In the past fifty-or-so years, since the invention of the personal computer, society has experienced a tech boom like no other. While there were nearly 100 years between the phone and the personal computer, the PC and the internet were invented in the same year. When it comes to tech innovations, we’ve been riding the bullet train ever since.

The philanthropic sector isn’t immune to this innovation. On the contrary, nonprofits just like yours are actively investing in innovative tech to rocket-launch their efforts to the next level.

But, we’re not here to discuss every innovation your team may embrace during the remainder of 2020 and beyond. We’re writing to talk about nonprofit staff training and how you can make the most of the field’s biggest development: custom e-learning courses.

Pivoting your staff’s training from in-person courses to e-learning isn’t as simple as recording a training session. So, let’s use this post to walk through a few training scenarios your nonprofit is likely to encounter. Then, we’ll explore some tried-and-true tips you can use to create an effective e-learning environment.

Training for a Yearly Refresh

Picture the scene: Your entire team filters into one conference room, greeted by an overly-enthusiastic trainer. You’re attending a training session mandated by your nonprofit’s human resources department, and you can practically recite it word for word from the year before.

By now, you can probably guess that we’re going to propose e-learning as the solution to add more value to this annual training scenario. This is because, with e-learning, you can meet each learner exactly where they are—whether they’re in need of a refresh or are already prepared to give the lecture themselves. You can create a more engaging learning experience that turns annual training into a worthwhile endeavor (rather than a day to conveniently call in “sick” on).

Here are a few tips to elevate your annual staff training with e-learning courses:

  • Prioritize interesting, engaging ways to present familiar information. We were once tasked with turning a vital, but dull, course on filling out an essential resource tracking form into an engaging e-learning course. A situation like this is when you want to get creative with your formatting. Instead of discussing how to fill out the form, show them! Illustrated equations and a creative calendar came in handy in this specific scenario. Check out screenshots from that course, created for the American Red Cross, to see what we mean:

  • Allow staff members to opt-out of training with a pre-test. Consider your staff’s perspective—would you be interested in taking the same course over and over if you’re already familiar with the material? Offer a pre-test to all staff members at the start of the course that allows them to test out of part (or all!) of the training.
  • Provide annual training materials year-round. One of the biggest perks of using e-learning for annual training is that the courses don’t disappear when the training is complete. With in-person training, your instructor packs up their materials at the end of the day and the experience is over. Learners can access reference materials, but that’s hardly as comprehensive as the training course itself! Keep a library year-round for staff in need of a refresh.

Think about it this way: If you’re completing a course, reading a book, watching a movie, or anything of the sort, you’re going to tune out the information if it’s not engaging and applicable to your needs. Your staff tuning out necessary annual training and then slipping up on the clock is a true worst-case scenario! The above strategies create content they see as valuable.

Training for Updates and New Developments

If there’s anything the past few years have shown us, it’s that the nonprofit sector is evolving at light-speed. Just think of how your procedures have evolved over the years.

Maybe your nonprofit has embraced tech innovations, such as a mobile app for connecting with supporters or even artificial intelligence-powered fundraising tools. But let’s be honest: whenever you’re introducing new updates and developments, there’s going to be a healthy learning curve across the board.

Just think of the mobile app example! At this point, you could be training digital natives, who were raised on high-speed internet and Apple devices, as well as others that rely solely on flip phones released a decade ago. Neither scenario is better than the other, but you do need to make sure you provide adequate training for both types of people.

So, what can you do to make sure that your e-learning training is adequate enough to ensure all learners are up-to-speed?

We recommend using microlearning courses when introducing new developments rather than burying the update in your valuable, but longer, comprehensive courses. This points back to the nature of microcourses, which are shorter, highly-focused learning experiences. Microcourses are designed to highlight one specific topic, making them ideal for drawing attention to new developments.

Within these microlearning courses, walk learners through the new developments step-by-step. Don’t simply explain the update in words though—show them! 

Let’s consider the artificial intelligence example from before. Explaining how machine learning works in the English language is going to be more confusing than a Shakespearean play. But let’s say you create a simulation of the artificial intelligence-powered fundraising tool and walk learners through using it, one step at a time. That is more actionable and straightforward than any paragraph on AI could ever be.

Training for Overcoming Challenges

Both of the previous scenarios are more of a top-down approach to training, as in, you identified a need for training (annual refresh, releasing new guidance) and went from there. But, what about the situations that aren’t initiated by you? What about when your staff is struggling with a foundational skill that is holding your nonprofit back and you need training to overcome it?

This is where e-learning comes in handy as a tool for practicing skills. Remember how we mentioned (way back in the first section!) that you should keep your training library up-and-running year-round for learners who want to revisit courses? You can apply that same principle—repetition—with e-learning courses that allow learners to practice key skills and revisit them down the line.

Here are a few tips to create e-learning that will empower your team to jump over their biggest hurdles:

  • Structure courses to have a “wow” moment. Maybe your team is struggling with spending too much time in meetings. Create a quick e-learning simulation that adds up the total amount of time they spend in meetings each day, week, or year, and then totals the amount of donations used to fund that. Needless to say, seeing that final number is sure to drive the point home, especially right before a quick refresher on meeting best practices.
  • Use branching scenarios to allow learners to choose their own adventure. If there are a variety of pain points for your team, structure the course in a way that allows them to focus on only the challenges they’re personally facing. Let’s say you create a course on common CRM challenges and highlight data hygiene procedures as well as key data security rules. Then, learners who are regularly inputting nonstandard data can refresh their memory with a quick training game, rather than sitting through a long course on CRM protocols that covers both topics.
  • Make training accessible for learners when they need it. We’ve already discussed keeping your e-learning library available year-round, but being accessible also means ensuring courses are mobile-friendly. As early as 2016, it was clear that a mobile revolution was on the horizon. Your team doesn’t want to sit at a desktop when they’re struggling with a task in the moment—they want to pull out their smartphones, solve the problem, and move on.

If you’re struggling to create new training courses to overcome hurdles, consider working with an e-learning content development company to craft your courses. These partners can use their expertise in course design and innovative formatting to overcome your team’s biggest learning challenges.

When it comes to nonprofit staff training, e-learning empowers your team to stay ahead-of-the-curve. Whether you’re providing annual training, rolling out updates, or helping your team overcome its biggest pain points, the above strategies can elevate your e-learning to the next level.

About the Author

Amy Morrisey is the President of Artisan E-Learning and serves as Sales & Marketing Manager. Amy started with Artisan as a contract writer/instructional designer. She was our Production Manager for four years and helped the team to double its capacity. As President, she stays focused on maintaining the high standards our clients have grown to expect. She believes that staying close to our clients, our people, and our work is a smart way to do that. One of her favorite things to do in the e-learning world is jump in with a client to write a storyboard that is creative and application-based. Before working with Artisan, Amy spent 17 years in corporate training and development predominantly teaching leadership development and coaching teams and executives. She currently serves on the board of ATD Detroit.