Seven Ways to Train Staff Online
Staff training and development can pay dividends for any organization, but because of the cost and logistics involved, they're often overlooked or ignored. Traveling to offsite trainings and conferences is expensive, and the nature of today's geographically-diverse staffs can make onsite training a challenge. Technology can overcome many of these difficulties in many cases, without significant expense. A number of viable methods for professional development online make it likely your organization can find one that works.
Here's a roundup of the common options:
Use Existing Recorded Seminars. If your training is not organization-specific, for example, you want to train staff on particular software, fundraising best practices, or on constituent management, why reinvent the wheel? Take advantage of existing resources for an easy, cost-effective solution. Recorded online trainings range from full university classes ( www.academicearth.org) and fundraising techniques (www.grassrootsfundraising.org) to best practices for boards (www.boardsource.org), and more. There's even online training about online training (www.idealware.org).
Online Conferences. If your needs are relatively simple and cost is a concern, consider online tools that share slides, documents, or anything else from your computer. Combine them with an audio component across a telephone line for an inexpensive and easy way to “gather” staff for a presentation or training. Tools such as WebHuddle, Yugma and Adobe Connect offer free accounts if you're training only a few people. Others, such as GoToMeeting, WebEx and ReadyTalk, offer affordable rates for more substantial training programs. One caveat, however, is that using the vendors' integrated phone lines can quickly increase the cost. Be sure to check it out in advance.
Video Conferencing. Do you have trainers with whom you like to work? Instead of trying to schedule a number of onsite classes, you could broadcast videos of them presenting lessons. This is easier than you might think. The trainers need a webcam and microphone, and participants need a broadband Internet connection; that's it. Some web conferencing tools like Yugma, WebEx and Adobe Connect support videoconferencing without a lot of effort. Or, you can use services purposely designed to stream video, such as UStream.tv or Qik Services, to feed live video to a broad Internet audience of staff or constituents, regardless of their location.
Recorded Seminars. Online seminars let you record and archive trainings for staff to watch at their convenience. There are two ways of doing this, and both are fairly easy. The first method is to record a live seminar, or perform one solely for the purpose of recording it. You'd use an online conferencing tool with a recording option, such as GoToMeeting, WebEx, ReadyTalk or Adobe Connect. Or, you could use a site such as Slideshare.com, which lets you upload slides for a seminar and record a voiceover to sync with them.
Screencasts. If you want to train staff to use a particular software package or website, screencasts -- video of your computer screen, often with a voiceover narrating your onscreen actions -- can help show methods and techniques. For instance, a one-minute video showing how to upload documents to your organization's Intranet, or how to find someone's telephone number in your constituent database, can save a lot of time for the person who would otherwise answer such questions one at a time. Affordable tools such as Jing or Camtasia make it straightforward to record screencasts, but you'll need a decent quality microphone for your computer to get a reasonable sounding voiceover. Expect to spend anywhere from $20 to $200 or more.
eLearning. This is a term that generally refers to packaged modules that provide a number of ways to interact with materials, including clickable diagrams, animations, text, voiceovers and quizzes. It combines the polish with multimedia interactivity. But you'll need someone with curriculum design expertise to create such modules, and you'll need to make an investment. Tools like Adobe Captivate or Articulate cost about $1,000 to purchase, but let you create sophisticated modules to easily deploy to as many people as you like.
Learning Management Systems. If your organization has a number of topics to teach, creating and maintaining an online curriculum through a Learning Management System might be the best way to train staff. Many corporations use them, and a number of software packages have evolved to support such efforts by guiding staff through required trainings, prerequisites and certification programs. Most eLearning packages also offer Learning Management Systems, but you'll need to pay more in both time and money to get started.
All of these techniques can be used standalone, or they can be combined in different ways to best fit your organization's training needs. Decide which methods your budget can support, and what kind of investment of time you're willing and able to make. With a little planning and some sweat equity, your organization can dramatically reduce the cost of training while improving your staff's education and development.
This article ran in the May 11, 2011, issue of the NonProfit Times Instant Fundraising newsletter.