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Soft skills have become an area of increased focus for organizations. The global Covid-19 pandemic has seen companies switching from face-to-face training to online delivery. In a sense, increasingly digital workplaces and hybrid working arrangements have emphasized the need for organizations to consciously hone and apply these skills to create and maintain inclusive, engaging, sustainable working environments.

Now organizations are facing the decision of whether to go back to in-person training, or to keep soft skills training online. We’re going to look at what these soft skills are, and the benefits and challenges of online and face-to-face soft skills training.

What are Soft Skills and why are they Important?

Development of soft skills is about personal growth as much as it is about organizational gain – from developing emotional intelligence, to improving communication, increasing adaptability, and learning to motivate yourself and others. These are the skills that help us build trust, collaborate, and innovate. They are the skills that influence organizational culture and that help create environments in which new employees thrive and more seasoned employees stick around. 

It’s important to identify the soft skills that you want to prioritize to support organizational goals before designing your courses. Soft skills training might include courses on developing skills such as workplace communication and empathy, time management, personal branding, collaboration, organization, coaching, mindfulness, stress management, decision-making, critical thinking, problem-solving. 

These are also skills that contribute to personal health and wellbeing outside of work environments, because they are tools that can be used, and are helpful, in every area of people’s lives. They are also core skills required of leaders, so, by investing in developing these skills, you are equipping your workforce for long-term success. 

A company that invests in soft as well as hard skills training is likely to be one that understands that the growth and development of its people is directly linked to its success as an organization. 

Can you Learn Soft Skills Online?

Delivering face-to-face training can be costly and time consuming. Online learning is undoubtedly more efficient and scalable. However, whilst online tools are undoubtedly fantastic for sharing information and transferring knowledge, a significant part of honing soft skills lies in practical application, and there are limits to what digital learning can achieve when it comes to putting the training into practice and really embedding these soft skills. This is where online learning falls short. A significant part of honing soft skills is in the practice of their application. 

More recently, companies with bigger budgets have been developing Virtual Reality (VR) based training to help embed learning. VR offers learners the opportunity to practice what they have learned, as though in the real world. However, as this technology is not available to every company, we need to find other ways of helping learners to really absorb the skills that they are learning about.

Is Blended Learning the Answer?

Experience has proven that online learning can and does play a significant role in soft skills training. The generous availability and popularity of online courses alone is testament to this fact. 

This blended approach to soft skills training is being favored by companies such as Amazon Europe, who, having rapidly reinstated face to face soft skill training following COVID, are actively exploring what the optimal blend of on and offline training is. 

Including digital elements in your learning strategy saves money. Sharing information with employees for them to read before training sessions and meetings so that people come to these already prepared, cuts down the amount of face-to-face training needed and, therefore, reduces cost. It’s not just about cost though. VR training environments also require the know-how of a technician  to operate effectively so they require in-house know-how of their own.

So, unless you have a VR technician at your fingertips and can afford to design and implement VR courses, the practical element of the learning needs, ideally, to happen in a room, with other people. For these reasons, some companies are choosing to maintain online resources for knowledge transfer, but opt for in-person training to embed the skills, making sure that learners are equipped with practical as well as theoretical knowledge.

If you would like to learn more about designing online, mobile-based resources to help your workforce develop essential soft skills, get in touch with a member of our expert team now. 

Stine Sandbo is Motimate Creative Studio’s resident expert in learning content design. With a Masters in Pedagogy, the method and practice of teaching, she knows just how important well-thought-out design and communication is to creating successful online learning. Stine has made it her mission to help learning teams everywhere design and deliver the best learning content that they possibly can.

Developing software training can feel like a daunting task. You’ve gathered your technical information, you know who you’re training and why you’re doing it, but now you need to turn this into a learning experience that users will engage with and find easy to follow. Where do you start?

I’ve put together some practical guidance and a helpful checklist to help you create software training that will hit the mark, because, as we know, online training has its own specific set of design considerations. 

We need to consider that people may be learning on-the-go, in real-time, and in busy or loud environments. We also need to factor in shorter learning times and attention spans.  With this in mind, I’ll be zooming in on three important aspects of creating engaging software training:

  1. How to motivate your learners 
  2. How to engage your learners 
  3. How to help them retain the learning

How to Design Software Training That Works

1. Set the scene, outline the purpose, and highlight the benefits

It’s important to engage learners right from the beginning. If you don’t seize their attention from the word ‘go’, you’re going to struggle to engage them with the rest of the training. 

Get straight to the point. Make it clear what benefit the learner is going to get from completing the training – what are they going to learn and how is it going to make their life better, their job easier?

Developing your elevator pitch can be a useful way of doing this. An elevator pitch is a statement of intent that you would be able to recite in a 60 second lift ride before losing your captive audience to the world outside. 

You might choose to deliver this statement of intent in video format, using text, or a combination of both, but either way, keep it short. 

2. Give the training a face 

Introducing yourself to the learner with a photograph or selfie video at the beginning of the course establishes human connection, engaging learners and helping them place the learning in context. It’s a reminder that behind the training is a person who has created it with them in mind. You could even appear more than once during the training, or interview a colleague or two to create variety and encourage learners to keep going!

3. Break up the learning and keep it short

Our attention spans can be short, and we can only absorb so much information at one time. Applying the principles of micro-learning can help offset these factors. 

Micro-learning is all about delivering learning in small chunks – one lesson at a time. Chunking up the learning in this way and not trying to cover too much ground at once helps us absorb and retain information. In a sense, this enables us to file the information away in our brains more easily. 

Diversifying content types is also a micro-learning principle. Where it makes sense, try breaking up the learning by using multiple content blocks and including different content formats based on imagery, videos, screen recordings, games and quizzes. 

When it comes to videos and screen recordings keep them short. Films should be no longer than 1 – 2 minutes long. If you have a lot to cover, it is better to use multiple short films than one long film that tries to cover everything.

4. Keep your content formats simple

Generally, when creating software training, designers tend to default to video, but you might not always need to use video. Sometimes using images to guide learners through a step-by-step approach can be just as effective. In some cases, it can work well to use a combination of video and imagery.

To decide on the best approach, try storyboarding your ideas. Create a sequence of drawings and directions representing the direction of travel and intent of the training. This should help you understand what content formats to use and where. 

5. Accommodate different learning styles

Because different people learn best in different ways (visual, audio, kinaesthetic), consider including text below your videos, with step-by-step instructions. No matter a person’s personal preference, having the information presented in different ways helps reinforce the learning by stimulating different parts of the brain.

Including subtitles on videos is also something to consider – for reasons of hearing impairment or because your learners might be training in busy or loud environments. 

6. Make sure the training is easy to navigate and follow 

Software training can sometimes be hard to follow. Help learners stay on track by making  the training easy to navigate. Here are some tips to help you do just this:

7. Make the most of Motimate’s Hotspots feature 

The Hotspots content block is a quiz feature. Using Hotspots, you can drop images into your training and ask learners to click on the part of the photo that they think answers the question or challenge. You might add a screenshot of a feature from your training and ask your learners to identify the element that achieves a goal in a specific scenario. 

Hotspots are a great way of getting learners to interact with the training and help commit information to memory. Consider what elements of your content would be enhanced by such an interactive approach. 

8. Never compromise on sound quality 

It’s essential that the training is supported by good sound quality. In some ways, sound quality is more important than picture quality because it prompts emotional engagement with the content. Sound establishes the tone and creates the mood of every video and screen recording in your training. If a film has no sound, it becomes very difficult for a person to follow for long. 

Make sure your sound quality is up to scratch. Get to know your recording equipment properly before you start recording and test the sound. If it’s not good enough, find the right equipment. 

 9. Always edit your content 

It’s important to review and edit your video, text, and audio content to keep it short and to the point. You will probably find that you can edit out a significant amount of unnecessary material – written words and surplus audio time (pauses and chatting).  Good editing will help you keep the training relevant so you can keep your learners engaged. 

 10. Make the training attractive 

Training that looks dull, is dull. Liven it up with a visually dynamic and colourful interface, using colours, Gifs and fun images. Drawing on your company’s image library can be a good way of including images that people recognise and find more engaging.

You can use Motimate’s PosterBlocks feature to edit your photos, create headers and make everything look a little bit more fun and engaging. 

If you’ve found this article helpful, you can download my handy free checklist to share and follow next time you are designing software training. 

When people talk about inclusion, they often talk about diversity too. It’s true that the two are inextricably linked, but it’s important to recognize they are separate parts of an equation. We think Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid said it best when they said that:

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

We’ll be exploring the second part of this equation – inclusion – specifically, why it’s important and what it means for digital learning design.

Why Inclusive Digital Design is Powerful

Inclusive learning design provides opportunity for everyone to succeed, in any given learning context, regardless of age, ability, experience, gender, race or religion. This means creating a safe space to learn that encourages everyone to have a go.

The benefits of learning reach far beyond the immediate. The things that we learn in a classroom or through an online training program often benefit us beyond the work environment in which we are being trained to use them, and sometimes in indirect ways.

This knowledge and these skills may be immediately useful at work or for securing our next job, but they have additional benefits – the learning might make you a more confident person, a better teacher to others, a more productive team-mate, a more engaged member of your community, a more fluent conversationalist around the dinner table – because learning reaches far beyond its immediate purpose and environment.

Inclusive design is the difference between disregarding and embracing differences in learners. Inclusive design takes individual differences into account. 

The power of inclusive design is in its ability to engage everyone with learning content, its ability to expose learners to cultures and ideas with which they might be less familiar, and its potential to inspire and reinforce positive behaviors both within and without the organization. 

Inclusive design aims to faithfully represent everyone at work, but it’s also a way of representing the place in which you aspire to work in the future – a workplace that reflects the world in which we live today, in which positive values are upheld, and in which people choose to behave with kindness and respect. Of course, this might not be the kind of place everyone would choose to work in, but for the majority this is probably true!

Designing Out Bias in Online Learning

Human beings make sense of the world around them by applying cognitive tools known as biases. The way we think and the decisions we make are subject to both conscious and unconscious bias. 

It’s important to be aware of this when designing learning materials because it is by directly addressing these biases that inclusive learning content is designed.  There are dozens of biases that affect how we respond to information with which we are presented, but here are three of the most important biases to be aware of when designing learning content.

1. Like-me bias refers to the human predisposition towards seeking out people with similar attributes. 

It’s important to be aware of this when selecting your beta testing demographic and analyzing the feedback. If everyone in the group is like you, you won’t get a true sense of whether the training is working for everyone. 

2. Confirmation bias leads us to unconsciously seek information and data that supports our existing beliefs and interpretations.

To avoid false conclusions, beta test your training content with as diverse a group of learners as possible. Try not to rely entirely on quantitative data, because you’ll lose a lot of vital feedback that can only be collected in quantitative form. Keep an open mind when analyzing the data to avoid zoning in only on the information that validates existing hypotheses about how things should be designed.

3. Anchor bias describes the tendency to hold true to the first explanation or viewpoint presented, seeing it as the benchmark against, or lens through which to view all future information presented. This has the potential to skew our perspective because we are not giving all the information equal consideration.

Your Checklist for Delivering Inclusive Digital Learning Experiences

In 2017 Barbi Honeycutt and Thomas Tobin coined the term ‘plus-one thinking’ – a learning design methodology advocating that for every learning interaction that you create, you should offer another way for the learner to access the same information. In practice, this means delivering the same content in more than one format (visual, audio, text) to cater to different learning styles and abilities.

In fact, there are many more things to think about when designing inclusive learning content …

1. Pay attention to language

Use straight-forward language and keep sentences short. Consider whether delivering content in multiple languages would better meet the needs of all your learners.

2. Customize functionality 

Designing in options to adjust screen brightness, text size and volume helps learners with visual or hearing impairments better interact with the learning. 

3. Use subtitles

Including subtitles on your videos isn’t just helpful for the hearing impaired. It can be a helpful aid to learners engaging with content that is not in their first language and to those learning on-the-go, accessing content on a busy train or in a quiet room. 

4. Represent a variety of people

Representing different ages, heights, skin tones and body types in your content helps more people to identify and feel part of the learning. Try going one step further by introducing scenarios in which a variety of different people face the same challenge or need to complete the same task, but overcome it or achieve it in different ways. Such scenarios are often best communicated using imagery.

5. Include different voices 

Recording different voices for your video and audio content is a good idea. Learners respond differently to different voices – male, female, with an accent… 

6. Design for varying levels of experience

Take into account the different experience levels of learners. This is an important part of keeping more experienced learners engaged whilst making sure that those with less knowledge get up to speed. 

7. Design for failure 

We learn through our mistakes so creating a safe space in which to learn is important. Designing for failure means creating opportunities for learners to repeat modules and to risk getting things wrong. 

8.  Talk to your learners

Learning management systems are brilliant tools, but nothing beats the encouragement of a conversation with your manager. A truly inclusive approach to learning is one in which managers take an active interest in the performance of individuals, make suggestions for further development and take on board their feedback.

9. Gather feedback in as many ways as you can

Collecting quantitative data in online learning is far simpler than gathering qualitative feedback. It can be easy to forget that quantitative feedback alone does not provide a comprehensive picture of how well learning content is performing. It’s important to include qualitative data when analyzing the performance of learning content. Think about creating opportunities for peer-to-peer discussion around particular challenges and topics and giving learners opportunities to offer feedback through conversation or other means.

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to design inclusive learning content for your organization, the team at Motimate Creative Studio are ready to give you a helping hand.

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