Using Podcasting in a Blended Learning Solution
Podcasts continue to grow in popularity with more than two million currently available. But can podcasts also work as a training tool? In this episode, PGT Innovations Digital Learning Administrator Sherri Connor shares how this leading window and door manufacturer’s podcast has become an important part of their learning and development program.
PGT’s Sherri Connor shares how her company’s podcast trains employees, builds brand awareness, and even reaches customers. Here are some of her key points on starting a learning podcast.
- A training podcast can play an important part of a training program and it can complement other training modalities.
- Keep your learner in mind when creating podcast topics and keep the content short and easily consumable.
- Consider adding some learning podcasts to your LMS to better track listening and help shape future training opportunities.
- Every podcast producer has his or her own process, but Sherri prefers to record podcasts in bulk and then focus on editing to keep on a regular schedule of posting.
About PGT Innovations:
Founded in 1980, PGT® Innovations is the nation’s leading manufacturer and supplier of residential impact-resistant windows and doors. After the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the company partnered with building officials in Miami-Dade and helped develop construction code requirements which are still among the most stringent in the nation.
PGT® Innovations employs nearly 2,500 team members at its manufacturing, glass plant, and delivery fleet facilities in Venice and Ft. Myers, Florida, and sells through a network of independent distributors. The company’s total line of custom windows and doors are now sold throughout the eastern U.S. and a growing international market, including the Caribbean, South America, and Australia.
Powered by Learning earned an Award of Distinction in the Podcast/Audio category from The Communicator Awards and a Silver Davey Award for Educational Podcast. The podcast is also named to Feedspot's Top 40 L&D podcasts and Training Industry’s Ultimate L&D Podcast Guide.
Susan Cort: [00:00:00] This is Powered By Learning, a podcast designed for learning leaders to hear the latest approaches to creating learning experiences that engage learners and achieve improved performance for individuals and organizations.
Voiceover: Powered By Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.
Susan Cort: Hello, and welcome to Powered By Learning. I'm your host, Susan Cort. Today I'm joined by d'Vinci Client Solutions Consultant Angeline Evans and our guest Sherri Connor, Digital Learning Administrator at PGT Innovations, who is going to share how her company uses podcasts as a training tool. Great to talk with you again, Sherri. [00:01:00]
Angeline Evans: Welcome, Sherri. We're excited to talk today.
Sherri Connor: Thanks for having me. I'm excited.
Susan Cort: Well, Sherri, when you and I met at the Training Industry Conference and Expo, I was really intrigued by your use of podcasts as a training tool and I thought your story would really inspire some of our listeners.
Sherri Connor: Well, we'll find out, won't we?
Susan Cort: I know we will.
Sherri Connor: Yes, I'm excited. I'm excited to share.
Susan Cort: Let's start out by telling us a little bit about PGT Innovations, some people may not be familiar with your company.
Sherri Connor: Sure. PGT Innovations is a publicly held company, we are actually a conglomeration of eight different brands of window and door manufacturers. We have brands all across the country, but we are a Florida-based company. I think we have around 5,500 employees now and my department, the team that I am on is responsible for the customer facing education.
Much like [00:02:00] a car manufacturer sells to dealers, and then the dealers sell to the end consumer, that's the model that we use, as well. We sell to contractors and builders and dealers, and then they sell to the end users. Our team focuses on education to our dealers so that they know how to properly sell our products, and then also how to properly install them.
Angeline Evans: Thank you, Sherri. Do you mind telling me a little bit more about how you educate your audience?
Sherri Connor: Sure. For years, we just did straight-up instructor-led in a classroom by invitation, people would have to travel in and all of that, and we've gone digital in the last few years. We have an online learning platform where people can take products courses and general industry courses like building codes and energy and things like that, and then we also have a YouTube channel.
Then we still do have instructor-led training, and that's via classroom and then also via Zoom. We're very much a hybrid learning department, [00:03:00] so we are using all of the technologies that are available to us to share the information for our learners.
Angeline Evans: We definitely have seen a huge shift with people, obviously, with the pandemic and the virtual workforce organizations tapping into different digital formats for training, and I'd love to hear more. How did you start creating podcasts? Because that's a unique digital format, everyone listens to them, but you don't hear about people leveraging them for training as often.
Sherri Connor: I started in this industry about a year and a half ago, and I had no experience in windows and doors. I had no experience in education but my boss knew that I could do just about anything. He took over an abandoned podcast studio that was on site that I think our marketing team had been playing around with it but had never really gotten it off the ground.
My boss challenged me with starting a podcast and I was like, "Yes, that sounds like [00:04:00] fun. I love talking to people. That'd be great. Who's going to run the soundboard and who's going to do all the production? Who's going to do all that?" He said, "Oh, you'll figure it out." I was like, "Wait, what?"
I'm already overwhelmed. Thank you. He wouldn't let me hire anybody and he wouldn't let me weasel out of it. Thanks to the power of YouTube, and lots of online tutorials, I learned how to run software that edits voices, and I learned about microphones and I learned about soundboards. I learned enough. I don't know everything by any means but I learned enough. The idea behind it was just to leverage the in-house expertise that we have. A lot of our customer base are small business owners, they're really entrepreneurial in nature. We have a very successful business model, obviously on a much larger scale.
The idea behind the podcast initially was just to leverage the in-house expertise to help our dealer base be more successful in running their business. [00:05:00] Then it morphed into, well, we could talk about these topics, and then homeowners could get a hold of it and people are doing more and more research as they are becoming savvy consumers. So, it kind of went from there. Then we decided to turn some of those podcasts into actual courses, and then write assessments and tests on the materials. It's been quite a journey, actually.
Angeline Evans: That's super interesting. You've been using podcasts for both an internal audience and an external audience, then, is there overlap in the topics or do you create different podcasts for each group, or is it sometimes a topic might fit both?
Sherri Connor: Well, all of the podcasts are on a public platform. Nothing is locked down. There's not a password to get in or subscription model or anything like that, so some of the topics will be more relevant to other listeners than other topics may be. If you're interested in buying windows and doors, it's a great place to learn more. If you're [00:06:00] selling windows and doors, you can also learn more, so either side of that fence that you're on.
Even if you're maybe interested in starting an internship program, and you don't know how to do that, that was one thing that we leveraged with some experience that we've had in that area, and then maybe helping some of our larger customers if they wanted to. I mean, workforce is a big thing right now. Everyone's trying to hire and train. We have a pretty amazing internship program that we launched several years ago.
I brought interns in, and then people who manage them, and then interns that became employees, and just asked them about their experience and what were some best practices around that process. I have no idea if any of our dealers really are interested in that and I'm sure we'll find out eventually but it's just a fun space to see what we can do with it.
Susan Cort: It's really interesting, too, that your Clear Impact Podcast, I love that name, by the way, is having such a great impact on so many different audiences and it wasn't initially what you had planned.
Sherri Connor: No, not at all. Not at all. [00:07:00] We had no idea what was going to happen with it. It's one of those things I really love and as long as there's some good results from it, I guess I get to keep doing it. We'll see where it plays out but I'm recording-- I'm just posting a series right now, Windows and Doors 201, which is a little heavier, it's more engineer conversations. For people in the business, that will be really helpful. For the average person, hmm, not so much.
Angeline Evans: For the podcast, you had mentioned that you sometimes will connect assessments to it. Are those podcasts then part of larger training initiatives and complementary to another program, or… tell me more about how that works when it comes to your internal learners?
Sherri Connor: Yes. Our team launched certification programs this year. One of the things that we've noticed with our customers is that they're having to hire from outside of the industry. They're hiring people who've never worked in windows and doors before. It's a very technical industry. There's a lot [00:08:00] more to it than just four sticks of wood and a piece of glass.
We developed some certification paths and within that path, and this is all delivered through our online system, our LMS. We've just basically exported the podcasts conversations into mp4s and then put them on our LMS and then wrote assessments around that.
We've actually provided an on-ramp for people who are new to the industry by talking about some of the very, very basic things, the differences between glass, the differences between vinyl frames, and aluminum frames, and just some really, really bare bone things that most people in the industry already know and get. But if you're brand new, it's a little overwhelming.
We have used those courses as part of the certification plans. If they know the information, if they've been around for a while, they can just take the assessment. They don't have to listen to the whole podcast or even take the course, they can just test out [00:09:00] but the people who are new are finding it really, really helpful.
Angeline Evans: Have you received any feedback on the format? I feel like it's a unique or up-and-coming delivery format for training. What have they said about it?
Sherri Connor: Yes. Actually, we had a couple of executives who came onboard after we started the podcast, and they were doing research around the company, and they were happy to learn more about their coworkers and who they were interacting with. Just from an HR standpoint, that was a benefit I didn't expect to see. Then we had a dealer who was getting into a disagreement with one of his customers around some terminology.
There's a misnomer in our industry around hurricane-proof glass or hurricane-proof windows and there's no such thing. There is impact resistant windows and doors, which is what we manufacture and a customer got into a very heated discussion with one of our customers around this topic, [00:10:00] and we had a podcast that was talking about that very thing, and that customer then reached out to see if it was okay for him to post our podcast on his website to help educate his customers. I said, "Yes, of course, please have at it." It's just fun to see how it trickles out and what will happen as we go forward.
Angeline Evans: That's a really great story. That customer would've been one of your dealers then just so I'm correct?
Angeline Evans: Your dealers have been able to use it to then educate their customer base as well?
Sherri Connor: Correct. Which is what we were hoping for. That's what I was hoping for.
Angeline Evans: That's wonderful. Moving forward, how are you determining your topics? Do you think you're going to be getting input from your dealers on other topics that they want to receive or are you meeting with some organizational leaders around any of your business strategies that you'd like to--?
Sherri Connor: Yes. [00:11:00] We have a new system coming into play in about the next four to six weeks and it's for our customers to use and to get in touch with us. I've actually crafted a series with that team to highlight and illustrate how they serve our customers and then how they can best utilize the new system and how that changes for them.
I do generally run everything past my manager before we launch into anything, but then I do a lot of crowdsourcing. So I reached out to our sales team when we first started and said, "What are things you wish dealers would know? What do you wish they understood better?" So we did different podcasts on different topics. One was around our financing program that we make available, and one was around our service teams and our warranty and things like that. I'm just literally making it up as I go along.
Angeline Evans: That's okay.
Sherri Connor: I think most of us are, I just don't know that everyone freely admits it. [00:12:00]
Angeline Evans: I'd love to talk about, because this is new to you and I'm sure it's new to some of our listeners. Can we talk about some of your lessons learned or best practices, any tips and tricks you can give someone who might be wanting to start a podcast at their organization?
Sherri Connor: Yes. One of the things that I learned early on was to not record the intro before I recorded the session, because what I think we're going to talk about and what we actually talk about could be very different things. Even though I have questions prepared and I send the questions to the guest, sometimes we go off on tangents. Another piece that I find really helpful is that our podcast is only audio. I think a lot of people are nervous enough just around having that conversation. To do a video podcast, I think would be a little more difficult and a little more intimidating and, [00:13:00] obviously, more technical and not really necessary for what we're doing, so I stuck with the audio.
And then just to assure people that I can edit anything, and so if they mess up or if they misspeak, they have a chance to listen to it before it gets posted, and that gives them a lot of assurance. There have been errors. We've caught a couple of things that should not have been mentioned or, "Oh, I should have said 12 years instead of 20 years," and so we've had to go back in and splice things.
I think just helping my guests feel really comfortable has been a huge part of it.
Angeline Evans: Is there a cadence that you follow like how often you put out episodes?
Sherri Connor: Yes. My goal is to do a weekly podcast. What I have found is I kind of do them in batches. I'll brainstorm a series. I try to keep them all around a similar topic and then I'll hear from multiple guests around that, or maybe the same guests but different aspects of that same topic, and I'll record them in batches. If I can record six [00:14:00] or seven episodes in a two-week period and just record, record, record, then I go into editing mode, then I go into proofing mode, and then I go into posting mode.
My posting software allows me to post them ahead of time and schedule so that I don't have to be with my hand on the trigger every Monday at eight o'clock, I can schedule that out.
I like doing things in batches. I like having a cohesive plan before we go in, but I'm also okay to modify the plan. I try to record them in the sequence that they're posting, but that doesn't always work either. So you have to be careful that you don't reveal something that isn't yet to be revealed. It just takes a little practice, but I have a lot of fun with it.
Angeline Evans: Definitely doing it in batches seems like it would be much more efficient for you in the editing and recording portion of it. As you're recording, do you find that you need to keep it under a certain length for your learners based on what their day-to-day job is like? I'm thinking kind of when I refer back to e-learning, we like to keep [00:15:00] e-learning modules 10 to 15 minutes, nothing too long. Is that the same format you might follow for your training podcasts?
Sherri Connor: Yes. I definitely try to stay under 20 minutes. The sweet spot is 15, but sometimes it's less, sometimes it's more. If it's a really great conversation and it's 23 minutes, I'll let it go, but if it's more than that, and it's just an okay conversation, a lot of times I'll break it into two and that's okay. That gets me a little more mileage on my calendar with that particular episode. I do try to stay in that range. Most people tell me that that's a great spot for them, too. It's just enough for a commute or running errands. I have no ambitions to become Joe Rogan.
Susan Cort: Well, we're still between 15 and 20 minutes now, so we're good.
Sherri Connor: Okay, you're good.
Susan Cort: Sherri, I have a question for you. I think it's fascinating that your episodes are reaching so many different audiences that you may not [00:16:00] even know when you start out to do an episode that you may have an impact on homeowners and the dealers that you work with and also on recruitment as people are looking at your company, but when you're looking at this strictly as a training tool, do you identify the topics and figure out, "Okay, this is going into the LMS, like windows and doors 101, and then we're going to follow with windows and doors 202." How do you map that all out?
Sherri Connor: Well, like I said, we are making it up as we go. We had one customer service manager who came in into the podcast room and she spoke about the warranty. Then we recorded an additional podcast that was a little bit more technical and that actually did not get aired, that actually just went into the LMS and we wrote a course around that so that dealers really have an understanding of how and when to use our warranty and what applies and what doesn't apply because we work in partnership with them around those issues, [00:17:00] and some of those details did not need to go out onto a public platform, but they do need to be captured for our dealers. And so we were able to distinguish those two episodes one from the next.
It just depends on who the person is. If they're difficult to schedule, which some are, I don't go down that path, but if it's someone I have a connection with, or I feel like they would carry a good conversation, then I will absolutely invite them in to do a course on whatever their expertise falls into.
Susan Cort: It's interesting you've had over 50 episodes by now. I know you talked a little bit about the reactions that you've gotten, but just from general conversation with people, how have they felt listening to podcasts and learning about the company?
Sherri Connor: We had an engineer who just started working here about, I don't know, a couple of months ago and his office is right down the hall from my podcast studio. I'm a people person and I'm always saying hi because we're working in our offices, we're not remote, many are, but we are [00:18:00] not. I walked by and I saw his new face and I said, "Hi, how are you? I'm Sherri, I'm here. My podcast studio is here," and he goes, "I recognize your voice. I listen to your podcast." I'm like, "What? How long have you been here?"
He's like, "I just started." He said, "But I was listening to, I found your podcast-- I was doing research on the company and I found your podcast and I thought, this is an amazing company if they already have a podcast." I don't know if that was the deciding factor for him, but he was very excited to stumble across it and recognize my voice immediately. That was kind of fun.
Then I had another employee, an engineer, who works here, another engineer who didn't get her laptop on day one, and so she's just occupying herself with her phone, trying to access information and learn about us. She stumbled across the Windows and Doors 101 and it answered a ton of questions for her. That was really fun when I met her, and she was like, "I'm trying to figure out how I know your voice." Then we figured it out. And then I got to just say, "I'm glad it could help." [00:19:00] So it's been really fun. It's been a really fun space.
Angeline Evans: That's wonderful.
Sherri Connor: This is fun, like being on a learning podcast--
Susan Cort: Talking about a learning podcast.
Sherri Connor: Right, talking about a learning podcast, but that's the challenge. As learning and development professionals, we shouldn't be limited by what we may not be familiar with either. It was terrifying to step into that and not know what I was doing, but that's what we ask our people to do all the time. It was a really humbling experience, but also it's one of my favorite things to do now. So I'm really glad I didn't get out of it.
Susan Cort: We are too.
Angeline Evans: Sherri, you had mentioned you're also new to the industry. Can you tell us-- I imagine doing these podcasts has helped you get up to speed with all of the industry knowledge and expertise that your learners need, can you tell us a little bit about how that's helped you?
Sherri Connor: Well, what I was doing before, I was basically running a very large nonprofit and working with a lot of volunteers and getting very creative around how to make events [00:20:00] happen with no money and how do you get people to come and work when you're not paying them? I've always been pretty resourceful and also community-minded, and I know how to pull the best out of other people.
One of the mantras that I remember every time I walk into the podcast studio is that I am not the smartest person in this room. I'm just not. I think having that just zero level of knowledge has really helped me in the learning and training department because I've been able to identify gaps in our training for our learners.
And then also when I'm asking my coworkers, the executives and whoever else I have in there, when I'm asking them questions, I generally don't know the answers. I'm genuinely asking the questions because I'm curious. I think just having a sense of curiosity around the topic, I think that's actually been a blessing. I think what I don't know has served me well here.
Susan Cort: Thank you for sharing, Sherri. Just some great information [00:21:00] and I think you've probably empowered a lot of people listening to think about starting their own podcast.
Sherri Connor: The power of YouTube, you can learn anything there and that's where I learned a lot of my editing skills and, you know, you don't make it bigger than it is. Just have fun and enjoy it and do your best.
Angeline Evans: Thank you so much, Sherri. It was really interesting to hear how you're using podcast to train your learners.
Sherri Connor: Thanks for having me, this was a great conversation.
Susan Cort: Angeline, what an interesting story. It's great to see how PGT's Podcast is such a valuable training tool and for a variety of audiences.
Angeline Evans: It was so interesting talking to Sherri. I haven't seen many clients put out a podcast as frequently as she does, and really using podcasts to the fullest as a training tool, and as a formal training tool with an assessment component to it for her internal audiences which was especially interesting. It was really great to talk to Sherri and hear about all of the different use cases that she shared.
Susan Cort: Yes, definitely inspirational. Do you ever hear [00:22:00] d'Vinci clients asking for a podcast or a training tool similar to that?
Angeline Evans: We do sometimes and especially-- recently, we've been talking about it with clients a little bit more. At d'Vinci, we work with clients on both a small and a large scale. We try to meet them where they need us. So they might only need us to develop one course, or they might need an end-to-end solution with a whole comprehensive curriculum. Lately, we've really had a few clients come to us with really large curriculums that they want us to work on.
When you look at trainings that have that many pieces to it, you don't want to deliver it all in the same modality. You don't want 12 e-learning modules that are all the same format because it can get a little redundant, especially for the learners. So we look at different ways to present the information differently, so maybe they watch a video to kick things off and then they take an e-learning module followed by a short podcast that discusses takeaways and then maybe they attend a workshop.
We've been trying to integrate that more into some of the concepts that we've been providing and our clients have been, too, [00:23:00] especially with the new generations entering the workforce and podcasts are really trending. I love listening to podcasts personally, so I can appreciate it.
Susan Cort: Of course, you love listening to Powered by Learning for-- right?
Angeline Evans: Yes.
Susan Cort: Well thanks, Angeline, and many thanks to Sherri Connor of PGT Innovations for joining us today. If you have any questions about what we talked about or you have an idea for a podcast episode, reach out to us through d'Vinci social channels, or email us at email@example.com.
Voiceover: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com. [00:24:00]
By Angeline Evans, Client Solutions Consultant
d'Vinci Interactive is an award-winning comprehensive learning solutions provider for corporate, government, medical, non-profit, and K-12 target markets.