The 5 Best Research-Based Methods For Training Content Standardization

5 Best Research-Based Methods For Training Content Standardization
Summary: Besides the usual suspects of poor planning and lack of engagement and motivation, could standardization be the key to overturning those high drop-out numbers for online courses?

The Best Training Content Standardization Methods To Try

Online training is on the rise — and going strong.

According to the Babson Survey Research Group's 2017 Distance Education Enrollment report, 6.3 million students have taken at least one online course. Which is a 5.6 percent increase from the previous year. What is just as notable, however, is the drop-out rate, a particularly stubborn statistic that refuses to budge in online training.

When looking at an expansion of their online learning opportunities, Scottsdale Community College received an interesting review from the Higher Learning Committee or HLC. While the basic foundational components of online course delivery were present, the report found that "[D]ecentralisation in review and oversight authority led to variability... that, in the opinion of the team, made the courses more faculty- than student-centered. The lack of consistency may be a contributing factor in the online student success rate, which was 10 percent lower than either face-to-face or hybrid delivery modalities."

If standardization is the key—and, indeed, if it can even be done within digital courses—here are five methods to standardize training content and materials.

1. Establishing A Baseline Of Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are all about outlining what a student should be learning when they successfully go through the course and complete it. Often, companies investing in online training or businesses interested in creating LMS platforms for the consistent access and upgrading of their employees' skills forget that formal objectives can set the stage for everything, from course materials choice to course design. For example, when employing the methodology of 'bite-sized' modules, each of these modules can and should have their own explicit learning objective.

2. Bring In Accreditation To Standardize Course Structure And Content

When course developers offer accreditation or certification at the end of a course series, enrollment inevitably goes up, and drop-out rates significantly decrease. There is a sense of 'legitimacy' that external accreditation or certification brings to the results of digital learning.

But accreditation is also a great way to ensure that courses are up to par, meeting an external standard of high quality. Since a course structure and materials have to meet particular measures to be recognized as a course on the path towards accreditation, or a course that will facilitate future accreditation, there is also a consistent and reliable standard that will have to be met. In the process of accreditation, external boards or review bodies will continue to vet and evaluate the integrity and quality of the course, making sure that a combination of its training content and materials, learning objectives, assignments, tests and more, all contribute towards the student either preparing for an accreditation or being eligible to work towards that accreditation, via the online course.

3. Take The "Highly Specific Approach"

There are a few organizational philosophies that have been developed in the last fourteen years, specifically for online courses. One of these is known as the "Highly Specific Approach." As the name states, this approach to standardization outlines an extensive series of components and standards that every online course must adhere to, wherever it is being offered. When followed, these can include granular details such as the use of specific synchronous communication tools, virtual world avatar integration, time-restricted responses to student emails or posts, etc. Of course, the main benefit to this is that the resulting courses are highly structured experiences that skew towards quality, clarity, and student interaction.

4. Implement Learning Analytics For Ongoing And Progressive Standardization

Standardisation in digital and online learning is not about crafting a 'one-size-fits-all' experience. Rather, it's about providing a dependable and content structure through the choice of training materials, course content, assignments, support, etc.

As courses progress, digital learning offers another key feature that course developers can use to move towards more structure: analytics. Learning analytics can paint a picture of student engagement and the success of the current structure in an opportunistic way that physical learning doesn't offer. Learning analytics, through LMS dashboards, can allow course developers and designers to view behaviors like student drop-outs, clicks or opens on course materials, quizzes taken, scores earned and more. Analytics can then be used, over time, to make future versions of courses more tailored to the behavior of students, providing incentives for them to continue, or helping them to address complex material by gamifying the process. Here, standards are about consistent structures, and analytics is a key tool in articulating which direction this structure should proceed to.

5. Create Guidelines For The "10 Components" Of Courses

According to the research on distance education courses through the years, researchers at Coastal Carolina University have offered ten components for the standardization of online courses.

These include:

  • Announcements (placement, tone, format, access, etc.)
  • Course information
  • Instructor information
  • Course modules
  • Discussions
  • Submissions
  • Assessments
  • Email portals
  • Grades
  • Course support

Creating guidelines for these ten components of online courses are much like creating learning objectives. Each of these areas requires a specific standard, either suggested as something a course developer may adopt or made mandatory.

These ten components form the overarching structure for every standard digital course out there. There are modes of communications with instructors, ways to structure the course material and content delivery, ways to communicate with peers, and methods to evaluate and be evaluated. Each of these areas is ripe for the articulation of a particular set of standards. For example, when setting the standards or a baseline for course content, course developers may stipulate that every lecture also come with a transcript so that students can create a set of PDF notes to print for studying later on.

Standardization in digital and online courses comes down to structure, consistency, and expectations. Students within a course have particular expectations about the structure of the course and providing them with specific standards can help establish and then fulfill those expectations. Standardizing the experience of a digital course allows students to understand how to learn, what study behaviors will help them most and how to complete a course, having actually learned something and engaged.