Once upon a time, the best software training happened on-site and in-person. Schedules were coordinated, flights and conference or event spaces booked, presentations and working sessions planned.

That indeed sounds like a fairy tale now. Much like the world at large, corporate training of all kinds has changed a great deal during the past couple of years.

Training pivots to virtual environments

Face-to-face training—as with most other in-person events and business—came to a halt in early 2020 and subsequently pivoted to virtual environments. But the global shift to remote and hybrid workplaces and events was also a catalyst for other trends already underway. People and organizations were already using more software than ever, and their applications and tools are increasingly essential to their jobs—working remotely during the pandemic only affirmed that long-term reality.

This in turn is driving continuous demand for high-quality training—if people struggle with their company software, they can’t do their jobs.

A better way to do things

As with remote and hybrid work in general, people realized: This might be a better way to do things. Face-to-face training can be effective but it is logistically complicated and relatively expensive.

Simply moving in-person training programs online wasn’t a long-term solution, however. It led to flat, one-directional content that got lost amidst “Zoom burnout” and other issues. Plus, synchronous online training still required scaling the logistical hurdle of scheduling dozens or even hundreds of people for a specific day and time.

Just as hybrid workplaces seek to retain the benefits of both remote and in-person work, self-paced training is rapidly growing up to deliver essential education that pairs the flexibility of virtual environments with the advantages of the human touch. We’ve seen a whopping 365% increase in the use of asynchronous, self-paced training in our own ecosystem in the last year.

The advantages of self-paced training

This massive interest is not surprising when considering the primary advantages of self-paced training.

First, self-paced training is largely asynchronous, meaning that you shed the complicated task of scheduling people. This is a boon for any organization but especially smaller and midsize firms that are already tight on time and other resources.

Second, self-paced environments enable the trainer organization—whether a SaaS firm on-boarding new clients or a company developing its own employees’ skill sets—to train up more people, faster. For software vendors, this can mean a streamlined onboarding process—particularly advantageous when initial contract terms are tied to getting new users getting set up and beginning to use the product.

Third, people prefer it. This can’t be overstated—self-paced training accommodates different learning styles in ways that synchronous sessions cannot. The rapid hands-on learner, for example, isn’t tethered to a colleague who prefers a more measured approach—neither negatively impacts the other.

Two fundamental questions

Just like with other formats, self-paced training environments aren’t automatically effective. Plenty of organizations are interested in this approach but aren’t yet equipped to do it successfully. There are two fundamental questions they should ask:

? Do we have the right content?

? Do we have the necessary technologies and features to deliver that content?

Step-by-step to success

We see a pattern of success factors in effective self-paced training environments. As training organizations develop their own answers to those questions, they should consider the following steps toward a successful, sustainable implementation.

1. Develop content specifically attuned to your users’ needs. As software training and other forms of professional skills development have moved into virtual environments, too much of the training material itself is lifeless, one-dimensional, or one-size-fits-all.

Self-paced training success requires an investment in content that is tailored to the intended audience’s particular needs. This is not a matter of taking the user manual and posting it online—that wastes people’s time. Rather, the most relevant information must be packaged in a way that people can engage with and understand and that is customized to their specific goals or needs.

2. Integration with Learning Management Systems (LMS). One of the best ways to match content development with technology is to ensure that you have an effective integration between your training environment and an LMS. When you work with an LMS, you’re able to create and deliver material that is concise, targeted, and engaging.

Similarly, integrations between training environments and other platforms such as Salesforce.com are nice to have and enable further cohesion in new customer onboarding and related requirements.

3. Analyze and optimize training based on user behavior. This is a powerful but often overlooked advantage of a self-paced training environment integrated with an LMS. As you build out your content and programs, you can view and track what your customers are doing in the environment and then iterate and optimize based on that information.

Are users taking the preferred path to solve a particular problem, or viewing a particular video, or completing a quiz or questionnaire? How long are they staying in the training and/or returning? Without this data, self-paced training environments are taking the “best guess” approach, which isn’t enough to achieve your desired results.

4. Foster productive feedback loops. Never make the mistake of thinking of self-paced training as analog or one-directional. On the contrary, the best self-paced training environments are lively and multi-dimensional. This means including a chat feature and other channels for creating feedback loops, opportunities to get live help when needed, and chat and other digital spaces for interacting with peers. Users should be able to take notes, share feedback, and solve problems.

As self-paced virtual training environments continue to grow, all of the above speak to a basic truth worth reminding ourselves of periodically: This is ultimately a people business, and the best training will continue to put people first.