virtual training

Making Virtual Training Work For Your Learners

As technology and connections have improved, so has the use of virtual training, yet until recently, face to face training remained the most popular form of training. Most organisations, individuals, course sponsors, and IT Departments seem to have been reluctant to fully embrace it.

Lockdown, however, has meant an end to face to face training, and change has been thrust upon us! I am writing this in May 2020, with two months experience of virtual training. As it looks as if virtual training is something that is here to stay for a while, we thought we’d share our reflections. Maybe it will overtake face to face training even when the world returns to ‘normal’, whatever that might be.

Thanks to our members for responding when I asked what were their tips for virtual training. I’ve compiled some thoughts based on their feedback, and it will be great if you can add in your thoughts and experiences so we can all learn from each other.

Our Learners

  • Just as in face to face learning, our learners must want to be there. They have to want to learn.  Malcolm Knowles’  theory of andragogy, adults need to be motivated to learn,  for the learning to be pragmatic, and true to life. It is important in design and delivery to always ask the question ‘How can we apply this?’.
  • Learning should be learner driven, and not content driven. Sitting for hours in a classroom is bad enough, (I left a course in February that was slide driven content), however, your learners will not be able to concentrate online with slide upon slide of information. By designing a pragmatic event which is focused on learner needs, and not a presentation of information, you are on the way to being learner focused.
  • Prior to the learning event, discuss learner needs and agree the outcomes with the sponsor. Get to know each individual learner, and then you can tailor the event to mixed competence levels and buddy up the more experienced learner with the less experienced learner. They can have informal mentoring sessions to help embed the learning. Content should be provided beforehand, in the form of handouts, TED talks, books, questions, quizzes, and your own videos uploaded for them to listen to. You can also use the forums and chat groups so people can get to know each other prior to the event . Lead the way in introducing yourself, what the subject/learning means to you, and invite your learners to do the same.
  • Finally, both you and your learner need to know the technology.  Send them a quick How To Guide, a list of Frequently Asked Questions, and/or a Video showing how to sign in from different hardware, as iphones, ipads, laptops, and desktops can all have different quirks. Thanks to Rachel Munns, who told us that she starts her sessions with a quick tutorial on how the IT works, so learners can ask questions, raise their hand for attention, and know how to switch from breakout room back to main room.

The Facilitator/Trainer

  • If you are not confident with the technology, then have an IT assistant to help you. Thanks to Frank Jordan for this very valid point.
  • If you are not good at multi tasking, then have an Assistant to help you. Virtual training is tough: you need to keep to time, hold the audience over the internet, see the raised hands, keep on top of the chat room, and answer the questions. It’s a new way of working, so use an Assistant until it becomes an automatic process. Your confidence will affect the session quality, so it is worth the investment.
  • Design short burst sessions. Thanks to Adrian Green, Rachel Munns and Claire Poole for all saying this was their number one tip. All came back with a resounding – “Do not attempt anything more than 2 hours!!”. Four hours in the training room is completely different to four hours online, which is intense, and emotionally draining. Both you, and your learners, are likely to run out of energy.  Adrian has recently designed & delivered a Certificate in Facilitation Practice for Victim Support Scotland. “It’s usually a two day face to face programme, however we will probably meet each other virtually for 7 x 2 hour sessions. Feedback has been great, and we are achieving more virtually.”, says Adrian.

“Take a 5 minute break after an hour, for everyone to stretch, move about and/or get a cup of tea.” adds Adrian. “We all agreed how vital this was to aid energy and concentration.”.

On being learner driven.  Content driven presentations are a waste of our valuable time together. Send content beforehand as much as you can, and use the time together for:

  • Discussions in breakout rooms,  back to main group
  • Main group Q&A
  • Main group discussion leading
  • Chat features
  • Buddy groups
  • Energisers
  • Case Studies (theirs if you want the event to be learner driven)
  • Scenarios (as in face to face learning, give different scenarios to different groups, as it is dull listening to the same old things time and again)
  • Presentations
  • Projects
  • Conference Cafes
  • Actions Learning Sets
  • Polls
  • Quizzes
  • Activities
  • Sketchpad for drawing
  • Virtual Games.

Agree ‘Groundrules’ – like in a face to face course. Rachel said she forgot to ask people to switch off their phones, and to close down their emails. Learners gave the feedback that they got distracted and stressed when they could see their inbox filling up, and their phones rang.

The Conferencing Technology

Please do not take these as recommendations. We merely asked members what they used.

Zoom was the technology that most self employed members used and preferred. However, it is worth bearing in mind that a lot of organisations will not allow Zoom on company hardware at the present moment, so you may pay for a years’ licence, only to have to purchase another system.

MS Teams and Go To Meet were the choice of our in-company HR/Training contacts.

It could mean that self employed trainers have to purchase, and learn, multiple virtual training/conference systems.

All virtual systems have a huge amount of free tutorials online, and Claire and Adrian said they learned by “playing with the technology” – using real play. That is, add rent a crowd online learners into your event,  and test the system. The summary of technology is:

  • Preparation – know the technology, and ensure learners know it too.
  • Practice – use real plays to find out what the system can do, and that it can do what you want it to do.
  • Pilot – we tend to run a pilot course face to face, so do the same virtually. What worked? What didn’t work? Did we achieve our objectives? Can learners do what we said they could do? Can we improve next time?

The virtual training world looks like it is here to stay, so it will be great to have your feedback, and for you to share your experiences with others.

Kay Buckby, May 2020

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