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Digital Training Is Great, but Is It Worth the Cost?

There are as many ways to train someone as there are people. Training could be unique for each person, but for a large organization, that’s impossible. Sometimes, we have to standardize training to teach the content best rather than trying to make training unique to each person or even an arbitrary group.

That isn’t bad, though, since it can save the organization time and money while having a similar effect to personalized training if done well. However, digital training is typically more expensive if you only look at it from a dollar perspective. Let me explain.

Training cost, effectiveness, and creation time vary a lot.

Recording a presentation from someone who’s an expert doesn’t cost much; just set the call to record and publish that video. It’s cheap and easy to do, but what’s the actual dollar cost if it’s ineffective learning-wise and time-wise? Digital training takes a lot of effort, but it could be cheaper because good digital training will likely be shorter and more effective.

Before we get too deep into digital training and whether it’s worth it, let me take a step back and define digital training for the sake of this blog post.

Defining Digital Training

Defining digital training is difficult since so much is digital these days. Even a webinar is technically digital training. Those meetings we used to go to in the conference room to learn something? That’s done online now in Webex, Zoom, or whatever you use. Technically, that’s also digital training.

We define most of the training solutions we create for organizations as digital training. That comprises self-paced courses (eLearning), training videos, contextual help, and even performance support that’s delivered digitally.

At the center of modern digital training is eLearning.

For the sake of this post and ease of cost analysis, I will use eLearning as the standard training type for this article. It’s typically more expensive than performance support and training videos, but it’s either on par or less than contextual help.

So, while digital training is broad in definition, eLearning is the standard form of digital training, especially regarding asynchronous digital training.

While digital training in the self-paced form (eLearning) can be relatively expensive, there are benefits. Let’s look at some of those benefits so this article isn’t simply based on the cost. Cost is important but shouldn’t be the only factor in any decision.

The Benefits of Digital Training

There are, of course, hidden costs to not training employees well. However, tons of benefits come with digital training. Sometimes you have to weigh benefits, drawbacks, costs, and more when deciding if digital training, eLearning, or something else is the right choice for your project.

When we go through a needs analysis with you (even if it can’t tell you everything), we don’t just help you determine if you even need training. Part of that process is to help you decide the best type of training, digital or not.

Here are some of the benefits of digital training.

  • Always Open: It’s always open and always available for employees to take it. Whenever they have the time, that’s the time to learn.
  • Self-Paced: Employees can not only take it when they want, they can take it at their own pace or break it up however they want.
  • Interactive: You can do a lot to make digital training interactive including scenarios, activities, software simulations, and more.
  • Flexible: How you build digital training is flexible, from how you break up the content to if and how you test the content or even if employees can test out.
  • Time-Saving: Typically, digital training saves much more time than its non-digital counterparts. There’s no travel, everything is well-planned, and it’s generally easier to help save employees time.

The list could go on, but for the sake of this post, I’ll leave it as is. This post is about whether digital training is worth the cost. While it can be done cheaply, as with most things, you get what you pay for.

When Digital Training Is Worth It

Digital training scales well. The more people you’re trying to train, the more cost-effective it will be. The cost of creating digital training generally stays the same, no matter how many people take it. While there are modest increases in cost because of hosting and traffic to your LMS, those costs are minuscule.

An eLearning course that costs $20,000 to create will cost nearly that same amount with 100 being trained or 40,000 being trained. That means the cost per person for 100 people would be $200, which is quite a bit. When training 40,000 people, the cost per person is only 50 cents.

Whether training is worth it or not always comes down to the value, whether financial or something else.

Depending on who the training is for and the cost/benefit, it could be worth $200 per person. But, in most cases, building digital training for only 100 people is inefficient and not worth it.

That’s the magic of digital training. You can use economies of scale with digital training, which you can’t do with traditional or synchronous digital training, such as virtual instructor-led training. That’s one reason we don’t do any instructor-led training; we find the same can be accomplished with eLearning at a fraction of the cost.

While there’s a clear line of when digital training will be worth it for you, there is no exact line. It’s all about measuring the value of the training vs how many people will benefit from it. When fewer people are affected by training, unless the cost savings are there, it’s simply not worth it.

You likely already have a good idea when digital training isn’t worth it, but let’s look at the specifics of when it simply isn’t worth it.

When Digital Training Isn’t Worth It

As you probably saw in the section above, creating a whole eLearning course for only 100 people is probably not worth it. The value it produces isn’t enough unless those taking it either pay for it or the course will create a high level of value. That could be a course for top sellers who turn around and turn the $200 cost in training into $2,000.

It’s all a matter of the actual value the course creates as opposed to the actual cost itself. It doesn’t matter if the course costs $20,000 to make if it brings in $100,000 in the end. That is, unless the same results could have been achieved with another method of training that cost significantly less.

Digital training isn’t worth it when it creates little value.

As a rule of thumb, though, eLearning isn’t typically worth it for less than 500 people being trained unless for high-value training. The most important thing to do is a cost-benefit analysis for every course, whether eLearning or something else. That’s up to every department to ensure they’re being a good steward of their organization’s money.

When it comes to digital training, it’s not always as straightforward as the number of employees being trained. Let’s look at other factors affecting how much digital training costs and how much value it brings to the organization.

Factors That Affect the Cost of Digital Training

In my examples above, I used $20,000 as the cost. That is just a made-up number for a complex eLearning course with a significant number of interactions. Or it’s the cost of a realistic software simulation built for an application undergoing rapid changes, and the training needs to be updated regularly.

But, the actual cost of the course could be a lot less or even a lot more. It all depends on the course requirements. So, a relatively simple course could cost only $10,000 and return $1,000 for each person who takes it. Maybe it’s a course that’s sold for $1,000, or perhaps the results an employee gets from it earn the organization at least $1,000.

In that case, a course that costs $10,000 would only need to be taken by ten people to be worth it to break even. Beyond that, it’s all profit!

Many things can affect the cost of the course, including the following:

  • SME: It could be that working with the project’s subject matter expert (SME) is quite costly, or the organization has to hire outside the organization to access the SME.
  • Interactivity: The level of interactivity in a course will significantly change the cost of creating the course.
  • Professional Content: It may be that a professional voice-over artist is needed, or perhaps a video designed by a video production company. Then there are things like special custom illustrations for the course. All of these things can affect the cost.
  • Content: The content itself can change how much it costs. Some content is more complex to work through and build training for, but sometimes it’s easier.
  • Realistic: Building a software simulation for an entire application will cost more than building a simulation for a small part.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors that can affect how much digital training costs. This isn’t even a comprehensive list. When deciding whether digital training will be worth it, it’s also good to know some of the alternative solutions.

Let’s look at cheaper solutions, including some we’ve used when time or money didn’t permit something more complex.

Cheaper Solutions When Digital Training Won’t Work

Sometimes, developing a self-paced course is not worth the cost, but training still needs to be done digitally. Here are some solutions we’ve used for projects that don’t have the timeline or budget to develop quality digital training.

If the value of training isn’t there, either because it doesn’t bring enough value or affect enough people, these solutions can work, too. And sometimes, it doesn’t come down to money at all. We’ve implemented some of these solutions for several reasons, including insufficient time to create complex digital training.

Sometimes (but rarely), it’s worth recording a presentation and putting the video up as training.

If time is the constraint, it’s possible to do something quick and easy for a temporary rollout while something better is being created. These are the three situations when this type of rapid training solution might be needed.

  • When there’s not enough time to produce a higher-quality digital training.
  • When it doesn’t touch enough people and won’t make it cost-effective.
  • When low-quality and quick don’t impact the performance outcome at all.

For the first two problems, there’s likely a solution that will work. While the solution isn’t always ideal, sometimes you must do what’s necessary. If time permits later on and the benefit is still there, it’s always possible to return to create something better.

What To Do When There’s Not Enough Time

When there’s not enough time to develop complex eLearning for training, rest assured there are solutions that will work. The solution typically isn’t a long-term solution and won’t be as cost-effective, but it could work in a pinch nonetheless.

We’ve been in situations where employees needed training within two weeks. Under no circumstance is that enough time to create a quality self-paced course. Our solution for this is typically recording a session with the subject matter expert via Webex, Teams, Zoom, or whatever tool you prefer.

We then take that recording and publish it as a low-fidelity training video.

Keep in mind that this solution is quick and dirty. The training is often significantly less effective than eLearning (longer, less organized, and more confusing), but we do it if it’s better than nothing.

Recorded sessions are rarely a good long-term solution.

Not only is it not likely as effective, but it can also potentially waste a lot of time. While eLearning is well-organized and streamlined, these recordings can run twice or three times longer than a self-paced course. That’s because they’re poorly planned and recorded hastily, with no analysis or design happening (where training goes to DIE).

This solution should only be done in a time crunch and fixed as soon as possible. If employees continue to need the training, then the time should be spent on doing it right.

When Training Doesn’t Touch Enough People

If a course will never touch enough people, perhaps 10-20 a year, sometimes it’s better to perform the training individually. It can be just as effective with a good plan but won’t take as much time as preparing and building a course.

Sometimes, this can even be considered white glove training because you get someone walking you through it in a personal session. Not only that, but employees can ask questions and get answers in real-time.

One-on-one “white glove” training is a good solution when only a few people need to be trained.

With so few people needing to be trained on a subject, this likely wouldn’t even be a temporary solution. It’s perfectly fine to leave some topics as one-on-one training for as long as needed. It’s doubtful anyone will complain.

The best part about this solution is that not much time will be wasted since few people require training anyway. You aren’t wasting time creating it, and any time wasted in the session won’t be too high because so few people are being trained.

Wrap Up

Now you should know when digital training is a good solution for your organization’s training needs and when it isn’t. If you have answers to two essential questions, you can quickly determine if it’s worth it.

  • How many people need to be trained?
  • What’s the actual value of the training?

If the answer to those questions makes digital training worth it, go for it! With great enough numbers, even a course with no clear monetary value can be cheap enough that it’s worth experimenting. Of course, you’d have to know, even loosely, whether some benefit could be extracted from the training across all employees or if it’s simply required training.

It’s all about the cost-effectiveness being weighed against your needs and the audience size.

We’d love to work with you to help determine if digital training is a good answer for a problem you’re experiencing with corporate technical training. Or, if your IT department is rolling out a new system to non-IT employees, we’ll help you decide the best way to train employees.

Schedule a free consultation with us, and we’ll help your next IT project be more successful and help bring more value to your IT department projects.

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