8 Things to Ensure Online Professional Development Works

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As an employer, it’s not always easy to motivate staff to attend training. However, professional development courses are designed to help them build their skills and advance their careers. Online professional development courses are readily available, but you’ll need to know how to help people get the most out of them.

What are online professional development courses?

Professional development courses come in many different shapes and sizes. From bite-sized learning modules of 90 minutes through to full leadership courses, there is a huge range of courses that you can find for your employees. Essentially, a professional development course is anything that helps you perform a job better. But it’s a bit more than just that.

Professional development teaches skills such as time management, conflict resolution, communicating with influence, leadership, project management and much more. These courses give employees the skills to handle situations more confidently, and for many, they’re a great stepping stone to career advancement.

Importantly, the skills can be used in all areas of life, not just in the workplace. In that sense, the benefits are far-reaching.

How to get the most benefit from online courses

While online professional development courses in Australia can benefit everybody, there are ways to ensure you maximise those benefits. Simply participating in an online course and forgetting about it is a waste of time, so it’s important you take some steps to ensure your staff get the most out of it. It’s always a struggle to balance development opportunities and the ongoing work that everybody has on their plate, but there are some smart ways to ensure people can do both.

Here are some helpful tips to ensure online professional development courses actually work.

1. Ensure staff are given appropriate time

One of the biggest issues when it comes to scheduling training and development opportunities is time. People have a lot going on, and it’s not always as simple as dropping everything to attend a course. Depending on how your business operates, it’s a great idea if professional development courses can be scheduled well in advance. If they’re booked in and time is blocked out on people’s calendars, they can prepare for them in advance.

Although online courses are much more time-friendly than traditional classroom-based training, it’s still not always easy to set that time aside. You could even make it easier for your staff by allowing them the use of an office or meeting room for the duration of the course, as this limits distractions.

2. Consider staggered training sessions

The beauty of online courses is the flexibility in how and when people can participate. Some online courses are facilitated, so they still follow a time schedule. Others can be done completely at a participant’s convenience. Either way, it’s difficult to have several members of one team all attending training at the same time. When classroom-based training was the norm, it made sense to get as many people into each session as possible. But online learning gives you the chance to be smarter with scheduling.

If you want several staff members to attend a certain type of training, that’s fine. But try to stagger them across different sessions so there’s always some coverage on the floor. This takes the pressure off all of the attendees and helps you manage work priorities and learning opportunities at the same time.

3. Reorganise workloads if necessary

This ties in with your time management as far as scheduling training goes. The biggest worry people have when they attend courses is the work that piles up while they’re gone. Although your staff can stay in the workplace, even at their own desk, to complete online professional development courses, that doesn’t stop the emails from rolling in, or their daily tasks stacking up.

To help people have access to professional development without the stress, try to reschedule workloads. If someone is participating in an all-day online course, find ways to share their regular daily work around the rest of the team. If you’ve staggered the training as suggested above, this becomes a lot easier. Handsome daily tasks off to others, and things can run much more smoothly. Also, people won’t mind taking on a few extra jobs because they know the same will be done for them when it’s their turn for training.

4. Involve staff in development course choices

Because the list of professional development courses is quite long and diverse, how do you know which courses are right for your teams? The easiest way is by talking to them. Many businesses sign employees up for mandatory monthly training sessions, which is totally fine as long as the courses are relevant. Problems arise when people are instructed to participate in online training courses that they don’t see any value in.

So, rather than an authoritarian approach, why not involve your staff in development decision-making. Give them some options when planning the next few months of training, and allow them to vote for the courses they’d most like to do. This gives them a voice and increases the likelihood of your people being actively engaged in training.

5. Look for courses that match career goals

In the case that you don’t have mandatory training courses, but rather your learning and development opportunities are guided by individual training plans, it’s important to consider the career goals of participants. Professional development is a pretty broad term. Some people may have leadership aspirations, so you can talk to them about leadership courses, communicating with influence, project management and more.

On the other hand, you may have some staff members who are great at what they do, but they’re happy where they are. If they genuinely don’t have those leadership aspirations, why force them to attend? They can still do other online professional development courses that suit their career path. Perhaps more widely-used skills such as time management can be targeted for these people.

6. Make online learning a priority

Above all else, you need to stress the importance of online training. This comes down to the culture you build in your workplace, and the most dynamic businesses have a strong focus on learning and development. Staff need to see that professional development is part of what you do, not something that just ticks a box for head office.

When you hold monthly performance meetings, discuss training. Make it a discussion point in team meetings. Send emails about learning opportunities. When staff see that you’re serious about helping people better themselves through training, it creates a culture of development that never stops.

7. Encourage active participation in sessions

Everybody has a different level of comfort when it comes to group activities, and that’s ok. However, as leaders, you should try to encourage staff to actively participate where they can. Ask questions, contribute to group discussion. These activities may seem daunting to some, so you don’t want to be too forceful about it. However, particularly in facilitated online training, it’s crucial that people are engaged completely. Active participation always increases engagement levels, and it also increases the benefits people receive from their courses. 

8. Ensure online development courses are treated like any other training

Finally, make sure that your staff treat online training just as they would a more formal, classroom-based training session. While online professional development courses offer more flexibility, that doesn’t mean attendance should just constantly be postponed due to other commitments. When it’s booked in, ensure your staff are given the freedom to attend.

When staff begin to embrace professional development, you will see a culture of learning grow around you. Employees will be more engaged, and importantly, more equipped to handle a whole range of workplace problems. Ensure online training can be treated just like any other training session, and you’ll maximise the benefits for everyone.