In March 2020, our lives were changed forever as the pandemic hit us. In the first few months of dealing with the virus, most of us had to change our habits and routines. With employees leaving the office and working from home, their needs and desires changed.
In this new environment, employers had to change the benefits they offer and approach the learning and development of employees in a new way. The current market trends show that companies are adapting to the changes, as the L&D industry is expected to grow by almost 9% annually every year and reach a valuation of more than $46B.
To discuss the reasons behind this growth, how a customer’s needs have changed, and learn more about Colltrain, we sat down with Marian Stirbescu, CEO of the platform. He is an industry expert with about 20 years of experience in developing businesses that provide solutions for learning and development.
When and how did the idea for Colltrain come about?
Marian Stirbescu: Before the pandemic, we flirted with the idea of online training and asked ourselves how we could transform classroom training, motivated by the opportunities to deliver remote, LIVE training across Europe, and in the UK.
At that time (2018-2019) there were already companies that were using Skype and Cisco Webex as a method of organizing product or process meetings, and training sessions. Companies employing digital technologies have explored the availability of external training providers to help them deliver a range of courses.
We (at Axioma Solutions) explored the option of investing in the development of e-learning programs. This approach enables participants to learn at their own pace. This meant that I and my team were to develop skills for creating video materials, animation, and individual activities. It also meant that we would be willing to change our premium delivery classroom format to video materials consumption. The cost per participant could be 5 to 10 times lower than the value of the services delivered in the class/conference room.
We came to embrace the idea that this could be the future: investing in e-learning materials and quite limited or even ZERO physical interaction with learners in some cases. In March 2020, at our training company like in many other training companies, 30 contracted sessions were canceled or postponed due to social distancing constraints. That’s when we thought it was time to find a training delivery solution that was as close as possible to that in the classroom.
Can you tell us more about the different stages of developing the platform?
Marian Stirbescu: Developing the Colltrain took some time and much of it was dedicated to refining functionalities and adding extra characteristics. First, we started using Zoom for video presentations and team conversations. That was an epiphany for us! Later, we introduced iPads as a replacement for flip charts during brainstorming sessions.
As soon as we started delivering the initial classes, we had the first pieces of feedback from users. Based on it, we realized we were missing the fun attributes of those in real-life gatherings – a Scrabble or Lego set, playing cards, a jigsaw puzzle. So, we needed to introduce different entertainment aspects.
The next step we took in developing the delivery method was transforming a participant’s notebook into an online collaborative format using Google Docs/ Microsoft 365. This helped us a lot with the individual activities. But we were still struggling with team activities – we faced a lack of control over how the activity was carried out.
On April 2, 2022, we introduced the new features, which I used in my training sessions, that fit the needs of our customers. They were a set of alphabet letters similar to Scrabble, an activity where you could combine several sets of playing cards and a flipchart app to simulate working with post-its / sticky notes.
Alexandru Cojocaru, the technical development lead of Colltrain, was the person on our team who managed the process and played a key role in bringing the MVP to life. To have the product built, we received direct feedback from users.
Some even explained that they prefer the online experience to than the one in a conference room. Since then, we scored an average of 4.8 marks on our training on a scale of 1 to 5.
How much did your company initially invest in this initiative?
Marian Stirbescu: The initial investment consisted of time and continuous effort. Later on, to make the solution available to those who needed it, I put in approximately 202,000 euros from my personal resources ( by June 2022). But now, anyone interested in Colltrain can use it for free using a Google account. For sure, more powerful features are available with paid subscription plans.
Marian, can you tell us in a few words how Colltrain works?
Marian Stirbescu: Colltrain is a collaborative training platform that easily supports the process of delivery and distance learning – no muss, no fuss. I say this in full confidence since we have tested it ourselves over hundreds of training sessions, in various situations, and on different training topics, from technical skills to soft skills training sessions.
Participants can access the platform by following a link sent by the trainer/facilitator in the chat window of the video conferencing application (Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet). There is no need to create an account and to provide participants’ data.
Once on the platform, they will be able to complete that activity together with their teammates, being able to move objects on the board at the same time as the other team members. This way, the participants’ degree of involvement increases substantially, since we are no longer talking about only one colleague being in charge of filling in or moving the objects around.
Trainers and facilitators reach the platform by activating one of the Colltrain plans on their account. They can run activities from the generous Colltrain Activity Library, create their own or convert the activities they were running already in the classroom. If they are part of a team of trainers/facilitators, they have the opportunity to share their activities with other team members and benefit from using well-proven ones.
How was the pandemic period for Colltrain, and the training market in general?
Marian Stirbescu: The pandemic period was favorable for testing, developing, and maturing the platform. More than 100 trainers from Europe have started using the platform. Currently, the number of trainers using Colltrain for remote training delivery has exceeded 230.
Speaking of traditional classroom delivery – various companies have reported drops of 50-80% from their normal volume. We know quite a few cases where some training companies have completely stopped their business activity, their employees (trainers and facilitators) being forced to switch to coaching or consulting. For those who learned the remote delivery method using dedicated training platforms, the pandemic had the opposite effect, recording increases of 15-20% or in some cases doubling the volume of activity.
What are the main changes that the pandemic has brought to training programs and how did the training programs develop during the two years of the pandemic?
Marian Stirbescu: There are several angles from which we can analyze this situation. On the company side, they realized that by implementing online courses, they could deliver courses for more employees for the same cost as offline. The online environment eliminates the costs previously spent on conference room rent, transportation, and printed materials. Online training can be organized much faster, and without affecting the usual business activities.
Participants were able to enjoy memorable team learning experiences even in the online environment. Some of them had access to courses that they otherwise could not attend due to financial or logistical constraints.
What were the most requested training programs during the pandemic? And Why?
Marian Stirbescu: The pandemic accelerated trends, which were already happening before. We saw a growing interest in technical courses (e.g. Excel, Power BI), in Agile, and certification courses, leadership, and sales. The growing interest in them comes naturally, as most companies are continuing their digitization initiatives.
What are your plans with Colltrain for the next period?
Marian Stirbescu: We want to continue our growth and set out the goal to develop collaborative training tools second to none. A wide variety of experiential activities used in the classroom have already been converted or have a dedicated functionality available for converting them to Colltrain.
Another aspect we’re focusing on is expanding our capabilities and covering any relevant scenario to serve a global audience. We intend to extend the range of master activities, such as word search, and puzzle generators. This will allow the trainers to develop a relevant icebreaker or summary activity in just two clicks.