The 5 Most Important Factors for Quality in Online Training

As online training grows into a bigger, more competitive field, achieving quality poses various challenges.

Online training is an ever-expanding field. In fact, a recent survey from strategy firm Roland Berger projected that the online corporate training industry will grow by 13 percent a year from now until 2017. More than 77 percent of U.S. companies will have offered such training by the end of 2015, compared to only 4 percent of companies that did so in 1995, according to the same study. These changes are making it more important to pinpoint quality in an expanding sea of online programs.

However, online training poses several challenges—with quality an even higher barrier to achievement. Time constraints pose a challenge for both trainers and trainees. For trainers, time is necessary to create a great online presentation. For trainees, there is a temptation to not fully participate or sacrifice valuable time, as there is always something more pressing. Another challenge is paying attention and retaining information, especially as the average human attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish, according to a study this year from Microsoft. Yet another challenge is meeting educational standards and delivering important messaging while keeping content fun and engaging for trainees.

Achieving quality hinges on a combination of critical factors, no matter the context. Creating and identifying a quality online training program requires the following five ingredients:

  1. Functionality and user-friendliness of online tools and materials
  2. Value of core information and lessons
  3. Engagement
  4. Integration of information and technologies
  5. Accountability and adaptability


The most basic foundation of online training is the functionality of online tools. Video needs to play properly. Imagery needs to be clear. Information needs to be concise, accurate, and grammatically correct. The user-friendliness of tools and materials goes hand-in-hand with their functionality. Trainees need to be able to easily flip through slides or be able to pause programs to easily revisit something they may have missed while bookmarking where they left off. Trainees also should be able to easily and quickly access information, meaning it needs to be stored in a format and location that’s familiar and downloadable.


Once the logistical, functional aspects of an online training program are in place, the content will be center stage—but only if it is valuable to the trainees. While things that look good do have value, at the end of the day, the information is only as good as it makes the employees. In that case, it needs to be carefully vetted, well researched, up to date, and thoughtful so the trainees do a better job in their everyday work. There’s a reason people read thick books—because the content keeps their attention, for one reason or another. Likewise, if online training is desirable enough, participants will better benefit from it and, for optional programs, be more likely to attend.


Engagement is the next ingredient in the quality pie, and many sub-factors go into whether or not an online course grabs participants’ attention. One sub-factor is storytelling and real-world applicability—through anecdotes and examples of how the training might affect them and others in similar positions, trainees will be more likely to latch on to content. Another factor is the size of a group, which can invite more or less interaction between trainees. In addition, the personality of the trainer can humanize and make the experience feel more worthwhile for trainees. Timeliness is another big piece of maintaining attention—if the talk is too brief or too long, trainees won’t be interested enough to care about the content. Finally, it’s important to always include interactive graphics, text, video, and audio that are not only clear and organized, but colorful, fun, and contemporary to boost the quality of the trainee experience—and likely information retention. Also helping with engagement, gamification in online training is a major trend, with 79 percent of corporate and university participants in a recent TalentLMS survey saying they would be more productive and motivated if their learning environment was like a game. Further, Gartner predicted that by the end of this year, more than 50 percent of corporate processes will be gamified.


The fourth key factor to quality online training—integration of information and tools—is critical for online training to seamlessly and dynamically connect functionality, content, and media for a fully integrated experience. Trainees should have the freedom to use their preferred device, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and customize settings to their preferred comfort levels. Without full integration of information and tools, online training can’t reach its full potential to grow alongside evolving technology and capabilities to create a more ideal user experience.


Finally, it’s important to remember that with all of this freedom and ability to customize the online training experience, we need to make sure people are actually learning—have they gained knowledge and retained knowledge? The most effective way to ensure positive output is to test e-learning materials. Be it a dry-run or beta test, a knowledge check can act as a benchmark to let you know where things are going wrong, or even who they’re going wrong for. Data encourages trainers to be adaptable and adjust content—no matter the type—so it caters to different learning styles while delivering a positive return on the investment. Trainers often have good intentions to adjust content, but most don’t go back after ideating and testing. While the soup de jour of e-learning is going to evolve and change over time, it’s important to commit to reaching quality to ensure the best results.

As online training grows into a bigger, more competitive field, achieving quality poses various challenges. Thankfully, technology is allowing the creation of more efficient, intelligent, engaging, and effective online training every day.

Matt Pierce is customer support manager at TechSmith Corp., a software company that provides practical business and academic solutions that change how people communicate and collaborate across devices. A graduate of Indiana University’s School of Education’s Department of Instructional Systems Technology, Pierce has 10 years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training and user assistance teams for TechSmith, and also has run its visual communication Web show, The Forge, interviewing guests from around the world discussing the use of visuals, video, and technology in education, training, marketing, and more. Teach him something @piercemr.