Andrea writes original articles across a spectrum of topics, providing unique insights to leadership, culture change, organizational engagement, customer insights, and communications.

So now that we live in a virtual world, almost everything has moved online. Zoom meetings and webinars have now become the norm. Many organizations are also translating their educational programming and training (whether internal or external) online. However, it’s not as easy as taking what you do today and simply doing it “digital”. Creating an effective and truly results-generating digital training program requires a unique approach.

Firstly, training that was traditionally presented in a classroom setting is highly dependent on interaction and audience participation. Q&A if you will. Along with this, larger, longer segments of information can be conveyed, because you’re not simply verbally communicating it but also showing it visually. You can have multiple conversational examples, and “students” will also have small interactions between each other. It’s much more interactive by nature.

learning online, virtualOn the other hand, online courses require consistent, constant attention from the “student”. You can’t wander off or get distracted or you miss a lot. This means that information must be presented much more simply concise, and in “digestible bites” – meaning small segments versus long lectures. Also, there needs to be much more variety, between lecture, reading, and mini-quizzes. Things need to be repeated more frequently and re-presented in a wider variety of “flavors” – tell them, illustrate it and then show it in action.

So how do you take your current programs and make them suitable for effective online education? Here’s a quick primer:

Don’t make any lecture segment longer than 10 minutes.

Think TED Talks – people will pay attention deeply for about 10-15 minutes. Beyond that, you lose them.

Create a mix of mediums.

Just because you are digital, doesn’t mean you have to have a PPT or talking head the whole time. Break your program into small segments, where “students” change from PPT to lecture to reading to a refresher quiz.

Break everything into small chunks.

Remote learners will continually be distracted by email, phone calls, kids, and life in general. Divide your training into small modules where the learner can go back and review a small segment or simply devote 15 minutes to knock out a segment and come back later.

Eliminate fluff.

Many educational programs waste a lot of time talking about historical information, information about the company/institution, or simply unrelated content to the subject matter being conveyed. Get rid of any content or information that doesn’t tie directly and support the subject or topic that you’re training on.

Don’t try to cram in too much.

The most effective online learning programs focus on small bits. For example, you shouldn’t have a course on “marketing strategy”. More specifically, have a series of courses on “social media communication”, “marketing plan development”, “competitive analysis techniques” and the like. It’s unreasonable and highly ineffective to try to take every element of a broad concept and stuff them into a 200-hour online course. Think of it as a multi-course meal, rather than everything at once on one plate.

While we are all in a rush to move our materials online, don’t forget the old adage, “Garbage in, garbage out”. If your programs sucked before going online, they will suck even more in a digital format. Take the time to clean things up and make the investment – it will pay in dividends over the long term.

If you’re looking for a good example, audit a course on You’ll see that there’s a better way than simply “putting it online”.

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Andrea Olson is a speaker, author, behavioral economics and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers and No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing. She is a four-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been featured in news sources such as Chief Executive Magazine, Customer Experience Magazine, Industry Week, and more. Andrea is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, a TEDx presenter and TEDx speaker coach. She is also a mentor at the University of Iowa Venture School.