Organizations around the globe are leaning towards eLearning. Facilitator-led courses are being converted to gamification, social learning, and bite-sized eLearning in order to save money and time, as well as raise engagement. But is eLearning going to work for soft skills training?

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are defined as “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude” (Collins English Dictionary). In the workplace, soft skills training normally include customer service, business communication ( email writing or telephone skills), teamwork, business acumen, time management and leadership.

Soft skills are intangible while hard skills can be easily observed. As an example, the hard skill of being able to set-up a simple local network can be taught in a series of concrete steps that can be simulated right away. In contrast, the soft skill “influence” covers a wide range of sub-skills such as interpersonal communication, leadership, and persuasion. To practice the skill, a learner needs to placed in a certain situation that will require that skill. In the context of a training, that is role play or call simulation, something that is easier to do in a face to face setting rather than an eLearning course.

Tips to Make eLearning Work for Soft Skills

Find Ways to Make it Measurable

In order to design effective eLearning, you have to ensure that you are clear about what you want to accomplish in your course, and how to measure your success. That means measuring the baseline at the beginning of your training needs analysis, so you can compare it to the post- training results.

For instance, you are about to create an eLearning course that aims to improve email communication skills of customer service representatives. It’s important to determine what exact issue, problem or business concern you’d like to address. For example, are the target learners getting lower customer satisfaction rating due to poorly written email messages? You can record the baseline customer satisfaction rating of all target learners and compare it to the rating after the training is completed. This way, stakeholders will be able to see the value that the training provided to the business.

Make Learning Personalized for the Target Learners

eLearning is typically made away from where the action actually happens. This results in eLearning that sounds and feels detached from the real situation in the workplace. To make soft skills eLearning more engaging for participants, it’s important for eLearning designers to get to know the work environment , team dynamics, and learner profiles.

Pair eLearning with Additional Intervention

Soft skills training require more than a single intervention. It’s a good idea to include in your plan additional activities that will help learners practice what they have learned in the eLearning course.

For example, if you made an eLearning course on problem solving and decision-making, you may schedule additional sessions where learners will solve a real workplace issue together. You may gamify this activity by keeping track of scores and keeping a leaderboard.

If you released an eLearning course about telephone communication, you can make secret shopper calls to each participant and provide feedback through coaching afterwards. This will provide further opportunity for learners to improve, while you are able to gather data to measure training effectiveness.

Make Learning Snack-sized

Single-concept learning is becoming a preferred way to deliver soft skills training for a good reason. Participants are able to focus on only one concept which leads to quicker behavior change. This works particularly well for millennial audiences who have shorter attention spans and get bored easily.

How does snack-sized learning work? Instead of creating a 30- minute eLearning course on interpersonal communication, you can create one-slide presentations on one specific topic; for instance, providing feedback. eLearning can be in the form of a single-slide presentation that learners can read and understand in a matter of two minutes. Various situations can be presented on multiple slides published on different days, giving learners a more in-depth knowledge on providing feedback in different real-world settings.

Create a Space for Sharing and Collaborating

Soft skills training is more interesting and fruitful when learners are able to share ideas and opinions and collaborate on building solutions. One way to do this is to create a social learning page for the participants in your virtual class. After participants are finished with a module in the course, you may direct them to a link to the class social page so they can:

● Ask questions about the training, addressed to the facilitator or other participants ● Share their thoughts, opinions and suggestions regarding the course ● Answer questions that were asked in the course ● Share personal experiences relating to the topic ● Work with other participants to complete a group activity

Work Closely with an SME (Subject Matter Expert)

Subject matter experts are valuable to eLearning designers in more ways than one. First, they provide an insider’s perspective to the normally outsider design team. They also have first hand experience working with the target learners, as well as the external customers, so they can provide anecdotes and work-related example that will make the training relatable and engaging. Lastly, SMEs will ensure that your eLearning course is aligned to the team’s internal policies and procedures.

For example, if you are creating an eLearning about customer service, the SME will be able to share with you what current customer service practices the team already have in place and what needs to be improved. They will also be able to say how the team feels about customer service training; are they anxious, excited or dismissive about the expected behavior change?

You may ask the SME for usual customer- employee situations that can be used as scenario-based questions in your eLearning. If their department always receive complaints, the SME can share what types of complaints there are, so you can create questions relating to every type of complaint. You may ask the learners how to handle these specific complaints in your eLearning activity.

You may ask the SME to read through all of the training content to see if they are consistent with existing policies and procedures. For example, most customer service training would advise that escalations be forwarded to a manager when a customer asks. However, if the team structure does not allow for immediate transfer to a manager, the content needs to be adjusted to reflect this limitation.