In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every area of our lives. The topics we’re discussing, the ways in which we’re discussing them, who we can connect with— it’s all viewed through a pandemic-era lens. So, it’s no surprise that your nonprofit’s staff and the training they receive is also evolving because of the pandemic.
When it comes to training, your staff has new questions. How do we solicit gifts during a crisis? What will our post-COVID-19 efforts look like?
They also have new barriers to completing the training. How do we complete work, training, and more on one strained WiFi connection? How do we complete training with the many distractions of being at home?
Nonprofit staff training has evolved to meet the new challenges your team is facing. Let’s explore a few big changes and how you can create custom-developed courses to incorporate them.
Evolutions in Content
If you’ve caught the news at any point in the last year, you know that the trending topics are different than anything we’ve encountered before. The mass migration to working from home, new terms like “social distancing” and “N95/KN95 masks,” and Zoom-based schooling are all buzzwords.
You’ve had to adjust to this pandemic-era lifestyle in both your personal and working life— and do so quickly. And, while this is certainly not revolutionary new information to you, your nonprofit’s staff members have had to do the same.
Now to tie things back to e-learning: we know that the purpose of an e-learning course is to teach staff members how to do their jobs better.
Courses need to be actionable and give learners the tools to be more effective in their jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic has adjusted what your nonprofit’s staff needs to know to be effective. We’re seeing new topics such as how to:
- Align with increased health and safety precautions.
- Use new technology to work from home.
- Solicit donations from a distance and over the phone.
- Fundraise with empathy during a crisis.
This may mean creating entirely new e-learning courses to address your nonprofit’s operations during COVID-19 or it could mean creating addendums to existing courses (like by creating microlearning courses— more on that later).
Adjustments to Course Design and Development
While the topics of the day have changed, that’s far from the only adjustment your nonprofit’s staff is seeing.
For example, let’s say you’re working from home.
Rodney, the major gifts officer, is working from a home office that’s actually a dining room table. Oh, and that dining room table is also a Zoom school set-up. Sally, the matching gifts officer, is working from an apartment-based home office, and the upstairs neighbors are big fans of step aerobics.
Movie streaming services, family members and pets, and noisy neighbors all add up to one thing— limited time and attention to dedicate to e-learning during COVID-19. Luckily, training courses have evolved to meet the challenge.
Custom-designed, relatable courses
While you can purchase a ready-made course on LinkedIn Learning or Udemy, we’re seeing a pivot away from pre-made courses and a move toward custom-created experiences instead. While some aspects of operating a nonprofit are universal across the board— every nonprofit needs to file a Form 990, for example— there are many aspects that are unique to your team alone. Think of it this way: the training that Doctors without Borders members undergo is significantly different than that of, say, the local Boys and Girls Club.
When you work with an e-learning content development company to author a custom course, you can make it more relatable to your team’s experience. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when doing so:
- Use background scenery and visuals that are reflective of your organization. This includes characters that look and sound like the coworkers, volunteers, and constituents learners will encounter— if your entire team isn’t blonde-haired and blue-eyed, your characters shouldn’t be.
- Use examples, questions, and scenarios that are representative of what team members will encounter. If you’re making an addendum to safety policies, focus on realistic scenarios (ex: what to do if there are too many people in a room at once) rather than outlandish, but exciting, “what if?” scenarios.
- Use language and conversations that are reflective of what learners will encounter. In a course about soliciting donations over the phone, don’t have the donor say “Hello. Thank you for calling my telephone. I would love to make a charitable financial contribution toward your cause.” You’re not training your team to work with robots— so make dialogue realistic! Often times, people soliciting donations aren’t warmly welcomed. It’s okay to show that.
When a learner opens the course and sees, right off the bat, that it was created intentionally for their viewing and benefit, they’ll be more likely to prioritize it in their busy schedule.
Creative, engaging design decisions
Put yourself in the shoes of Sally, the matching gifts officer, for a moment. She lives alone, but that doesn’t mean her work-from-home attention span is stellar. Let’s add in the fact that she’s recently adopted a puppy and her WFH desk set-up is actually a couch… placed inconveniently in front of a TV. It’s, unfortunately, too easy to lose Sally’s attention during an e-learning course (and can you blame her?)
In this scenario, you’ll want to make creative and engaging design decisions to keep her attention. Here are a few tips to help:
- Experiment with your formatting. We were tasked with creating a course about internet security— a topic that can be snooze-inducing on a good day. However, we made it a fun e-learning game that’s much more engaging.
- Prioritize content that’s valuable. This isn’t the time to take a deep-dive into your nonprofit’s history. Focus on content that’s immediately actionable and learners will see the value in your courses.
- Use scenario-based learning. Create engaging, but challenging, e-learning scenarios to keep the learner’s attention. For example, we created a course for the Society of Pediatric Sedation that immersed learners in the content. They weren’t just reading about sedation— they were experiencing a day in the life of a doctor and receiving feedback on their efforts.
Think of it this way: when you needed staff members to review your employee handbook, you created one that they will want to read. Creating engaging e-learning is the same idea!
Accessible, but effective, courses
Let’s say you’ve made courses that are relatable and engaging, but your staff still isn’t completing them. When asked about it, there’s a common theme in your staff’s answers— they don’t have time!
This could be because they are overloaded with a heavy work schedule, or that the increased demands in their day-to-day lives (like being home with an entire household) has made it challenging to complete additional tasks. Luckily, there are ways to structure your e-learning in a way that’s accessible while still remaining effective:
- Consider using microlearning courses. While microlearning isn’t the best solution in all scenarios, it’s perfect for when you need a course that’s hyper-focused on one topic. If you’re providing a brief overview of new health measures, it could be the perfect solution (rather than adding the subject into your overall “office policies” course and asking learners to complete the entire experience again).
- Maintain an ongoing library of course materials. This allows learners to revisit your resources when they have time to do so, even if it’s outside of the normal workday.
- Include a pre-test to required courses. This way, learners can opt-out of the full course if they’re already familiar with the material— which is a great idea for yearly-refresher courses.
When you prioritize course accessibility, courses will be less likely to fall to the wayside on a neverending to-do list. Plus, your team will appreciate the flexible scheduling!
To wrap up, the goal with each of these course adjustments— to make relatable, engaging, and accessible content— is to design content that learners can and want to engage with. That said, making all of this new, custom content can be challenging for even the most seasoned nonprofit training professionals.
The first step we’d recommend is connecting with an e-learning content development partner. This team will help you create courses that meet your, and your staff’s, needs.
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.