How to differentiate your online training from that of your competitors

Unless you’re very lucky, you’ll have business competitors working hard to take customers away from you. In this article, Steve Penfold shares five ideas to help you create online training that gives you a competitive advantage.

differentiate online training

How well your online training offerings differentiate themselves from your competitors’ will play a big part in how well you’ll be able to defend your existing market share and win even more.

Here are five ideas to make your online training courses stand out from the pack.

1. Use design to make your online training look better

Content and context are two major factors in determining whether your online training will satisfy your customers’ needs, but the aesthetic appeal—how it is presented—is way up there with these. Put simply, good-looking training appears professional, and anything else seems amateurish, regardless of how good the training is.

One well used acronym for good visual design is CRAP. This acronym gives some good standard advice for page layout:

  • Contrast: Use contrast to make content easy to see and to direct the audience’s eye to the important parts of the screen by making these things stand out. This can be achieved with color or white space.
  • Repetition: Use colors, fonts, graphic treatments, and metaphors consistently to create familiarity and a strong, pleasing visual identity.
  • Alignment: On-screen elements should be placed with purpose, usually aligned vertically or horizontally with other elements, e.g. in appropriate rows or columns.
  • Proximity: On-screen elements should be grouped or positioned to emphasize relationships.

These broad principles leave a lot of room for freedom of expression. Check out Elearning Superstars for inspiration and to see how professionals use and break these principles to good effect. Another good place for graphic design inspiration and to see how the pros use font, color, and layout, is Canva.

Modern authoring tools such as Elucidat give you full control over the appearance of your courses and let you use the ideas you get from Elearning Superstars and Canva to create learning experiences that will stand out from your competitors.

2. Use branching scenarios to make your online training easy to navigate

The navigation you build into your online training must be simple to use; you want your learners to be focused on your learning content, not on how navigate around your course.

Even if your learning has complex branching paths of content rather than a single linear thread, the mechanism to move through it must be intuitive.

Here are three engaging, yet simple, methods of allowing the learner to progress through the course:

  • Posing a question and providing several answers that each branch the learner to a different screen or set of screens
  • Having images of settings or scenarios that the learner can select from to drill down into a specific topic
  • Providing an intriguing scenario or point of conflict, then having a button that invites the learner to “See what happens next . . ..”

Because these three navigational mechanisms are integral to the content (as opposed to the ubiquitous Next button sitting on the edge of every screen and outside of the story), they draw the learner in to the learning and are almost invisible; just engaging with the on-screen content progresses the learner rather than this being a separate conscious step.

City Witness is a great example of interesting navigation. The forward and back navigation make it feel like you’re panning around a landscape rather than moving from screen to screen.

Things that create a high level of engagement like this will give you an edge over competitors that employ a “click Next to continue” methodology.

3. Use gamification to enhance the learner experience

Gamification is the application of game-like mechanisms (e.g., points, status, badges) in non-game settings. I recently wrote about why gamification in elearning is important. If your competitors aren’t using some kind of gamification in their offerings, then you could have a big point of difference if you are using it.

Gamification fosters a high-level of intrinsic motivation for people to persist and strive to do better within the gamified activities. This, in part, comes from the sense of achievement derived from overcoming obstacles and progressing towards an end goal. This article discusses 3 ways training providers can use gamification in their courses that leverage this psychological phenomenon.

Authoring tools such as Elucidat make it easy to allocate badges to learners to incentivize them as they progress through a course or gain mastery over a topic.

Even more powerful is allowing learners to see where they sit on a leaderboard relative to their peers. Learning Management Systems (LMSs) such as Docebo incorporate badges and leaderboards to entice learners to take more courses or get higher scores to improve their ranking on the leaderboard.

4. Use an authoring tool that lets you build online training that can be accessed on mobile devices

Different learners will want to access your learning on different devices. By making your online training adaptive to desktop, tablet, and smartphone screen sizes (i.e., responsive), you allow more learners to access the learning in more flexible ways. This gives you a great advantage over competitors who only offer learning for the desktop.

This Johnson & Johnson case study tells how the responsiveness of their JJVC training course contributed to a 740 percent completion-rate increase.

This short tutorial shows how Elucidat lets you create responsive output as part of an efficient develop-once-deliver-anywhere model.

5. Use bite-sized online training

By making smaller, targeted training deliverables (say, 5 to 20 minutes in duration) focused on one specific topic, both you and your learners win. These smaller nuggets have the following advantages:

  • They take less time to create than a larger equivalent.
  • They are easier for time-poor learners to consume.
  • They can be combined in different ways to cater for different learners’ needs.
  • They can be used as Just-in-Time training.

The flexibility and quick development times that bite-sized online training provides can give you an edge over competitors who are marketing large, slow-to-market, inflexible courses.

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Final thoughts

It’s important to differentiate your learning offerings from those of your competitors.

The best way to do this is to understand who your customers are, to make sure that you’re providing a quality product that meets their needs, and to apply effective modern techniques such as those we’ve discussed here.

Have you used any other techniques to make your online training standout? Share them with us via Twitter.