Online Soft Skills Training: Measuring Effect Chains

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The Importance Of Online Soft Skills Training

Modern work life has witnessed a slow but steady shift toward more people-centered cultures and practices as the demands of organizations and their people have increased. The driving forces behind this evolution are the many coinciding global megatrends, like digitalization and climate change, with major implications for customers, societies, and businesses. To solve their increasingly complex problems and thrive in uncertainty, businesses seek ways to future-proof their workforce by tapping into the collective collaborative human potential of their people, customers, and ecosystem. An emphasis on employee, managerial, and leadership soft skills (or more broadly human skills) development has emerged as a key component of this trend.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced almost all office workers to work online, and the same has been applied to employee training, including soft skills training. But the major question for business decision-makers is, are the online soft skills trainings effective? How do the trainings benefit the employees? How do we measure these effects?

Measuring the effects of online soft skills training is particularly challenging, as these types of effects are difficult to turn into numbers. Therefore, the number of studies on the impact of online soft skills trainings on the User Experience and the effects have been extremely limited. Instead of quantifiable measurements or calculations, we take a qualitative approach to measure the impact of soft skills training, using the input-output-outcome-impact (iooi) model developed by the Bertelsmann Foundation as a general starting point. When resources are applied as input, a result arises as an output, which leads to outcomes and eventually to an impact.

This model can be applied to online soft skills learning as the learner’s participation in the training (input) provides learning (output) which leads to change (outcome) and lastly, the change in behavior leads to effects and improvements in the life area in question (impact). The effect chains presented in this article focus on the exact nature of the last phase of the iooi model, the impact, in the context of soft skills training.

How Can The Effects Of Online Soft Skills Training Be Measured?

In soft skills training, it is difficult to track development. Compared to hard skills training, for example, when learning a new programming language, the development and acknowledgment of new skills are much less transparent. Combined with the difficulties in self-reflection for the participants, the traditional measurements have not been efficient in measuring the effects of soft skills trainings. Based on the research performed with the users of an online soft skills training provider, Academy of Brain, there was developed a model to track the effects of the training.

Based on the research performed, the effects can be tracked through User Experience and effect chains. After the training, the participants start to recognize minor or even major changes in their behavior. These changes then lead to secondary effects and even further. For example, gaining more understanding of personalities at the workplace, from a course related to different personalities, can lead to several effects such as increased patience with others, which might then lead to better recovery and increased trust in the work team. These effect chains can be determined by asking the users follow-up questions, like “How did that impact on your life?” or “What followed after that specific change?” after identifying the first change in behavior. Our research included interviews of 16 soft skills online training users, and 100% of those interviewed recognized one or more behavioral effect chains. The parameters affecting the effect chains were interaction with other users, User Experience, training structure and content, level of concentration, and the applicability of the content to work or personal life.

The Parameters Of The Behavioral Effect Chains

The effect chains seem to occur and are more meaningful with facilitated group discussions, where the participants gather to discuss the contents of the training. The group discussions offer the participants new aspects and widen their thinking. Additionally, the discussions help the participants reflect upon and perceive their own thoughts and behavior. These reflections help increase the number of changes in thoughts or behavior, which then leads to multiple secondary effects. Secondly, the User Experience of the online platform needs to be positive, as negative experiences easily affect the usage rates. Positive User Experience encourages the users to use the platform and return to the training. Thirdly, the training structure needs to be supportive of learning as the effect chains require new learnings and aspects. The content of the soft skills training needs to be relevant and interesting for the user to maintain interest in learning. Fourthly, online soft skills trainings, like other trainings, require concentration from the user. Lack of concentration decreases learning and the ability to gain new aspects. Lastly, the users need to be able to apply the content of the training to their lives, since otherwise, it is impossible to have any behavioral changes from the learning if it cannot be used.

Soft Skills Trainings Also Benefit Employees’ Spare Time

Even though soft skills training might be conceived as merely related to work life, this is not the case. Soft skills training offers help and tools also for the participants’ personal life. Many of the topics covered in soft skills training, such as communication, recovery, and resilience, are closely related to employees’ personal lives. For example, improvements in communication skills might improve communication at home, which then might lead to decreased stress levels and improved mood in both personal and work life. Even though private and work life are often separated, they have a huge impact on each other.

Due to the unique features of soft skills training, such as less easily-seen and transparent development, the importance of interaction during the training, and the impact on personal life as well as work life, the studying of the effects of soft skills trainings cannot be measured with similar tools as used for hard skills trainings. By studying the effect chains of online soft skills trainings, the actual effects from the training can be recognized.

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