Thursday, October 29, 2009

Interview with Tim Riesterer, E-Learning / Training Case Study: Power Messaging (R) Virtual

Real-world education and training needs have quirky issues and time challenges that make you wonder, Does anyone else go through this? E-Learning Queen realizes we can all learn from each other's experiences, success stories, and "lessons learned." So, welcome to another installation of our new "E-Learning Case Study Series." In this interview, we talk with Tim Riesterer, CMO and SVP, Strategic Consulting, Corporate Visions (, who had a challenge when launching training for Power Messaging® Virtual.

Please describe a case in which you successfully used e-learning. Include the following:
**what was your need?

As a marketing and sales consulting company, we work with numerous organizations on strategies for articulating and nailing down their sales messaging. We recently launched Power Messaging® Virtual, moving an intensive, two-day, in-person training event to a two-week e-learning course.

This course combines modular, online coursework with interactive Web conference coaching to drive home important concepts and, through our modular content library, enable instant and easy refreshers post-training.

The impetus for this e-learning program was client demand. In this tough economy, many of the companies we work with have been saddled with budget cuts and travel restrictions – meaning that bringing sales reps together for onsite training has become cost-prohibitive. For others, sacrificing time in the field for travel and onsite training was simply too detrimental to productivity. The on-demand (i.e., view at any time) format of new our coursework alleviates these pressures and allows the sales reps who participate to view materials at a time that is convenient for them.

**why e-learning?

As a training company, our capacity to train increased exponentially through the use of pre-packed e-learning modules. We can literally be in multiple places at once, imparting expertise on-demand. And our trainers are still able to periodically touch base with attendees through live, virtual training sessions and by providing one-on-one coaching access – making the process even more personal.

Another advantage for our clients is that they can have access to this training program exactly when they want it. Waiting for a particular trainer or for a particular training venue to become available might have meant, in the past, that they missed a valuable window for training before a key launch or kick-off. Now, through e-learning, we can conduct training in a completely hassle-free way.

Also, as many companies move their kick-offs to a virtual environment, it allows us to participate with our training content because we’ve got materials that they can plug and play. We can create a virtual training program to meet their needs – that can then be integrated into their virtual kick-off environment.

**what technologies did you use? software? hardware?

We created a Web portal that houses Brainshark on-demand presentations. As I mentioned, these presentations – which include audio, embedded videos, interactive exercises and quizzes, workbooks, attachments and more – can be viewed by our customers at their convenience. You can see an example and program demo here:

Upon registering for the program, all individual participants receive a password for accessing materials. An automated calendaring function alerts participants to the Brainsharks they should be viewing and places the virtual coaching sessions right in their Outlook calendars.

These customized coaching sessions – where participants can practice the skills they learn – occur at the end of each week. We use Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro and WebEx for this live coaching, and equip our trainers with Webcams so they can see their classes.

**how did you go about conducting the e-learning?

As mentioned, we use online, on-demand presentations from Brainshark to provide info to our participants in an engaging and memorable way. Brainshark is used to deliver the bulk of our e-learning content and to conduct quizzes and comprehension checks – on topics ranging from how to create impact and connect with emotion, to how to make complex stories visual and abstract stories concrete. Then, our weekly Web conferencing sessions provide interaction, practice and feedback, where participants get to ask questions about the materials they consumed and gain confidence in their ability to apply the new skills.

How many people participated?

Although we only rolled this out a few months ago, we’ve already seen great demand and have used this e-learning program with leading Fortune 500 companies and smaller businesses as well.

Once the e-learning was created, we’ve also leveraged it to significantly enhance pre-instruction work for our traditional classroom training. We’ve been able to provide a more powerful blended learning model to improve preparation and transform the onsite work into more scenario-based practice (versus technique instruction). We’re making much better use of the classroom time for what it’s best for – examples and exhibition.

What was their background with technology? Did you have any challenges with "comfort level"?

We haven’t experienced any technology challenges for participants so far. We’ve been doing a lot of work with tech-savvy companies though – so sales people there are predisposed to using all different types of technologies and tools.

Even still, the technology we’re using is incredibly easy to use. For example, to watch a Brainshark presentation, participants simply click on a link, and they’re instantly brought to a hosted training module – no downloads, installations or special programs required.

How were the instructors trained / oriented before they gave the training? Were they nervous? Did they have any doubts?

As mentioned, our Brainsharks are pre-recorded content, so there was no need to train instructors for that portion. Subject matter experts uploaded PowerPoint presentations that they had created, and then used Brainshark to synchronize their voice with the slides – as well as add in video, other multimedia, quizzes, etc.

For the virtual coaching sessions, we practiced beforehand with our instructors. Many had been used to being in a physical classroom and were not as accustomed to the virtual way, so to alleviate any anxieties and ease the transition, we created an in-the-office environment for them, as they delivered their virtual sessions – providing flip charts, markers and even special lighting to recreate a classroom feel.

After a few sessions, instructors really began to get a kick out of the experience, and also appreciated the lack of travel and the reprieve from being on the road all the time.

Was there any anxiety or uncertainty among the learners? What was it? How did you work with them?

To prevent anxiety and uncertainty, we try to acclimate learners with our e-learning processes before the program even begins. They participate in a live, half-hour webcast – or watch an archived version of the webcast – that provides an explanation of how the two weeks of training will unfold.

The webcast explains how their passwords work, how we push out calendar invitations, how the technology functions and more.

Also, as more and more companies adopt some form of e-learning – be it for sharing product info, disseminating training or conducting webcasts – we’re seeing that many of our participants have prior experience with these solutions and are very adept at using them. This is no longer an unfamiliar or unnatural act for many of these people.

How did you know that learning took place? What kinds of assessment did you have?

Each of our 17 Brainshark modules – spanning various sales messaging and conversation skills – incorporates quizzes and virtual workbook activities. Through Brainshark’s granular tracking capabilities, we can provide reporting on which activities were completed, how much content was viewed and how quiz questions were answered.

Workbook exercises can also be pushed to a manager, coach or instructor for review. Depending on our clients’ requests, we can push this info out to them as frequently as they want to see it – so they can remind sales reps to get going and congratulate those who are on track for completion.

What were some of the immediate results? How did you decide whether or not the experience was a success or a "nice try"?

We surveyed our program participants to determine the efficacy of our e-learning initiative. We’ve gotten rave results – after the course, 92% of the participants rated the Power Messaging Virtual experience as better than other online training they’ve taken, and 86% rated it as better than other on-site, instructor-led, courses that they had attended.

What were some of the "lessons learned"?

Although many companies use e-learning to convey product information, some are hesitant to use it for skills training and selling behavior modification – thinking that a live, in-person environment is the best way. Our experience shows that e-learning for skills training is certainly a viable – and many times preferred – method. With the right amount of coaching, contact and interactivity, e-learning skills training can be a great success.

We also learned that for those companies who still insist on onsite skills training, a blended approach using more e-learning instruction and virtual forums to complement the onsite will significantly improve the impact on behavior change.

Do you have a case study to share? Send a tweet at @beyondutopia.

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