We know that the U.S. federal government is actively working to modernize the federal workforce to meet the fast-evolving nature of 21st-century work. There’s a push to update technology systems to improve mobile access and citizen engagement. Human resource leaders are revamping outdated recruitment methods and building educational partnerships to fill a pipeline of younger workers who can fill skills gaps. And, as federal personnel are retiring from government, managers are emphasizing lifelong learning opportunities designed to develop and retain valuable personnel.

It’s no wonder that online training is one of the go-to tools to enhance skills and competencies. eLearning is a cost-effective way to deliver a range of courses or just-in-time microlearning. Reaching workers in remote locations and of differing abilities, online learning promotes equity across the workforce. And, in our mobile-driven culture, eLearning is accessible, anywhere at any time.

However, while online learning has many obvious benefits, it’s not a cure-all. It takes planning and diligence to deliver an effective online training program for government workforce development. Here are five things to keep in mind.

1. The Possibilities are (Nearly) Endless

There are many options for online training – across a tremendously broad set of categories. You can learn soft skills, project management, workplace safety or cybersecurity. You can learn how to sell, how to manage, how to hire the best. Business applications. Video marketing. Driving. The list really is endless. Not every level of every skill is appropriate for online learning (think driving or welding or public speaking). But including online training in the mix for workforce development is a smart move.

PRO TIP: Select the workforce skills and levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) you deem appropriate for online instruction. Once you know what you’re looking for, find a content partner who’s experienced working with the government and who has an active procurement vehicle for online learning. Avilar, for example, offers a catalog of online courses from our content partners, available through our GSA Schedule. Work with your partner to select and activate the courses you need to round out your curricula.

2. There is Such a Thing as Too Much

Many people tout online training as a low-cost solution. One where low or flat fees can unlock near-unlimited access to a broad catalog of training. What they overlook, though, is the fact that massive course catalogs aren’t necessarily the best value. Too many choices can lead to confusion. If we use the Pareto Principle (better known as the 80/20 rule), its safe to say that about 80 percent of learners access only 20 percent of the content – leading to tremendous waste.

PRO TIP: Even if your agency has full access to a very broad catalog of eLearning content, take the time to review and assess your choices. Purge from your learning management system (LMS) courses that are not relevant, of poor quality or that overly duplicate content. By narrowing the options, you’ll save your employees time and better ensure that their learning will be more valuable.

3. Go for Broad Reach, but Local Touch

When your learners are geographically distributed, online learning can be a great equalizer – delivering the same content to all employees. eLearning can be particularly effective for soft skills and business application basic training. However, resist the urge to simply rely on third-party training. There’s a lot you can do online that’s specific to your agency or team.

PRO TIP: Be sure you can add your own courses to your LMS, mixing in your custom content with the off-the-shelf catalog. Also, look for online opportunities to connect people for synchronous, collaborative, skill-building experiences. FEMA, for example, conducts virtual tabletop exercises to help train emergency responders. With multiple training sites connected over four-hour simulation scenarios, participants discuss current plans, policies, training and command procedures.

4. It’s Good to Follow the (FedRAMP) Leader

It’s tempting to rely on familiar-but-outdated home grown LMSs or existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to manage learners and learning. But those systems are unlikely to deliver the flexibility you need. And the U.S. federal government really, really wants all agencies to advance their technology. FedRAMP is one way the government encourages agencies “to rapidly, cost-effectively adapt from old, insecure legacy IT to mission-enabling, secure, and cost-effective cloud-based IT.” In this case, it makes sense to follow the leader and adopt an LMS that can do what you need it to do.

PRO TIP: When you select your online learning delivery system – your LMS – be sure it’s a FedRAMP-certified solution. Also, local control over the platform is important, so you can configure the system to support your agency’s learning needs as they evolve.

5. Results Matter

You know this. Not all eLearning is created equal. Online learning has been around for many years; and it’s still evolving. And there’s some wonderful training that really engages learners and promotes behavior change. Yet, there’s still plenty of bad content around – content that’s boring, not interactive, not current and does not at all inspire positive change by the learner.

PRO TIP: Take the time you need to assess the training to ensure you get the results you need. Look for content that is vigorous, interesting and backed by research showing that it will change the behaviors you hope to change. Use a competency management system to measure and track results.

Online training can be a tremendous tool for advancing government (and industry) workforce skills. While it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, excellent eLearning definitely has its place in a robust workforce development program.

Looking for ways to strengthen your workforce development program with eLearning that drives results? Let us know. We’d be happy to talk about how to select courses that will work for your team – and how to develop the best competency management framework for personnel and agency success.

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