If you're looking to add some online manufacturing training to your current training program at work, you've found the right article. We're preparing to lead a webinar in February on the topic (more on that below), and so we thought we'd write up the material in this form as well. We'll cover a lot of what you need to know about selecting online manufacturing training that's right for your workplace in this article, plus we invite you to register for the upcoming webinar or just to reach out to us with comments or questions at anytime.
You might also want to check out our free, recorded webinar titled Online Manufacturing Training that Works--How to Select Online Manufacturing Training for Your Organization.
And the guide below on selecting & using online manufacturing training may be something you find helpful!
In this article, we're going to try to give you the information you need to make a wise choice when it comes to selecting online manufacturing training.
Here are some of the things we'll cover below:
With that intro down, let's get started 🙂
Now let's get down to defining our terms. We'll start by considering the phrase online manufacturing training and break it down into its two simplest components. We'll follow that up by throwing in some additional trends to keep an eye on in the future.
The first part of the online manufacturing training is the courses--the actual training content.
Courses cover typical manufacturing training needs, including: onboarding, job tasks, safety, maintenance, quality, lean, HR, soft skills, digital skills, and more.
Let's get back to the issue of online courses for a moment. What we want to call out is that these days, there are two many ways to get them:
This is basically the Netflix model applied to manufacturing training. Go to a website, pay on a pay-per-view or subscription basis, and get access to a single course, a collection or courses, or a series/library of courses.
You'll get to view the course, it may include a test, and you may also get a completion certificate of some sort. It's possible that's all you'll get, which leads us to the additional benefits you get from the second option, elearning courses delivered from an LMS.
An elearning course has the same content that you'd see in a course streaming from a website. But it's been formatted in a way, and it communicates with the LMS it's been imported into, to provide a lot of additional benefits.
It's easier to assign; there's a whole host of notifications and due dates and expiration dates that can more easily be managed; managers can more easily access information about training time duration, test scores, and specific answers to specific questions.
Here's a quick look at some highlights from our manufacturing training courses.
A learning management system, or LMS, is a web-based software application you can use to administer your online manufacturing training but ALSO instructor-led training (ILT), field-based training, mentoring programs, apprenticeship programs, and even things like sending workers to a conference or community college.
You can get an LMS installed on your own network server or use one that's on the cloud. The cloud computing option for an LMS is becoming increasingly popular and has several key advantages. Read more about that in our Benefits of a Cloud-Based LMS article.
You can do a LOT with an LMS, including but not limited to:
Learn more about learning management systems by watching the short video below.
We're not going to spend a lot of time discussing mobile apps for learning and performance improvement in this article, but it's important to know that you can now do this kind of stuff on mobile apps.
Any LMS you select should be mobile-compatible.
Likewise, you should be able to view your training courses on mobile devices as well.
Although we're going to focus on elearning courses and learning management systems in our discussion of online manufacturing training, it's worth knowing about the following technologies as well and being aware that they too are already affecting workforce training and will continue to do so in the coming years.
The world is going mobile. Stop and think of how often you are on mobile (either your phone or something like a tablet). Now compare that to how much you're on a desktop computer.
And what all do you do on your mobile device? Summon cars, online banking, social media, read the news? Why shouldn't you be using mobile devices and mobile apps for working L&D, including both training (m-learning) and performance support?
Read more about using mobile apps for manufacturing training here.
You've probably seen virtual reality, also known as VR, somewhere. Maybe in a gaming context. But you may have already seen some applications of VR to job training and, if you haven't, you've probably at least wondered about it.
If you're not familiar with virtual reality, it's when you put on a pair of goggles and seem to be totally immersed in another, virtual world.
VR will be another nice addition to your overall training and learning toolkit, and it's becoming increasingly common and inexpensive. VR will allow employees to practice job skills in an immersive environment that mimics the real world.
This is great for repetitive training that builds competence and even expertise but would be difficult or costly to do in the real world or with real people--think of sales training or even maintenance troubleshooting.
VR can also be great for letting workers safely train on something that would be dangerous to let them work on in real life until they have the necessary skills. Think about things exploding and other safety-related issues.
VR is also a valuable tool for letting people train without having to shut down production lines, etc., as the downtime would be too expensive.
Augmented reality, also known as AR, is another new technology coming to workplace learning and performance optimization.
If virtual reality immerses you completely in a virtual world, augmented reality keeps you in the real world, but that world is "augmented" with computer-generated overlays. Those overlays may highlight parts or machines or provide useful information, for example. These overlays can be generated by looking through smart glasses or a mobile device.
Augmented reality has potential for training, but it also has a lot of potential for job aids, providing necessary information to workers when and where they need it on the job.
You're probably familiar with chatbots from going to websites like Amazon or maybe even those run by companies like your health insurance providers. The idea is you can have conversations with, and ask questions of, the chatbot and get answers in return.
You may not have thought yet of the ways chatbots can be used in your manufacturing learning ecosystem, but there's a lot of potential here. At the touch of a button (or the click of a mouse), workers can ask questions and get timely, accurate information: where can I find this form? What type of oil should I use to lubricate this machine?
Chatbots can also be used to further learning-related conversations after primary training, either to reduce the forgetting curve, to increase learning, or to suggest additional learning materials in a personalized, adaptive manner.
Artificial intelligence, also known as AI, will become increasingly common in the manufacturing workplace in general and in manufacturing training as well. In many cases, we'll use AI to "power" things like chatbots, to help curate learning content, or to recommend more adaptive, personalized learning solutions.
This point isn't so much about technology (like mobile, VR, AR, and AI were). It's more about people sharing and distributing learning and knowledge, even if that sharing is at times facilitated by technology such as online wikis and bulletin boards and tools for uploading and sharing user-generated content.
This is part of what's known as social learning--when workers learn from one another--and having a strong social learning environment at work is a hallmark of being a learning organization. We'll discuss social learning and the importance of facilitating it more in the section of this article covering the 70/20/10 learning model.
For more on all these new technologies, including what they are, what they do, and how they may affect workforce learning and development in the future, check out our Disruptive Technologies in L&D article.
Online training, including both the courses and the LMS, provide a number of benefits. In some cases, it benefits the employer and/or the person in charge of the managing the training. In other cases, it benefits the employees. In still other cases, the benefits are to both employer and employee.
Let's take a look at a few benefits that online manufacturing training can offer.
The organization, operations manager, and/or training manager will gain the following benefits from introducing online manufacturing training and using that training wisely:
Employees at a manufacturing facility will experience these benefits from online manufacturing training at their workplace:
Remember too that some benefits are shared--so, for examples, employees obviously benefit from improved new hire onboarding, defined career paths, and others listed under the "employer" section.
We just listed some great benefits of adding online manufacturing training at your worksite, but we want to make it clear we don't recommend using online training without other forms of training.
Instead, we follow nearly all training and L&D professionals in recommending a blended learning approach for the training at your manufacturing facility.
In short, blended learning means using different types of training delivery methods--things like instructor-led training (ILT), online training, field-based training, written training materials, community college courses, virtual reality, augmented reality, chatbots, and more.
Traditionally, the phrase blended learning has been most commonly used to refer to blending instructor-led, classroom-style training with online learning, but it's fair to think of it more broadly.
In the following sections, we're going to look at blended learning more deeply, including giving you evidence it's more effective (because using effective, evidence-based training practices is always a good thing) and giving you a variety of tips to think about blended learning and ways to design blended learning for your manufacturing workforce.
First, let's look at three sources, all of whom have performed meta-studies (studies of studies), crunching data to find evidence that blended learning solutions including online training and instructor-led training leads to improve training effectiveness as opposed to training solutions that include just instructor-led or training solutions that include just online learning activities.
First, the US Department of Education.
"The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face.“
US Department of Education
Next, the famous learning researcher Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark from her classic book Evidence-Based Training Practices.
“Evidence from hundreds of media comparison studies… suggest[s] that blended learning environments are more effective than pure classroom or pure digital learning…
Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark
And finally, the equally-famous and credible learning researcher Dr. Will Thalheimer.
“Overall, these meta-analyses found that eLearning tends to outperform classroom instruction, and blended learning (using both online learning an classroom instruction) creates the largest benefits.”
Dr. Will Thalheimer
You can learn more by listening to our interview with Dr. Thalheimer on the effectiveness of different training delivery methods and blended learning solutions.
The focus of this article is online training for manufacturing, so we're not going to focus on safety training that occurs in a manufacturing facility too much. On the flip-side, though, we'd be remiss not to bring it up at all, especially in reference to OSHA compliance regulations and a recent OSHA letter of interpretation regarding the use of online safety training.
After all, all of you US-based manufacturing organizations have to comply with OSHA's compliance requirements, including those that govern safety training requirements.
In the summer of 2019, OSHA published a letter of interpretation that clarified or expanded their past comments on using online safety training. In the past, with a 1994 letter of interpretation, they made it clear it was acceptable to use online safety training at work. In this 2019 letter of interpretation, they noted that while it's OK to use online safety training, it's not OK to use JUST online safety training--there must be some interactive, hands-on, person-to-person component of the training. So, in short, OSHA requires a blended learning solution.
To read more about this, check out our article on the recent OSHA letter of interpretation regarding the use of online safety training. And feel free to check out our article on selecting online safety training solutions as well.
We're going to follow-up with an article that goes into this in more detail, and we've already got this Blended Learning for Manufacturing Training article this free Blended Learning Beginner's Guide for you as well.
But here's a quick introduction to four ways to blend online manufacturing training with instructor-led training at your site.
One way to blend your training is to have employees complete an online training course on a specific topic and then follow that up with instructor-led training or another form of face-to-face training that will allow you to demonstrate job tasks, see if employees can perform those same tasks safely and effectively on their own, provide feedback, and handle questions & answers.
In instances like this, it's common to use the online training course to introduce fundamental knowledge workers will need in order to understand and perform their job task. It's also a good way to provide a visual demonstration of the task, even if you later demonstrate it again during the classroom training.
This ordering of learning activities is often called the flipped model of instruction.
As we all learned from a Reese's commercial, it's OK to mix your peanut butter and chocolate in the same time.
Likewise, it's fine to introduce online training into an instructor-led training session. In fact, you can get a lot of learning benefits out of this.
Not only does it break up the monotony of classroom session (this is always a hazard and it's always a good idea to use different types of learning activities and interactions in the classroom), but it also provides a great opportunity to bring some advance visuals, videos, and animations into the classroom and then discuss them as a group.
You can also perform instructor-led training and then follow that up with online training for your employees. This model has a variety of applications, but perhaps one of the best is to use the online training in small, bite-sized "bits" delivered via mobile devices in what L&D professionals refer to as spaced practice or spaced learning (you may think of this as "refresher training," and you're on the right path, but it's a little more complicated than that).
You can also use online training, especially in that short, bite-sized length we just talked about, not strictly for training but for performance support after training.
If you're not familiar with performance support, think of it as getting information to workers when and where they need to use it on the job. You might know this as a job aid, and a checklist is a common example. But online training means you can deliver any number of things to the worker in the field at the moment of need, including short videos and online training courses.
Read more about using job aids to improve worker performance.
Above, we gave you four ways to think about using online manufacturing training within a blended learning solution at your facility. However, there are more ways to think about this issue. To do so, let's take a broader look.
Although this article is about online manufacturing training, it's important to take a step back and think more broadly about all the learning and development efforts taking place at your organization. Although this term is admittedly a bit wonky, learning and development professionals often talk about this as your learning ecosystem.
Learning and development professionals spend a lot of time thinking about, planning, delivering, tracking, evaluating, and perhaps continuously improving formal, assigned training at the workplace.
That might include instructor-led training and it might include the topic of this article, online training. It could also include other things--written materials, a video, or being sent to a conference.
It's common for manufacturers to use formal, assigned training for a variety of training needs. These include new employee onboarding, compliance training, job skills training, and more.
But it's important to remember that this formal, assigned training is far from the entire workforce learning and development reality, and that perhaps L&D professionals can become too narrowly focused on just formal training.
A LOT of what people learn about their workplaces, their jobs, and their job tasks happens outside of formal training in informal learning experiences.
This includes things we learn through experience on the job as well as things we pick up from our coworkers (social learning--remember we talked about this earlier). It can also include mentor programs and things like pre-task discussions (also called before-action reviews), post-task reviews (after-action reviews), shift-change discussions, and more.
Although you might not think of this immediately, learning and development professionals can do a lot to help facilitate this kind of informal learning at the workplace. And again, although this may not seem immediately obvious, there are online training tools, such as an LMS that allows for social learning (through features like discussion boards), the uploading and distribution of user-generated content, curation of external content for L&D, tools to help workers identify other workers who are subject matter experts on particular topics, and more that can facilitate this kind of informal learning as well.
In theory, at least, regular (and helpful) guidance and feedback from managers is another part of the workplace learning ecosystem in a manufacturing facility.
While some managers do a great job of this, the reality is many managers don't have these skills or don't even think of this as a regular and important part of their job. In many cases, this is understandable, because those managers are neck-deep in their own job tasks and have little or no time to help their employees learn and better their workplace performance.
But this STILL is one part of the learning ecosystem, and even if managers aren't actively participating in it, workers are still learning at least some lessons from it (often negative ones, including the company values lack of communication and teamwork despite any "official" company values or statements to the contrary).
If you want your organization's performance to improve, and you would like to help employees increase their knowledge and develop better job skills, this may be one area to focus on.
Performance support is a way to get information or learn skills right at the time and place where you need it on the job. Traditionally, this often been done with something like a checklist, and checklists can still be great.
In some cases, this can now be done with mobile devices, delivering short video snippets (or even digital checklists) as well as access to manuals and more.
Read more about performance support and job aids here.
Given that you're going to want to use online manufacturing training at the correct times and for the correct training needs, it may be helpful to think of these three models to help you consider when to use online manufacturing training and when not to.
The 70/20/10 model refers to the idea we've mentioned earlier--people learn a lot from job experience (the 70%), less from their coworkers (the 20%), and even less from formal, assigned learning (10%).
Now, nobody knows the true percentages here, so don't take those seriously and don't throw out the whole idea just because of the numbers. In fact, some people have tried to rebrand 70/20/10 to 3Es (Experience, Exposure, and Education) to avoid that. But you'll probably admit there's a lot of truth to the general idea behind 70/20/10 and it may help inform how you spend your time and effort in regards to your organization's entire learning ecosystem.
Please read our article on 70/20/10 for more on this.
Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson developed the Five Moments of Need learning model, and this is also a helpful way to consider your L&D efforts in general but also your use of online manufacturing training.
According to this model, there are--you guessed it--five primary moments of learning needs:
Give these learner "moments of need" some thought when you develop your company's L&D programs.
Another thing that's worth thinking about is that you may need to change the kind of training you deliver depending on what it is you're trying to teach an employee. In particular, different types of training will be more or less effective depending on if you're trying to teach employees:
Please see our Different Types of Training for Different Types of Learning article for more on this.
Now let's take a look at the kind of training purposes and types of training topics that online training within a manufacturing environment can help with.
Onboarding new employees is critical, and while onboarding includes more than training, training's a significant part of it.
If you're not currently providing a new employee onboarding experience, and/or if you're not doing much to onboard employees other than having them follow an experienced worker around and hope they learn the ropes, you're missing out.
Onboarding is a great way to help new hires more rapidly transition from novices to competent, and it also helps reduce churn as a result of new employees leaving the company shortly after being hired.
For more on this, read our guide to onboarding new hires and read how an LMS can help onboard new employees in a manufacturing environment.
Safety training is an obvious choice here. It's an OSHA compliance requirement, for starters, but it's also important because statistics show that new workers are significantly more likely to be involved in a safety and health incident at work. Providing necessary safety and health training to those workers can have a significant, positive effect on the risk level.
Of course, it's not only new employees that need safety training, and you can use online training courses as part of your overall safety training program to great benefit.
A well-designed risk management program at work will also quickly direct you to other training you should provide, including HR and other compliance training.
You're also going to want to provide training to each and every employee to help them learn the skills necessary for the job role they currently hold.
In addition to providing training to workers for their current job role, it's essential that they know there's a formal career path for them to climb and to know the requirements of each job role in that path.
Many workers come to a workplace without some highly useful, seemingly basic skills that may not be as basic as they seem: how to use email and other computer basics; basic math skills and science skills; and more.
It's wise for nearly any company to introduce at least some elements of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement to their workers.
See the following articles for more on this:
Quality is also an essential issue in manufacturing, and as a result training for quality may be an important addition as a manufacturing training topic.
Of course, if your organization produces food, beverage, or pharmaceuticals, you'll also be interested in cGMP training.
See our article on the ISO 9001 quality management standard for more on quality issues.
Maintenance, along with its running partners Maintainability and Reliability, are essential considerations in a manufacturing environment.
Along with basic math, science, and computer skills, you'll want to provide training on electrical maintenance, mechanical maintenance, facilities maintenance, asset condition management, total productive maintenance, and more.
See the following articles for more related to industrial maintenance topics:
Problem-solving and troubleshooting, including classic methods like The 5 Whys and the Fishbone Diagram, should also be included in your manufacturing training program.
Communication and the ability to work as a team has always been important at work. And it's suggested that doing so will be even more important in the advanced manufacturing workplaces of today and the future, when workers work alongside computers, robots, artificial intelligence, sensors, and the Industrial Interest of Things (IIoT).
One important element of this is known as psychological safety.
You shouldn't just rush out and buy online manufacturing training without some planning. In fact, you shouldn't do it alone if you can avoid it. We'll give you a few tips about things to consider in-house before you begin your search.
First, identify the stakeholders at your organization who will be interested in, will be affected by, and whose advice and buy-in you'd benefit from if you implement online training.
Consider the following people:
Once you've created that list of internal stakeholders and have an online manufacturing training search team assembled, you still don't want to rush out into the evaluation and buying phases.
Instead, take some time as a team, sit down, and discuss what you want this online training to do and how it fits into your overall organizational learning strategy.
Write up some uses cases based on those discussions--then use those use cases to evaluate offerings out on the market.
Now let's list some criteria you should consider when evaluating online training courses to add to your manufacturing training program at work. Of course, add your own items to this list as well.
What format do you want--streaming courses ala Netflix, or elearning courses to take advantage of the benefits of an LMS?
If you're going with elearning, you need to:
Review the topics covered in the courses. Do they fit your training needs?
Look for courses that teach people to perform job skills, if possible, and don't just convey pre-requisite information that helps workers prepare to learn those job skills.
In general, less is more in training. Look for training that's been reduced to the necessary learning objectives for the job performances.
A significant part of our brains is dedicated to processing visual information, and you can get a lot of bang for your buck out of online training with effectively designed visuals.
Read our graphic design tips for elearning for more on this.
Informal, casual, conversational language that matches the language employees use when they speak and write delivers the best training effectiveness.
Online training courses should provide practice questions so employees can practice new knowledge and skills and self-assess their level of understanding and competence as well as course-ending assessments for knowledge and skill verification purposes.
Read the following articles for more on this:
When might you get new courses? When are courses updated? Why are courses updated? New or updated, how do you get the courses and what does it cost?
How do the courses fit within your organization's overall learning strategy for employee development?
Are the courses fully mobile compatible? Meaning:
Now let's take a look at some criteria for evaluating your LMS.
Do you want the LMS installed on your own network or hosted on the cloud?
One of the most critical aspects of LMS success is an easy user interface and intuitive design and operation. This is true for the admin experience as well as the employee experience.
Reporting is a key component of any LMS, and that's even more true when compliance is an issue.
This one may not occur to you immediately, but having an LMS that can integrate with and exchange information with other workplace software applications, such as your HRIS, CRM, ERP, safety management system, and more is very valuable.
Read more here to learn about integrating your LMS with other workplace software applications.
Does the LMS you're looking at have different security roles that allow different levels of powers and privileges to different admins? If so, what are they? Can you create your own? How easy is it to assign the security roles?
Does the LMS provider offer helpful training to help your company's LMS admins and employees get up and rolling with the LMS?
What about help materials you can access 24/7, such as an online knowledge base or helpful self-guided videos?
No matter how easy and intuitive an LMS is, you're going to want some customer service from time-to-time. Does the LMS provider offer it? If so, is it free or does it cost $$$? How much do you get? What do you have to do to get it? Can you talk with someone on a phone or have them share a computer screen with you?
When is the LMS updated? How does that happen? How often does it happen? Can you request new features be added to future updates? Is that free or is there a cost?
Since manufacturing training includes occupational safety and health training, you'll want to see how useful the LMS is for safety training purposes--things like due dates, expiration dates, notification dates, and so on.
Read this article to learn more about using an LMS for safety training.
The same basic argument we just made for safety training applies for other HR and compliance training as well.
Look for mobile apps that allow you to use your LMS functionality from the palm of your hand.
Now let's consider some very important things about the company and people providing the online manufacturing training.
Are they friendly? Do you like them and like working with them? This could be a long partnership...
From the very first time you contact them, and every time since, have they been responsive?
And when you talk with them, are they helpful?
Are they experts about the industry, training needs, and their products? Do they know your problems and challenges already and have a good solution?
Do they have a wide-range of expertise in house, including instructional design, subject matter expertise in manufacturing, graphic design, writing, editing, computer programmers, audio talent, and more?
How long have they been in the manufacturing training business? What's their track record?
In particular, do they have a proven track record creating training solutions for your industry?
How much do they charge, and what are the payment options?
What do external third-parties, such as Capterra or Talented Learning, have to say about them? Industry magazines? Other sources?
Will they let you talk with customers like you and, if so, do you hear good things?
When you want to contact them, is it easy to do so? Is it a form you fill out, an email you send, or can you call direct?
We hope you found this article helpful in guiding your online manufacturing training search.
For more about manufacturing training in general, you might be interested in our Six Steps to Effective Manufacturing Training article as well our as recorded Manufacturing Training that Works webinar.
In addition to this article on selecting online manufacturing training, we've got the additional materials you might find helpful as well: