As options for learning online continue to expand, a growing number of entrepreneurs are using them to keep their staff on the cutting edge. Using tools for online training, including videos, apps, and webinars, rather than sending employees to expensive training seminars or bringing in pricey consultants to train on site, can save startups and growing businesses both money and time.
Companies with fewer than 500 employees represent one of the fastest-growing markets for lynda.com, an online learning library with more than 1,450 video courses. "Small businesses are turning to online training for cost, quality, and access reasons," says Nate Kimmons, vice president of enterprise marketing at lynda.com. "Gone are the days of sending employees off to a two-day, in-person class. Online training serves as a 24/7 resource that the learner can access anytime, anywhere at their own pace from any device. It's simple to use."
If you are thinking of trying online training, here are five things to consider and examples of tools to get you started.
1. Get specific. One of the advantages of online education is the sheer volume of possibilities. There's no need to attend a general seminar about Internet marketing if you really just need a specific course about how to create daily deals that people will buy.
"Online, we can find training options for very specific and sometimes obscure topics," says John Walsh, president of Total Mortgage Services in Milford, Conn. "We've found that if we can think of it, then someone has put together a video, slides, or a podcast covering it."
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For instance, Dave Handmaker, CEO of online printing company Next Day Flyers, says his business has benefited from online training in online marketing from Market Motive. The company offers courses in Internet marketing fundamentals, search engine optimization, analytics, and conversion. Self-paced courses start at $299 and courses with a personalized coach are $3,500 for 12 weeks.
2. Allow for flexibility. With face-to-face training, you usually get one chance to soak it all in. But many online programs are on-demand, meaning learners can move at their own pace and watch presentations again and again if needed.
"The added flexibility allows everyone to work at his or her own pace and better fit the training into a busy schedule," Walsh says. "For instance, the technology training that we buy for our developers consists of a series of videos covering a topic. During the videos, the instructor works on a project and our developers follow along, recreating that same project. They're constantly pausing, rewinding, or replaying the videos. The developers prefer this style of training, and it's not possible offline."
For a monthly subscription fee of about $50, Treehouse offers unlimited access to more than 650 training videos, including quizzes and challenges, to keep employees updated on everything related to designing and developing programs for the web and mobile devices.
3. Go mobile. Online education also allows for flexibility across technology formats. Employees can learn at home, on the job, or anywhere they use their smartphone.
During the past year, mobile apps have become more popular, according to Kimmons. For instance, AppSumo offers hundreds of training apps and e-books selected specifically for entrepreneurs, on topics including design, analytics, marketing, advertising and productivity, ranging in price from $10 to about $500.
4. Learn from top dogs. The Internet allows for opportunities to learn from those who are true experts in their chosen fields. For example, Walsh says online training allows his technology team to learn from programmers and software engineers who have experience working at Google, Facebook and other cutting-edge companies.
For instance, Digital Royalty University (DRU) offers courses in utilizing social media for small business, created and taught by social media experts who have run social media campaigns for major brands like Shaquille O'Neal, the Chicago White Sox and DoubleTree by Hilton. DRU offers a free introductory class on shaping a social media strategy. Other classes on topics such as Facebook, Twitter, and creating an online brand, start at around $40.
5. Do your research. Not every online course is worth the money. Chad Grills, co-founder of educational software company Applet Studios, learned that the hard way, when he purchased a large marketing training package and realized it contained very little actionable content.
To avoid that disappointment, once you've decided which online training works for your company, research your choice. "If I think a training program is really valuable, and comes from a person who I respect, I'll often contact them with questions to test their customer service, says Grills. "Then, I can make an informed decision. If you can't get a hold of them or a support associate, that's a red flag."
You can also try a Google or Twitter search for reviews of the learning program you're considering, and look for courses that have courses that have some sort of follow up questions or quiz.