Customer Education Best Practices Amid COVID-19

A Time to Shine: Customer Education Best Practices for Dark Days

Adam Avramescu
Jul 28, 2020 11:13:21 AM

The situation we find ourselves in

This post summarizes an episode of CELab: The Customer Education Lab podcast, hosted by Dave Derington and Adam Avramescu, focused on Customer Education in the time of Covid-19.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many customer educators and instructional designers need to bring their customer training content online, but have no previous experience doing it. For many who have been thrust into bringing programs online with no advance notice, the question on your mind may be, “How am I going to approach online learning? It’s my first time making this transition.” If you’re used to having all the learners face-to-face in a classroom, which of course is not possible right now, how can you adapt to the world of online learning?

Not only does moving your training online keep you in business, but you’re also helping your learners in ways you never thought. Remote training and e-learning can still offer effective learning experiences. You’ll still find opportunities to see people's faces, to ask each other questions, and to call on each other. In fact, remote learning programs can drive both personal and professional education, simultaneously building connections at a time when many feel a sense of isolation.

Take the first step to online learning

It took a pandemic to significantly disrupt a common practice of many businesses: In-person training. Trainers find that virtual training isn’t quite the same and demands new skills and somewhat different approaches. Many instructional designers are perfectionists, and the idea of rapidly transitioning to online content goes against conventional wisdom to build methodically using ADDIE and similar frameworks.

But timing is critical. Instead of getting it perfect, you’ll now be saying, “Okay, I'm going to run a class. Do I have my talking points? Yes. Do I know what I'm going to talk about? Yes.”

With a sudden, dramatic shift like this, we would benefit by looking at progress, not perfection. What can you do now, vs. in six months? 

First, ask yourself a couple of key questions about the short-term:

  • What is stopping you from recording an imperfect version of your live training?
  • What is stopping you from taking that hour-long recording and breaking it up into shorter, 3-5 minute modules? 

You can do the above without a lot of instructional design work, and you'll go back and do the deeper instructional design work later. You’ll be able to add some polish, organize it neatly, and voila! Long-lasting, scalable content. The key here is to ensure that you're meeting the needs of your customers at the right time, which in this case is right now

Content has to be repurposed fast. Many programs are taking their ILT (instructor-led training) courses and converting them to vILT (Virtual Instructor-Led Training). Although not everyone is comfortable developing or facilitating vILT courses, it’s often the modality that lets you most quickly bring a live course online. 

How do you turn ILT into vILT? Start with what you know: between the instructor and one or more subject-matter experts (SMEs), you probably have the expertise and the domain knowledge. You likely have learning objectives in place already. If you’ve presented on this topic live before, it's not a stretch to do it virtually, especially under the current circumstances. Your flow of content will evolve over time, but if you don’t have any great ideas for how to restructure the course, use your ILT curriculum as the starting point.

But engagement is a little tougher: if you aren’t in the room with your audience, how will you keep them engaged? What are the tools and techniques you need? 

Learn more about COGNITION 2020

First, you’ll want some sort of webinar or training delivery software like GoToWebinar, GoToTraining or Zoom. Other popular technologies include BigMarker, Demio, Hopin, WebinarJam, and Livestorm. Ideally you’ll want something with breakout rooms and interactivity, to facilitate social learning. 

As soon as you select your main conferencing tool, get familiar with it, so you don’t make rookie mistakes. For example, in Zoom you must allow people in individually. If you’re panicked that there’s no one in the room, well, they may be waiting in the lobby. Make sure you have the answers to questions such as:

  • How are they going to register?
  • How are they going to connect?
  • Are they going to be on video?
  • How are they going to ask questions?
  • How will you encourage interactivity? 

From a facilitation standpoint, how are you going to interact with the people who are asking questions? While you’re speaking, learners might be entering questions in chat, and you don't see it right away. That's why you need a copilot, somebody whose primary job is to watch the chat and respond to the questions that are coming in -- either answering them directly in chat, or escalating them to the main facilitator to answer.

Now that you have a virtual classroom setup, figure out how you’re going to engage people. There is certainly screen sharing, and there are a host of inexpensive tools you can use to create interactivity and engagement, such as Kahoot! and Slido

Some other techniques available to you include:

  • Leave-behinds, job aids, or one-pagers
  • Homework or follow-up assignments
  • Quizzes and knowledge checks
  • Polls
  • Office hours, so people can check-in with you.

Many vILT facilitators have found that one of the most effective techniques is for the individual learner to do the leading on their own. Particularly in software training, there’s no substitute to having your learners take turns sharing their screen. It makes the learning stick, particularly if you have set up their environment fully configured.

While you start with Virtual Instructor-Led Training, you can then go further and experiment with more interactive sessions and move from more of a webinar style to a virtual interactive format. 

Incorporate Video and Interactive eLearning

As you continue to move content online, you’ll typically do more than just transition your ILT courses into vILT. Eventually you’ll want to create on-demand content that can be accessed at any time, and this typically involves creating video or interactive e-learning.

There are plenty of tools out there which are easy to use and help you to create short videos which you can include in your online instruction. You could use QuickTime for an initial quick video, but there are better tools such as Camtasia, Articulate Rise and Storyline, Adobe Captivate, ScreenFlow and CloudApp.

How well-produced do your videos need to be? Your brand guidelines will dictate that to an extent, but what do you do if you don’t have access to a videographer and studio at home? Well, this could be an opportunity to put aside some of the glitz and glamor in favor of a more direct approach. Focus on the core content, and what you could do to help a person accomplish a certain learning objective quickly. There’s much to learn from YouTube: Simple gets the job done.

When you’re prioritizing speed vs quality, keep this unintuitive finding in mind: in many cases, audio quality is more important than your video quality. Bad audio will turn people off and make them check out. Get a decent directional microphone so you don’t pick up the dog barking or the neighbors fighting. It can be your headset. Go in a quiet room to record. Go into a closet if you have to. Block out the world … as much as you can!

As you go to record a video, you may find it easy to become overwhelmed. This is particularly true if you are learning new tools while being concerned about high-quality. You don’t have to worry about fancy transitions, flyovers, highlighting and other tricks of the trade. It’s good enough to display your screens and maybe some slides. It’s vitally important to remember: Perfection is aspirational; you’re after speed. Minor errors and minor mistakes will be discovered. Every correction comes with a cost. “Good enough” is cost-effective. 

When you’re making videos, we recommend keeping them short. If you don’t have a benchmark, start by challenging yourself to 3-5 minutes on a specific topic. Analytics typically show a dropoff after a certain video length, but that dropoff can change depending on the topic, so we recommend using your video analytics to see when people typically drop off and hypothesize as to why. Answering those questions will help you develop the next version of that video, as well as develop guidelines for future videos. We’ll dive more into analytics in a moment.

Finally, ensure that your content focuses on the “why” or “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me?), not just the “what.” Begin by explaining why you want to do the thing that you're explaining in the video, so that it becomes more relevant to the learner, and you're not just showing feature functionality and procedures without making them relevant to what the learner should be doing with that information.

Measure the effectiveness of your training content

Going forward, to understand what content you need to develop, you’ll want to monitor two areas:

  1. Analytics
  2. Customer feedback

For analytics, you need to understand what content is being viewed and what isn't. Your web analytics or video hosting platforms should be able to give you data on what content is being viewed most and least frequently, as well as where people are dropping off. If a piece of content is not really being used, it's usually better to phase it out than to keep maintaining it over time.

Customer feedback gives you a way to determine what content to fix over time, as well as a window into why your most successful content is working. Look at what content is getting high ratings or low ratings, as well as what qualitative feedback customers give. Low-performing content that’s also highly viewed should be a prime target for you to fix. 

Feedback will also help you inform your content development process. Given that it’s expensive to maintain and update a growing library of content, you want to make sure that any changes to content are major enough to make it worth the time. For example, if you change the color of a button in your product’s UI, do you need to redo all the video that showed that button? What if you change your product’s navigation? 

There isn’t a clear line that tells you when your video is out of date. That said, in some ways you can let your customers tell you. Often a minor change can feel like a big deal internally to you, but a customer might not even notice. Conversely, a minor update to your product could affect your customers in unintended ways. By monitoring your analytics, surveys, and feedback from your Customer Success Managers, you’ll have a good pulse on when content needs to be updated.

The fleeting opportunity to try new online training 

Regardless of what you choose, now is the perfect opportunity to try new things, make mistakes, learn what works and move as quickly as possible so you can get your training online for your customers. It’s a market demand that you must meet today, but what you learn will help you carry forward in the months and years to come. We predict that the shift to online learning is here to stay, even after live courses can resume.

Hear the entire discussion from Adam Avramescu and Dave Derington on the CELab podcast #35.

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