human beings. After all, you don’t manage usernames, emails and computer screen images; you manage people.
In the case of self-paced online courses, your most proactive employees shine. They immediately engage with the content and, more often than not, finish their coursework quickly. Unfortunately, not every employee is that enthusiastic.
Sometimes there are employees who put off their work for as long as possible. In an in-person class, this becomes apparent pretty quickly. An instructor would realize who’s doing their work and who isn’t; all they have to do is take a look at who isn’t turning in their assignments and who participates the least in discussions. But when classes are held online, nobody’s in a position to oversee these things on a regular basis. This gives more wiggle room for employees to slack off, not participate in the learning and get away with it for longer than they could in the classroom.
Types of eLearning Courses Available in Online Learning Platforms
Now that we’ve gone over the benefits and challenges, let’s look at what types of courses are provided by online learning platforms. There are two main types of eLearning courses available:
Synchronous learning means that everyone learns at the same time, via instructor-led training in a virtual classroom. These types of courses allow real-time collaboration between students, as well as two-way communication between the instructor and students.
The other type of eLearning courses available are the opposite of synchronous, called asynchronous. These are your self-paced courses, where you do the readings, watch videos, take quizzes, etc. whenever you want. These allow much more flexibility of access, but they also don’t provide as much collaboration or communication with other students or with the instructors (if there are any).
Yes, we know, we said there are only two main types of eLearning courses. But we can’t call this an “in-depth analysis” if we don’t mention the less common (but growing) blended method of eLearning. The blended method is experiencing a lot of growth in traditional universities, as higher education looks to integrate the online and offline worlds.
This method combines in-person, instructor-led training with online learning. Typically, there are readings, videos and quizzes or simulations that students do online before meeting up in person. The in-person sessions are used mostly for discussions and practicing skills that require human interaction or hands-on work. In the corporate environment, this has become popular for training soft skills. You can’t effectively practice things like listening to others with a computer screen, but you can learn the basics of it on a computer. In this case, the learners usually read or watch a video explaining the basics online and then put them to practice when they get to the classroom.
Top 5 Online Learning Platforms
You didn’t think we’d go through all of that and not give you some recommendations, did you? Don’t worry, we’d never do that to you. If you’re ready to start searching for your own system, start with our LMS requireemnts checklist.
If you’re looking to fast track and see popular LMS vendors, here are five of the best online learning platforms out there:
Docebo is not only one of the best online learning platforms, but also one of the most versatile. It doesn’t cater to one particular size category, as it’s used by SMBs and larger businesses. Additionally, it’s equally adept at providing training for corporate customers as well as other types of organizations, such as schools, government agencies and nonprofits.
In terms of what the platform offers, one of the most useful features is the user-generated content. If you have anything that’s specific to your business, such as certain business processes, you can design courses to teach them. You can make your courses as engaging as you want by uploading PowerPoints, videos and other multimedia content.
Cornerstone Learning’s system focuses on addressing skill gaps. The courses are designed to actively identify and address your employees’ skill gaps so nobody lacks the knowledge or skillset in important areas of their job.
Additionally, Cornerstone provides certification training. Compliance is an incredibly important aspect of several industries, so you need to make sure that the necessary employees are properly certified. Whether certification needs to happen once or if it’s recurring, the system can help you ensure proper certification throughout your business.
Cornerstone also happens to be one of the few systems that provides both synchronous and asynchronous learning, as it features both instructor-led training and self-paced learning.
Like Docebo, Litmos allows businesses to build their own custom courses. Customization doesn’t stop at course-building, however. The system also allows you to incorporate custom branding in the system, as well as custom templates and reports, complete with your logo and brand colors.
Litmos is great for international businesses thanks to multi-language and localization support. This means that if you choose a pre-built course, they’re not only available in different languages, but they’re also customized to each language location so that any cultural references and examples are as relevant as possible. In total, Litmos supports 22 different languages.
TalentLMS has all of the bells and whistles you want from a content creation standpoint. You can customize the logo, theme and even the domain of your learning environment. You can build courses with videos, presentations and other media, including repurposing content you’ve loaded into other courses. And you can even create engaging content such as gamification.
TalentLMS is also great for enterprises that value their security. The system includes single sign-on capabilities, and features an encrypted channel for data communication. This means that if part of your training includes confidential information, you don’t need to worry about it leaking; your data is safe within the system.
Halogen learning is one of the best online training platforms for businesses that want data-driven insight into their employees’ learning. Competency mapping helps identify skill gaps for each employee, which in turn helps assign them the courses they need to address those gaps. Powerful reporting then allows you to see the impact of the training.
In addition, Halogen provides certification tracking. This means that you can monitor which employees are certified, and which aren’t. Even more pertinent, however, is notifying when they need to get recertified. Some certifications need to be reupped every year or so, and monitoring that for every necessary employee can be a challenge. Halogen can notify you of when certain certifications are about to expire, so you don’t need to spend time manually monitoring anymore.