The relevance of distance learning—both in academic and corporate settings—has never been greater, or more obvious. In today’s work-and-learn-and-do-everything-from-home world, virtual learning has overwhelmingly taken the place of in-person training and development opportunities.
In your practice, you may now be struggling to find new ways to effectively train and onboard staff, provide development opportunities for existing employees, provide client education, position yourself as an expert in your niche to generate new clients, and to share your expertise with other advisors. Those who have relied on many in-person touchpoints with prospects, clients, and staff find themselves struggling to recreate those experiences virtually.
Creating virtual learning opportunities in your financial planning practice is a great way to engage prospective and existing clients and demonstrate your value as a financial advisor. It’s also an effective means of training and onboarding new staff and ensuring that your current staff maintains and grows their skills in a variety of relevant areas. You can also create online courses that help other advisors learn about your area of expertise and succeed in their practices.
In just 11 steps, you can successfully create effective course content and training materials for your team, prospects, and clients.
Step 1: Define Your Audience
The first step in creating effective education is to fully understand your audience and their needs. This helps you tailor your content for that audience’s specific needs, interests, and pain points. For example, if you’re creating an online course to educate your prospects and clients on the importance of higher education planning, you’ll want to examine all aspects of your niche so that the training you create will resonate with that group.
Here are some questions to ask as you outline your audience:
- What are the biggest pain points for this group?
- What do these individuals need to know to be successful?
- What are other related goals and objectives for this group?
- What are top priorities for this audience? Is there anything critical holding them back?
- How much time might these individuals have in their schedules?
Step 2: Perform a Needs Analysis
Depending on how well you already understand your audience and their needs, this step may or may not be necessary. You may already know exactly what training gap you are looking to fill and how to do it. If you don’t, consider an analysis of your audience’s needs. I recommend using this strategy if you have some general training topics in mind, but they are not yet well defined. For example, maybe you know you want new staff to gain a better understanding of your tech platform, but you’re unsure about their competency or previous experience.
A thorough understanding of your audience and their needs will bring some specific ideas and themes to the forefront. Again, you want to design training that is specifically relevant to your target audience, so if you’re unsure about the best content, timing, or structure for your training, this may be a good place to start. In the example above, this could take the form of a quick survey asking about previous technology experience and addressing other staff training goals.
Here are some topics to consider:
- Previous Exposure: Whether your audience has been introduced previously to the concepts being presented
- Time: How much time your audience can devote to the training
- Schedule: If you’re delivering live training, what’s the best time to schedule this? How often should this training occur?
- Synchronous vs. Asynchronous: Is this training better delivered live at a scheduled time (synchronous) or would it be better for your audience to work through the material at their own pace (asynchronous).
Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Considerations
If you feel you can answer the questions above accurately for your target audience, then you are ready to move on to Steps 3–11. If not, you may want to develop a quick survey to obtain feedback, and then use that information to guide you in the process.
Step 3: Define Your Purpose
Now that you’ve established your target audience and outlined their needs, you’re ready to articulate the core purpose of your training (while keeping these needs in mind, of course). This will be the overarching training objective to be further defined as needed for each section of the course.
Some examples of training objectives might include:
- To help my clients make effective career planning decisions as part of a comprehensive financial plan.
- To train new advisors on my firm’s 10-step financial planning process so that they can successfully implement this process with clients within their first 6 months at the firm.
- To teach other advisors how to increase lead generation by 25% within two months through implementation of a marketing plan.
Making your purpose as specific as possible and relevant to your audience will increase your chances of a successful learning program and will facilitate the remaining development steps.
Step 4: Create Course Learning Objectives
The purpose of this step is to articulate clear expectations for the learner. In other words, to answer your audience’s question, “What will I get out of this?”
When creating a course or educational program, one of your first tasks should be to outline learning objectives for the program—what you want your audience to be able to do upon completion of the program. Course learning objectives should be identified before content and materials are created as they will guide how you create those materials, what information you chose to include, and at what level. Learning objectives drive the process of course/program development, including decisions related to program content, organization, and length.
Tips for Writing Successful Learning Objectives
1. Focus on outcomes:
The more clearly you can convey what the learner will get out of the training, the more engagement you’re likely to see.
As an example, which training are you more likely to attend?Option A: After attending this training you’ll understand how to perform A/B email testing
Option B: After attending this training, you’ll be able to increase the number of leads who open your emails by 10X.
Option B is likely to be more compelling because it articulates the specific potential benefits of your email improvements.
2. Be specific: As demonstrated above, the more specific the objective, the more it is likely to resonate with your audience. Much like defining your niche, this is designed to be impactful with your prospective audience, making them immediately think this is designed specifically for me!
After completing this training, you’ll be able to describe the purpose of a Discovery Meeting and outline specific follow up steps.
After completing this training, you’ll be able to effectively conduct Discovery Meetings with prospects and implement follow up steps.
Either objective might be relevant for different audiences, but spend some time thinking about what outcomes would be most relevant, and at what level.
Step 5: Determine Format, Length, Delivery Method, and Timing
Now you’re ready to determine the best format, length, delivery method, and timing for the course based on learning objectives and audience. Each of these items will be determined to some degree by the learning objectives you’ve created. As an example, I’ll use two programs of study with distinct learning objectives and discuss how these decisions might be made.
Learning Objectives: After taking this course, participants will be able to:
- Describe and compare four fee-for-service financial planning pricing structures.
- Understand current industry trends related to pricing
With fairly simple recall-based learning objectives, this course would work well as one or more short recorded videos with a written handout or infographic outlining the four pricing structures. Instructor support or interaction is likely not needed.
Learning Objectives: After taking this course, participants will be able to:
- Determine the most effective fee-for service pricing structure for their firm
- Implement this structure
These learning objectives indicate increased complexity and a higher level of interpretation. Participants must not only understand the four models, but also be able to analyze how each might work within their own firms. This training would probably be best delivered as a blended learning program, with both asynchronous and synchronous elements. A great option would be a one-hour live training that presents pros and cons of each pricing structure in various types of firms with a hands-on discussion during the session, followed by an open discussion as firm owners make and implement pricing decisions.
Step 6: Determine Prerequisites
Whether or not to include prerequisites will depend on your audience and the level of complexity of the program. For example, Course A above might be a prerequisite for Course B. If you expect your students to understand certain concepts or to have completed certain actions before starting a learning program, it’s important to let them know. As you’re developing training, consider the following ideas for program prerequisites:
- Watching fundamental recorded training on a topic
- Reading articles or other resources
- Completing another training program or course
- Completing certain tasks or actions such as paperwork or worksheets
- Compiling information relevant to the course (for example, gathering certain business information)
- Reaching KPI goals such as revenue or client numbers
- Making or implementing certain business decisions
- Identifying specific personal or firm goals
Step 7: Create a Training Outline
Once you’ve determined your format and have a general idea of the length of the training you want to deliver, you can begin outlining your materials. You can document all aspects of the training using a template, which should include the following:
Sample Training Outline
This outline will help you to gather all relevant information in one place, and help you keep your course info and materials organized.
Step 8: Create the Training
Before beginning this step, you will have a comprehensive plan for your training and an outline of what you’ll be teaching and what materials you’ll be creating, as per the steps above.
At this stage, you’ll be completing the following steps for various types of training:
Self-Guided Course: Creating and finalizing written materials, recording video, creating worksheets and handouts, compiling reference links.
Webinar: Finalizing slides, creating and finalizing any pre-work or homework documents, compiling reference links.
Program/Workshop/Event: Finalizing slides, recording audio or video if recorded training is to be included, creating and finalizing scripts, creating and finalizing any pre-work or homework documents, compiling reference links.
Step 9: Establish a Means of Collecting Feedback and Assessing Course Outcomes
At the end of each course or training, it’s a great idea to collect feedback from your attendees to determine whether they learned what they expected to and so they can communicate any general feedback they may have about the topic, format, delivery, etc. For internal training within your firm, I also recommend using assessments to determine whether your staff has learned what you intended.
For programs and workshops, you may also consider creating homework assignments that reflect back whether learning objectives have been achieved. For times when you are unable to provide direct feedback, you can also provide a means of self-assessment, such as a checklist or worksheet.
Step 10: Deliver Training
Once you’ve outlined your training program and created the materials, you’ll be ready to deliver! Follow the ideas below for delivery methods and platforms.
Webinars and live events: I recommend using Zoom webinar settings. To learn more about Zoom meetings and webinars, click the links below:
- Zoom Meeting and Webinar Comparison
- Zoom Quick Start Guide for New Users
- Audio, Video, and Sharing
- Meetings and Webinars Overview
Self-Guided Training: At XYPN, we use a Learning Management System (LMS) to deliver all of our self-guided training and resources. There are a number of great tools out there, and most basic systems are inexpensive to use; many charge a monthly flat fee for basic use. Many LMS platforms also offer the ability to sell course content, allowing you to not only effectively market yourself as an industry expert, but to directly generate revenue while doing so. A few to consider include:
Thinkific - Starting at $49/month
Teachable - Starting at $29/month
Kajabi - Starting at $119/month
Learnworlds - Starting at $24/month
LearnDash - Starting at $14/month
Many of these systems offer free trials, so it’s easy to test out a few courses before you decide whether a platform is right for you.
Step 11: Refine Training Based on Student Feedback and Assessments
After delivering your training, you may find you need to adjust content, timing, or delivery for the training to be more effective. Don’t just set it and forget it! Find a way to collect feedback (generally a simple survey works great) and then use the feedback you collect to improve your offerings. Good luck and happy course building!
About the Author
Kate Ross has spent the last ten years of her career developing educational materials for financial professionals and brings a passion for instructional design and curriculum development to the XYPN team.
In her free time, Kate can be found front row at a concert, camping in the woods, floating a river, or hiking in the mountains near her home in Montana.
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