By Caroline Kirby

As younger generations continue to join the workforce, there is increasing pressure to include digital learning within training programs. For years, the use of technology within corporate learning centered around a single platform: the learning management system (LMS). Now, as technology becomes more integrated into the workflow, additional digital learning strategies are starting to supplement the tried-and-true LMS platform.

Digital learning utilizes electronic technologies to access educational resources outside of a traditional classroom. This can range from a course or program that is delivered online through an LMS, to just-in-time training videos that are available to technicians the moment they need it in the field. It also may include software programs that help your learners interact with the material as you are presenting it, and games that test your learners’ mastery of the material. Most importantly, digital learning is not simply a PDF of text or a PowerPoint presentation.

Incorporating digital learning into a training program provides both short- and long-term benefits to learners and their employers. In the short-term, digital learning brings interactivity to training that was unheard of just a few years ago. It allows learners to practice with the material, which can lead to improved comprehension and retention levels.

Over the long term, digital learning provides trainers and learners with more diverse teaching methods, and typically gives learners more control over the material and the way in which they learn it. This more personalized learning strategy inspires self-exploration by learners and is likely to result in higher intrinsic motivation to learn compared to more structured learning. Finally, the inclusion of digital learning enables trainers to create and update content and provide learners with programming at a much faster rate. This also means that learners can access the content faster. This acceleration helps learners, and therefore enhances the company’s human capital and performance.

In my time as a training coordinator, I have had the opportunity to use several digital learning programs in my own training programs. My favorites are discussed below.

IN THE FIELD. A learning management system is a software application that administers, documents, tracks, reports and delivers educational courses, training programs or learning and development programs.

The main benefit to using an LMS is that all content (i.e., courses, worksheets, videos, etc.) is stored in one location. This means that learners can easily access all content through a website or app on any computer or mobile device, while in any location.

LMSs can be utilized to house initial training videos, Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) courses and related content such as worksheets. They also can be used for ongoing training intended for experienced technicians, and may be used to assign and access client-specific certification courses and requirements.

There are many learning management systems available for purchase. An LMS should be chosen based on your company’s needs and desired features and functionality.

Videos often can be an effective training tool as well, especially in an industry that emphasizes hands-on learning. While formal, structured videos are useful in a classroom setting, just-in-time videos can be a great tool for technicians in the field.

Just-in-time videos should be short, one-to-two-minute videos that provide information on just one pest, treatment, technique or policy change. Because they are short in length, just-in-time videos give technicians the information they need without having to wade through other, more lengthy material. These short videos should become part of a larger, searchable library of resources that is accessible through an LMS or another shared access folder such as Dropbox or OneDrive.

STRUCTURED LEARNING SETTINGS. Since classroom learning should never be overlooked, there are many digital learning programs that can be used within a classroom setting to enhance learning. K-12 teachers have integrated digital learning into their classrooms for years, and a lot of the software they use is adaptable to our industry’s classrooms as well. Four programs I’ve had success using are Pear Deck, Quizlet, FlipGrid and Kahoot!.

Pear Deck allows trainers to plan and build interactive PowerPoint presentations through Google Slides. Adding interactive elements to a presentation, especially PowerPoint presentations, increases retention and interest.

When participating in a Pear Deck presentation, students are able to interact with each slide via any mobile device or computer. Examples of interactions include drawing on the slide, typing in a short response, matching and more. Trainers also can share student answers with the rest of the room to stimulate discussion or highlight correct responses.

In my own training programs, Pear Deck has been used to play Pest ID Pictionary and present more traditional topics like bed bug control and IPM in schools and daycare centers. Pear Deck provides template slides that can be manipulated to fit whatever the trainer desires.

Pear Deck requires a paid subscription, but offers free, 30-day trials to those interested in testing out the program.

Quizlet assists trainers in creating flashcards, tests, quizzes and study games that are accessible online and via a mobile device. This allows learners to access study materials whenever and wherever they are without having to keep track of paper reference or study materials. Quizlet offers both free and paid versions, depending on the desired features.

FlipGrid is an active, social learning platform that engages learners through video-based discussion. FlipGrid may be accessed via any computer or mobile device and creates opportunities for reflection, discussion, demonstration and collaboration.

Within FlipGrid, trainers can create grids of short, discussion-style topics to share. Then, learners are expected to add their own video responses related to the proposed grid topic. This helps to expand collective knowledge and enhance community, especially in companies that cover a large service area in which technicians may not interact frequently. FlipGrid is free for anyone to use.

Kahoot!, a popular game-based learning platform, allows trainers to create multiple choice quizzes that can be accessed via a web browser on any computer or mobile device.

While playing via Kahoot!, learners are rewarded for the speed and accuracy at which they answer questions. Players may play individually or in teams.

Games have been shown to encourage learning and offer a way for students to assess their own comprehension in a low-stakes environment. Games can add a fun element to your learning program while also testing mastery. Kahoot! offers both free and paid versions to trainers.

ADDING DIGITAL LEARNING. When deciding on which digital learning program to use, it is important to consider the following:

  • What is the purpose of this tool? Each digital tool selection should be made with a clear purpose in mind (i.e., what can the learner do with that digital tool?).
  • How accessible is this tool? Nothing will discourage use more than difficulty in accessing the material.
  • Is this tool meant to give your learner a sense of community or is it meant for individual work? If your company has a wide geographical footprint, digital learning can foster a sense of community and allow learners to interact with each other. It also can be used to test individual knowledge within smaller settings.
  • Does this program provide practice and feedback opportunities? Digital tools can provide learners with the chance to practice and interact with the material. They also can provide useful feedback for trainers.
  • In what context will this tool be used? Depending on your pest management training program, tools may be better suited for classroom use or field use.
  • What is the cost? Some digital learning programs are free of charge and some are of significant cost.

Regardless of the digital learning program you choose, your learners will benefit both in the field and in the classroom.

Kirby has a master’s degree in adult education from the University of Minnesota and a B.S. in wildlife ecology — natural resources from the University of Wisconsin. She is the training coordinator at Plunkett’s Pest Control.

This Tech Talk article was originally published in the February 2019 edition of PCT magazine.