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  • Writer's pictureMark Hearon

How to Improve Your On-Demand Training

Creating on-demand training solutions is one of the greatest exercises of self-discipline I know. It's like writing a book, only this book is also a computer program that can figuratively blow up. As Dr. Ian Malcom said in Jurassic Park (1993), "God help us; we're in the hands of engineers."

Thankfully, the engineering is handled by extremely talented folks like those at iSpring Solutions (not sponsored). The self-discipline piece, then, is what's leftover for us course creators to exercise. When we give in to the desire for a laugh, entertain a detour in our course content, or misapply certain constraints like slide timers, we can inadvertently underserve our water and wastewater heroes and heroines and devalue our craft.

Let's talk about how we can all improve our TCEQ-approved, on-demand training courses.

1. Use Stock Photography Wherever Possible

Remember when Friedrich Nietzche said, "Clipart is dead"? That's okay; clipart's a little ahead of his time. Nevertheless, the statement holds. While researching which course(s) we wanted to tackle first at H2Online Training, we came across real-life industry examples that actually use clipart. You know, circa 1998.

It was rather cringy.

Clipart is almost as bad as Far Side comics. There's probably no better way to capture the zeitgeist, offer social commentary, and cough up a lung in a single frame quite like a Far Side comic. In terms of instructive quality, however, they're lacking. To an instructional designer, this is painfully obvious even though that pain can be deadened by the laughter they generate.

In short, low-value visuals, clipart, and jokes don't serve the learner. They're there to fill space at worst and evoke laughter at best — both of which serve to make the presenter feel less awkward. We should always think of learners first.

The Fix

Stock photography is both expensive and high quality. Although expense and quality don't always go hand-in-hand, this is one place where an instructional designer gets what they pay for. These days, free trials of iStock and Shutterstock are commonplace and can be used multiple times to get high-quality images ... for free.

Set a calendar reminder to cancel services before the free trial ends to lock in the free-ness.

If paid services still aren't within reach, Unsplash offers free stock photography. We use Unsplash to service both H2Online Training on-demand course products as well as our website and UpStream Blog.

2. Align to Your Learning Objectives Ruthlessly

Primary Objective:

By the end of this module, the learner will define the types of emergencies that water utility workers might face.

Sounds familiar, right?

A learning objective is a concise statement of what learners should deliver after a given training segment. It's also a commitment on the part of the instructor. If the instructor deviates from the course set by the learning objective(s), they risk learners' engagement, misuse their time, and ultimately set them up for failure.

We're all human and we digress from time to time. It's the nature of what it is to be a social creature. And it's what sometimes opens the door to the most enriching of conversations: learning from others' past mistakes.

In an on-demand framework, there's no spontaneity. If there is, it's planned. And that's, ahem, never mind.

The Fix

At this point, we're five paragraphs into this section and I haven't begun to speak about the learning objective above. If this were a learning module, you'd probably be thinking, "When is he just gonna get on with it?" Congrats! You've already got the following point(s):

  • Fluff serves nothing but to waste time.

  • Fluff serves nobody but those who simply want "more."

  • Fluff distracts from and complicates learner assessment.

Pop Quiz:

  1. What are the types of emergencies that water utility workers might face?

Uh-oh, we got to the assessment and we never taught the content this question is connected to.

It doesn't matter if you can answer that question adequately. If the instructor doesn't ruthlessly align to their learning objective(s), someone's gonna fail. That's on me, the instructor.

Great instructors understand this, and great on-demand courses stay aligned to learning objectives.

3. Apply Slide Timers Proportionally

You know them as the bane of your existence. We know them as the bane of ours.

Truly, nobody likes using slide timers less than we do. Like the court clerk who levels with potential jurors and says, "Look, we know you don't want to be here, but we have a job to do," we know you don't want to be impeded in your progress.

This is the only time you'll hear us say, "The TCEQ made us do it."

The TCEQ is convinced slide timers are the one true way to secure contact time with learners. And while this isn't necessarily true, it's rooted in a valid concern. So, how to use them in a way that's more learner-centric? Here's how we do it.

The Fix

Once a given course is awarded a certain number of CEUs (e.g., 1), don't divide the number of minutes (60) by the number of slides (55). If you do, you'll have learners sitting on 60+ seconds of slide timer all while looking at your beautiful Far Side comic chapter header. Please don't do this — either of them.

Instead, construct a timer schedule that's proportionally adjusted like so:

  1. Choose a realistic reading speed (words/minute) based on your audience.

  2. Create a formula in a spreadsheet and log the number of words per slide.

  3. Apply the formula to each slide's word count.

  4. Adjust your slide timers accordingly.

See the table below for an approximation of what we're talking about.



(Words / WPM) x 60 = Reading Time

Reading Time (mm:ss)



(90/130) x 60




(68/130) x 60




(150/130) x 60



It's important to not conflate reading time with total slide time. In instances where all types of learners are in one setting (i.e., on-demand TCEQ continuing education and core licensing courses), reading time should be calibrated to the slowest average reading speed. The inclusion of ADA-friendly features such as narration ought not to be confused with the appropriate nor the average reading speed for a given slide.

In addition, Each slide should provide a learner with an opportunity to pause for reflection, take notes, and/or re-read the content. While this will differ from learner to learner, where contact time is the priority (as it is with the TCEQ), this is crucial for meeting state requirements and can aid in retention.

You may find the odd learner who's way faster than the rest, but don't let this unnerve you. It's illogical to think one person's experience is necessarily everybody's experience. Take it with a grain of salt, log it for later review, and move on with supplying high-quality training.

The Wrap

As on-demand learning increases its hold on the training market, it's important to coalesce around standards of excellence such as using high-quality photography, ruthlessly aligning to learning objectives, and applying slide timers proportionally. As you consider creating new (and/or updating old) learning assets for your company, municipality, or non-profit, keep these in mind — it'll make all the difference.

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