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Design Strategy: The Secret to Effective Content Conversions

While much of corporate training is still instructor-led training in a classroom setting, the rise of digital tools and eLearning has led companies to incorporate more of these assets into their training programs. Some companies decide that their traditional instructor-led training (ILT) should evolve into eLearning, but why is that decision made and how should it be handled?

We turned to Dr. Kate Worlton-Pulham, a performance consultant with AllenComm, who understands the benefits of both instructor-led and web-based training. We spoke to her about her upcoming webinar on effective transitions from ILT to eLearning formats, and whether it should be approached as a conversion, evolution, or revolution for your training content.

What led you to work in the e-learning industry?

Dr. Worlton-Pulham: I was a graduate student and then a professor at the University of Oxford, where instruction is often in the form of one-on-one discussions and debates between student and professor. It may seem strange that I talk about the shift from instructor-led training to eLearning. While I hope that digital learning never replaces instructor interactions completely, I saw the University evolve while I was a student and then as a professor more into the digital space. I wanted to be a part of this confluence – in which the best of social and digital (individual) learning could be optimized. After several years in academia, I decided to go into corporate learning to broaden the variety of learning collaboration and experiences with which I could be involved. Now, I try to incorporate the critical thinking and energy a social environment allows into digital learning.

This is a perfect illustration of the prevalence of the traditional, instructor-led training modality outside of the corporate space. It’s how we teach from elementary school to college, and so it’s important to ask whether we incorporate ILT in the workplace because it’s the most effective way to communicate information or simply because it’s the status quo.

Some studies show instructor-led training accounts for almost 70% of corporate training [1]. Why do companies still use instructor-led training so often in a digital world?

Dr. Worlton-Pulham: Because instructor-led training is good at crucial learning techniques that are hard to replicate digitally, namely practicing, reviewing, sharing, and giving and receiving feedback with cohorts, mentors, and experts in real-time. Granted, with the right tech, preserving the best of ILT in eLearning is certainly possible. That’s what this webinar will cover.

About half of that 70% of instructor-led training breaks down to a hybrid of instructor-led and eLearning components while the other half is only in a classroom setting. While companies recognize the value an instructor adds to training, more web-based tools are being added to ILT.

AC: Why would a company want to transition their training to a web-based format?

Dr. Worlton-Pulham: We all know the reasons for transitioning from ILT to WBT (saving money, saving time, and training large groups of people on their own time being at the top of the list). The webinar stresses that ILT may still be the optimal format for a company, but once a company has already made the decision to shift from ILT to eLearning, there are specific strategies and tactics to not just “convert” your content, but to workshop deliberate performance mapping strategies in order to decide what the learning experience needs to be in terms of the needed business impact, and the current and future state of the learners. We use design thinking pitched directly at how to incite the evolution or even a revolution from ILT to eLearning to arrive at a new performance map that will bring learners beyond what was expected—scalable with the highest impact.

When companies undergo training transitions, it can be a difficult adjustment. From onboarding to leadership training, a company’s tone and culture can be affected by shifts in training style. Many companies view their transition from instructor-led training to eLearning as a simple conversion. It would be an oversight not to consider the context for content and assume that the delivery method won’t affect the learning. Instead, companies should take the chance to revolutionize their training and energize leaders and employees into making effective change.

Why is “revolution” a better mentality than “conversion”? What makes a “conversion” mentality less effective?

Dr. Worlton-Pulham: The shift from ILT to eLearning can plug-and-play a slide deck into an LMS, or it can carefully investigate and design for the learners’ performance needs within the context of business goals, company culture, and larger organizational initiatives. I’ve seen redesigned learning experiences help revolutionize entire organizations. It’s deliberate work, but it can have that influence if we as designers ask the right questions and design for big-picture change. Spoiler: high-tech is not a must.

Because instructor-led modality is so strongly ingrained in learning culture, it’s understandable why a company would continue to use it.

What if a company resists the change from ILT to eLearning? Are there problems they can anticipate and address to help that resistance?

Dr. Worlton-Pulham: I don’t really want to pitch this as privileging eLearning over ILT, because sometimes ILT is what learners need, and I think the organization knows it. I’m more interested in what we do with their existing ILT once they’ve already determined eLearning is the best choice for them. Helping them arrive at that choice usually involves investigating the numbers and long-term value (i.e., the value of the current ILT vs. its cost and showing them the financial efficacy of moving to eLearning). But again, that’s not what this webinar is about. Companies are smart enough to know the costs already.

It’s important to emphasize this point. Just because our world is becoming more digital-friendly and e-learning focused doesn’t mean that eLearning is a cure-all for training needs. There are some topics that are better taught by an instructor with experience. Confidential or sensitive subjects are perfect for ILTs. Instructors are helpful when learners need a broad overview of a complex system before it’s broken down into smaller components. Or, when tackling concepts that aren’t as tactile, an instructor could be the way to go.

But, when a company wants to incorporate the advantages of eLearning, what are the first steps they can take to revolutionize their training?

Dr. Worlton-Pulham: Companies we work with rarely come to us expecting a revolution, but, it goes without saying, they’re delightfully surprised when they get one. If companies come to us ready to talk through the nuances of the current and future state of their business, people, and training, we can tee up for an evolution and even detect possibilities for a revolution. This is where training consultants are at their best: we give the company something they needed but weren’t expecting.

Instructor-led training clearly has a place and purpose within the workforce, but companies should also consider the potential advantages eLearning and digital tools can add to their training program.

Dr. Worlton-Pulham’s upcoming webinar, entitled “ILT to eLearning: A Conversion, Evolution, or Revolution?” will further explore these topics. Attendees will learn how to apply innovative design thinking while integrating training into larger training initiatives, distill ILT content for eLearning content to exceed learning expectations, and discover tech tools to preserve ILT simulations. Register now to pick up some actional insights for your own training content.


[1] Prevalence of ILT