So you’re a construction or skilled trades professional and you want to start using online learning.
Online learning is becoming increasingly popular in the construction and trades industries. If you do it right, online learning can save both learners and those looking to teach, time and money, reach a wider audience, and allow you to preserve your knowledge online.
But before we get into the different types of online learning systems available, let’s address the questions that may be in some of your minds: “Should I use online learning? Is it a good fit for me?” Well, here’s my answer: chances are, if you’re in the construction or trades industry, you can and should use online learning.
Here’s an overview of different types of people in the industry who could benefit from online learning. See if one of them sounds like you.
Who should use online learning in the construction industry?
Big construction companies
While it might seem obvious, it has to be said that big construction companies can benefit from online learning in a number of ways. For example, you can use it to streamline your new-hire program, having your employees sit in front of a computer to watch basic or introductory training in order to free up your HR staff. You can also create a custom online course that tells the new hire about your company culture, what to expect, and more.
Online learning systems are particularly good for company-wide compliance and safety training. Having your training online allows your employees to train from home (provided they have internet access) and can be easier and more cost effective than coordinating a company-wide training session in-house. Finally, the right online learning system would also allow you to film and publish your own proprietary training that you could then distribute to your employees (like manufacturing processes, certain techniques, and company protocols).
Contractors with small to medium teams
If you’re a contractor with a small to large team, online learning can still benefit you — just in a different way. You may not have as many employees to educate as a large construction company, but your time is severely limited and extremely valuable. You’re probably wearing ten different hats at any given time, and the thought of training your employees or temporary hires may be overwhelming.
More than that, let’s face it: you might be good at what you do, but you’re probably not proficient enough to educate your team on all the things they need to learn.
For example, let’s say you’ve just promoted one of your faithful employees to the role of lead foreman, and he or she is now going to run multiple jobs or oversee other employees. You may want to train them in managing the jobsite, making sales, or even marketing and social media.
Using online learning, your employee can learn the skills they need when they need them. If you’re not a marketing, sales, or leadership expert, why not let your employees watch courses from those who are? In the end, it will benefit your company. Plus, these courses are generally not a large expense, and allow you to focus on running your business while your employees learn from experienced pros in their field.
Lastly, you might consider becoming an online teacher yourself! Below we’ll outline a few great ways you can get started — why not share your expertise with the next generation and get paid for what you know?
If you’re a training company, an educational company, or a consulting firm in construction or trades, you might want to look at offering your own online training.
Your online training system needs are going to be different than companies looking to train employees. Rather than using the program to internally educate your employees, you’ll use it to consult your clients. So for you, online learning is a benefit you can add to your services.
Of course, you can and should continue in-person training and consulting, but recording your recommendations offers you the opportunity to monetize your knowledge without having to travel (saving time and money). This allows clients who wouldn’t normally be able to afford your training to access your education at a lower rate. It also allows you to become a national firm — no matter how locally you may be focused. You can offer your education to anyone, anywhere that has internet access. Below, we’ll highlight some of the resources you can use to get started offering your own online education and monetizing your knowledge.
Many large trade associations already offer online education to their members. But what if you’re a small trade association? You may not have the support or finances to purchase, operate, or maintain an online learning platform, but there are still great options for you, as we’ll highlight below. The benefit of getting into online learning as a small trade association is that you can effectively and efficiently train or educate all your members the exact same way. For example, let’s say that in order to be “accredited” in your association, a contractor must demonstrate a certain level of knowledge and be educated in certain techniques. Rather than hosting multiple in-house training sessions each year (costly in staffing and time) you can record your training, post it online, and (given the right training system) add quizzes and even certifications to your content. This will allow you to offer certification or education to your members year round, on-demand, as they need it.
Trade Event or Expo Speaker
If you’re an expo speaker, or someone who speaks at trade events, you’re looking at online training for one reason: turning your session or presentation into an online course.
You’ll be looking to find a online learning platform that allows you to capture payments from interested learners, and allows students to create user accounts. There are benefits aplenty: a reduction in travel between events to speak, the ability to sell your training year-round, it’s not as big of a deal if you don’t get accepted into certain expos or events to speak, and, finally, the ability to preserve your training for all to see, rather than delivering it again and again.
Finally, with the advancement in camera technology and video-editing software, you no longer need anything more than a good cell phone camera, a Powerpoint presentation, and the right learning management system to start producing online learning courses from the comfort of your office. We’ll make some recommendations below on your best options.
Whether you’re a company owner looking to train your employees online or an industry professional who wants to educate a wider audience, online training can help you achieve your goal. Which leads to the point of this article: How do you get started? What software, websites, and gadgets do you need? Will you need to hire an in-house person to run your online learning platform? Is it expensive?
Don’t worry, I’ll give you an overview of your options below and make recommendations as to which option might be right for you.
Public vs Private Platforms
The first question you need to answer is, “Do you want the world to be able to see your online courses, or not?” Meaning, do you only want to train your own employees on proprietary or company-specific techniques that nobody else should see? Or, do you want to share your learning courses with a wide audience?
If you’re a commercial construction company training in compliance or proprietary information, you probably want a private, in-house platform. If you’re an industry educator or trainer, you’ll almost certainly want a public platform so you can sell your courses to as many people as want to learn. And if you’re a contractor with a small construction company who wants to have experts in their field train your employees, you’ll want to find a public platform where your team can learn the skills they need online, so you can stay focused on running your company.
“You Manage” vs “They Manage”
Next, you’ll need to decide if you want to take on the management and maintenance of the learning platform yourself, or if you want to choose a platform that is managed by another company. If you’re thinking about getting into online learning, here are a few of the components you need to either do yourself or have done for you:
- User support and customer support
- Security and updates
- Search engine optimization (so people can find you!)
- Communications (course description, title, wording of the website, etc.)
- E-Commerce (how will you take payments, issue refunds, capture credit card info securely, etc.)
- Hosting fees
As you can see, the list is pretty extensive, and while DIY is possible, I highly recommend using at least a partially “they-manage” system. Unless you’re trying to make online learning your full-time gig, most of us don’t have the time, money, or energy needed to handle all that maintenance and keep doing our day job.
When selecting a “they-manage” company, you’ll have to look into all that the company manages or takes care of for you and decide what you’re comfortable with. Not all learning platforms are the same, and some will take care of almost everything for you while others require more input and work from you.
Paid vs Free Online Learning Options
This one is probably obvious, but it’s important to note because there aren’t many learning platforms that are free (see below for those that are). If you want to get into online learning at no financial cost (apart from the time and energy devoted to creating your content), you’ll want to look for a free platform you can host on.
However, if you’re prepared to pay a monthly or yearly fee for your own online learning platform, you have a wide variety of options that we’ll detail below.
Closed vs Marketplace
Another factor to consider is whether you want to be part of an online marketplace for courses or whether you want to have a platform that is yours alone, featuring only your content on your website. Traditionally, educators in construction and trades industries have kept their education platforms to themselves, meaning that while they’ve offered their courses to anybody who wants to learn, you could only find their education on their website.
And while for the most part that’s still the case in the industry, there is an option we’ll outline below for a marketplace for online courses you can publish on. The benefit of publishing on a marketplace platform is that you get exposure to an audience you would never reach otherwise. For example, if a student comes to this platform to learn a roofing skill, they also might get exposure to your sales course and share it with their company or their friends in the industry who need to grow in sales skills.
Features You’ll Need
A final consideration is what features you’ll need your online learning for construction platform to have. Here’s a few you might take into consideration when you make a decision. Identify which features are most important to you to help you decide what platform to use:
- Quizzes for students
- Certification upon completion of the course
- A tally of how many students are in your course
- Course assignments for certain students
- Courses that grade or evaluate automatically and instantly
- Learning platforms that are SCORM compliant (if you don’t know what this means, you likely don’t need it!)
- The ability to offer free and paid courses
- Chapter functionality: students learn chapter by chapter rather than one long video
- Courses that remember where a student leaves off
As you look into different learning platform solutions individually, you’ll be able to read all the features they come with and add your own “must have” features to this list.
Online Learning For Construction Solutions Breakdown
Now that we’ve looked at who should be using online learning in the industry and what considerations to make when choosing a platform, we’ll end with a breakdown of some of the best online learning options available to help you get started.
Full disclosure: I work at Construct-Ed.
Construct-Ed is a new, online learning platform for construction and trades. It was designed for educators, associations, trainers, and companies who want to share their knowledge and publish online learning courses for the entire construction and trades industry. What’s unique about Construct-Ed is it builds the online courses for you, free of charge. So you send in your training or educational videos, along with any quizzing, documents for download, or certifications you want, and it will build you an online course free of charge.
Monetization: After Construct-Ed builds your course, it will publish it in its online public library and categorize it by subject (business management, sales/estimating, trade skills, etc.) and trade (roofing, flooring, concrete, etc.). You then set a price to take your course and get paid 70% revenue for each course you sell.
Public vs Private: Public, your course is added to the public course library. However, you are able to link directly to your course hosted on the platform, if you wish you “add” your course to your own website. Your users will then click over to your published course on Construct-Ed and bypass having to find it in the library.
Paid vs Free: Free to publish courses.
Closed vs Marketplace: Marketplace. You’re part of a community of industry educators and trainers and will get exposure to a wide variety of students.
You Manage vs They Manage: They manage everything. You send in your recorded content, Construct-Ed handles course building, security, customer support, e-commerce, search engine optimization, etc.
Features: The platform can add quizzes, custom certifications, and documents for users to download. Chapter by chapter course format that remembers where student left off. You have the ability to “message all students” and can see students course completion rates and how many students are in your class.
- Free to publish, and the company will build you a real online course complete with chapters, so you can offer online learning to your audience within 7-10 business days. It handles all hosting, customer support, and more.
- Dedicated totally to the construction and trades industries, across all trades. You’ll get exposure to roofers, flooring pros, contractors, estimators, and more.
- Get paid right away for each course sold.
- Link directly to your course from your private website, and overnight you’re offering online learning courses to your audience.
- More involved than YouTube. You’ll need to sign a publishing contract, have a business Paypal account (that’s how it pays you for courses sold), and wait 5-10 days to have your course go live.
- While Construct-Ed is growing, it’s very new to the industry and has lower website traffic. You may not see many purchases of your course immediately and will have to work to market your course if you want to see higher sales.
- Construct-Ed takes 30% of each course sale. On the flip side, it’s totally free to publish and host your course there, and it would probably cost you more than 30% of each course to pay a web developer, invest time and money, and create your own online learning system.
Who should use it: Construct-Ed is good for anyone who wants to offer their training or education to the industry in a public format, without the investment of time or money into their own system. Construct-Ed takes the management, maintenance, and guesswork out of getting into online learning. Send the same videos you’d put up on YouTube, add any documents or quizzes, and it takes care of the rest. It’s working to be the online learning platform for all trades industries, so you could get great exposure to an audience you’re not already reaching.
You might not have thought of YouTube as a public education or training platform, but it certainly can be. Using YouTube, any tradesman or construction professional can create training or educational videos, and host them for free.
Cost: Free (just your time and money to create your education).
Monetization: Through advertisements, if you set it up that way.
- YouTube boasts a wide audience of people searching for trade-specific or construction related content.
- Free and easy to publish.
- Easy to get started.
- You can mark your videos “private” or hidden, and embed them only on your website and charge customers access to watch them – sort of creating your own learning platform. However, note that you’ll then be responsible for all the e-commerce maintenance discussed earlier.
- It’s easy to get lost in a sea of other content (lots of competitors)
- No way to make money per view until you get (literally) thousands and thousands of views, and revenue is solely derived from advertising
- No ability to create a real online course (chapters, downloadable documents, quizzes, certifications, etc.). You have to get creative and use YouTube along with your own website if you want to somehow offer quizzes, certifications, etc.
Who should use it: Use it if you don’t want to charge for content or make money, or if you’re willing to work hard to monetize by getting lots of video views. It’s also great if you want to hand out free information. Everyone on YouTube knows it’s free to watch there – so you may get a better reception.
Out of the Box Learning Management Software
“Out of the box” LMS solutions are just that: ready-made learning platforms that you can use to offer online education or training to your audience.
They’ll require a bit of setup to get started depending on the solution, and customization is limited, but you’ll be able to manage your own system this way. Because there are so many out of the box learning management platforms now, each differing from its competitors, it’s far beyond the scope of this article to begin to highlight them all. If, after reading the pros and cons of each one below, you feel that an out of the box solution is best for you, Capterra has an extensive review of learning management system software on their main site.
Monetization: Most allow you to charge for each course sold and handle all e-commerce and payment gateway security and setup. Some will take a percentage off the top of each course you sell.
Public vs Private: Either. You can find LMS solutions that allow you to keep everything private and in-house, or that allow you to sort of set up your own website and sell your courses to the public. For a good example of a public “out of the box” LMS, check out Capterra’s review of Digital Chalk.
Paid vs Free: Some are paid, some are free and/or open source. The exact amount depends on which LMS platform you choose, but most will either charge you a monthly fee as a flat rate or charge you a monthly fee with an added fee for each course you sell.
Closed vs Marketplace: Closed. This will feature your education only.
You Manage vs They Manage: A little of both. Typically, the LMS company you buy from will manage the technical (heavy lifting) stuff like security, updates, spam protection, and give you support if you run into any issues. This leaves you to handle the course creation (usually pretty intuitive and easy to do), quiz creation, and communications on your site.
Features: Most have endless features, including: quiz creation, certificates of completion, SCORM certification, tracking of students’ progress, assignment of courses to students, etc.
- No web design or coding knowledge needed. Most allow you to quickly get started and offering online courses to your audience.
- Technical, heavy-lifting maintenance tasks are handled for you.
- They are secure and well designed, often offering very robust options (far more than you could create yourself).
- Most allow you to upload your own logo and brand yourself or your company online.
- You’re responsible for all course creation, quiz creation, etc.
- You’re responsible for your own marketing, promotion, and search engine optimization, meaning you’ll have to drive all traffic to your site if you want to sell courses.
- Higher costs: often a monthly fee and, depending on the LMS, potential fee for each course sold.
- There’s a small learning curve and time commitment when it comes to creating your courses.
Who should use it: An “out of the box” LMS is a great solution for anyone who has an existing audience and wants to offer them online learning on a closed platform. If you have the time to devote to building and managing your own courses, and are solely looking to educate your own audience, this might be your best option.
Custom or Self-Created
Although it’s not the easiest or least painful method, I’m including a “self-created” platform because it may be a viable option for you, and you should know it’s been done successfully before.
A self-created or custom learning platform is basically a learning platform that you either have built for you or, more likely, you create yourself. I’ve seen one startup training company have a community college build them a learning platform, so they could have it completely customized. It’s definitely a large investment of time, money, and energy, but the payoff (if you can drive traffic to your website), is that you get to keep almost all the profit from any courses sold.
The downside is that any customer support, hosting, and e-commerce fees will also be your responsibility. You’ll have to choose for yourself, but I do want to issue a warning and piece of advice from seeing all the other technology available to you: unless you’re trying to start a large online learning company that serves as its own business, you probably don’t want to go down this road. There are just too many good, pre-built solutions out there that are far (and I mean FAR) cheaper and much less headache-inducing.
For example, the National Roofing Contractor’s Association offers online training, and is a national organization reaching thousands of contractors all the time with their education. For them, it makes sense to run a custom-designed platform. But for most of us in the industry, a marketplace like Construct-Ed or an “out of the box” LMS will be perfect.
Monetization: You keep 100% of each course sold (if you have it built to accept payments), minus the payment fees to PayPal, Stripe, or any other payment gateway you’re using.
Public vs Private: Whatever you need it to be. Since it’s custom, you can build it private if you’re a large in-house organization with special training needs, or you can have it created as open to the public.
Paid vs Free: Paid. The exact cost depends on what you’re looking to build, but a custom coded learning platform can be very expensive. Even if you work with a local community college to have it built at a great price, you’ll still need to pay for ongoing maintenance, bug fixes, etc.
Closed vs Marketplace: Again, whatever you want it to be.
You Manage vs They Manage: You manage. Everything. Every-thing. I warned you.
Features: Here is where the custom built platform shines, and, in my opinion, this is the only reason it may be worth it. If your company has very, very specific and unique feature requirements, then the sky’s the limit to the features you can have added.
- Very flexible, you can make it whatever you want it to be and make it as “feature rich” as you like.
- Great for organizations or companies with specific training needs or that want to create a proprietary platform unique to them.
- Incredibly costly in money, time, and energy.
- Ongoing maintenance: bug fixing, user support, updates, security issues, etc.
Who should use it: Use this type of platform if you are a large company, association, or organization, and there is no other platform or software that meets your needs. If money, and salaried positions to maintain the site are not issues and you have specific custom features you need in order to make your business successful, this is for you and can have great payoff.
To get started, think through how or if you want to monetize your online courses, decide on public or private, paid or free, closed or marketplace, and whether you want to manage or use a service that manages it for you.
If you decide that an “out of the box” LMS solution is best for you, Capterra is the best around to help you find one that fits your needs and guide you through the potentially overwhelming process of deciding which platform is right for you. Best of all, they’ll help you for free!
Do you use online learning for your construction business? Was this guide helpful? Let us know in the comments below!