By the time you read this, I'll be back from giving a speech at TeleCon West, a major conference on e-learning in Anaheim, Calif. As you might expect from a technology conference, most of the sessions will focus on leading-edge technology and application solutions. Critically important topics, but definitely not the whole training picture. My presentation addresses an equally vital issue: Even after choosing ideal technical solutions, most managers find that their e-training programs are not as successful as they had hoped. And the reasons have nothing to do with technology.

When approached by a client to help them analyze the results from their e-workshops, the first question I ask is, "Who cares?" And more specifically, "Who thinks this e-course is extremely valuable?" All too often, the answer is, "It's most important to the manager who sponsored the course." Is that a problem? You bet it is. If the content is not of value to the trainees, then the chance of them actually learning and absorbing the material is extremely diminished.

When Participants Don't Learn Let me give you an example. A senior technology manager from a major tech company wanted to bring the worldwide sales force up to date with the latest version of an important product. Focusing on the budget, he implemented an "affordable" solution, which required sales people to spend a full day reviewing volumes of technical information through a text-based e-learning program. To enforce completion, a long (tedious) test was included at the end.

The company was proud of getting nearly 100 percent compliance with the program. But later research showed a disturbing result. Neither knowledge about nor sales of the new version had improved.

As it turned out, technical details were not of value to the trainees. Nor was taking a revenue-generating day out of the field to learn them. In fact, with a little digging, we discovered that very few of the trainees had actually sat through the course. The first few reps who endured the text-based torture were happy to share the answers to the test with their peers. Sure, everybody submitted the final test, but nobody cared and nobody learned.

Here's another way to test for "who cares?" Ask this question, "Would anyone pay to watch it?" What information would be so useful that trainees would open their wallets to get it? If a curriculum (online or in person) is targeted, relevant, and enjoyable, attendees will complete the training and retain more information, independent of compliance measures.

Where's the Answer? Next time you design an e-course, imagine the experience from the target audience's perspective. Is it engaging, thought provoking, and challenging? Resist those sponsors who consider endurance an appropriate design goal. If the fundamental objective is to advance knowledge--not stamina--the content must be worth paying for.

Another way to improve your results is to design for online. Simply automating your trainer's existing in-person presentation is not enough for online success. Think of an e-course as the content and the trainer combined. The presentation must be interesting enough for people to stay and learn. If it's not, nothing can stop them from answering the telephone on the first ring.

And finally, shake things up! Today's tools provide easy ways to do the impossible. In this world of multimedia and animation, it is not difficult or costly to make those sales really cycle, to actually bring the trainee into that system box, or to travel through a process by riding a piece of paper. The possibilities are exciting, endless, and extremely effective.

Janette Racicot is president of Racicot & Associates, which specializes in helping companies improve their high visibility, in person and online training events. You can share your thoughts with her at (617) 484-3201 or send mail to jracicot@jracicot.com.