Online Training is Not New!
The technology we use to deliver online training has been with us for many years – videoconferencing and online meetings common in the workplace.
However, it still needs momentum in our training approaches and our training strategies. As we move training content into virtual classrooms, we can not expect what we designed for the face to face classroom to work as successfully in the virtual classroom. We need a new approach.
First, let’s be clear about what we mean when we talk about moving training online. We mean moving it into the live facilitated world of virtual classrooms, not just into a self-paced e-learning world that we create for our learners.
There are a number of steps we can take to move learning content to an online environment technology based training which is dynamic and engaging moving away from the traditional face to face classroom training that we all know and love.
Some of the key questions we will cover here are:
- How technology has changed the world for learning and development professionals and learners
- The benefits and challenges of live online learning
- How to adapt to the virtual classroom as an L&D profession
- Steps to moving face to face training to online training
There is no doubt that technology has changed our world. It has changed the way in which we listen to music, watch movies and communicate with our friends and families. We use technologies such as Skype, Twitter and Facebook to communicate with friends and family, and virtual meetings, videoconferencing and the like to communicate with clients and colleagues.
Technology has drastically changed our world and we need to promote training to follow suit, primarily how and where our learners access learning.
A recent study showed that 86% of learning professionals who responded reported that they will move to a virtual classroom as part of their learning offering. In addition, we are seeing more organisations creating virtual classroom-only content or adapting existing content to meet the needs of online training.
This is not to say that organisations are moving all their learning content to live and online classrooms, but rather that they are using virtual classrooms as part of a truly blended learning approach. Virtual classroom will not replace face to face training completely. There still will be a need to deliver learning to our audiences in the traditional face to face classrooms.
Promoting the Virtual Classroom
Virtual classrooms often are seen as a great environment for delivering soft skills we need in the workplace – skills as communication, decision making, working in teams, leadership and time management.
But there are so many other content areas that the virtual and online classrooms can support. Research shows that these content areas include desktop or web application training (88%), product knowledge training (79%), technical skills (85%), regulatory and compliance (56%) and onboarding programmes (55%).
Benefits of the Virtual Classroom
Moving our training to the live, online space brings many benefits to us as learning professionals, to our organisations, and to our learners.
The two main benefits that seem to drive the adoption of virtual classrooms are reduced travel costs and overall training costs.
However, there are many other benefits of online learning.
- Reduced time out of the office – Learners can attend training without the inconvenience of travel or time away from their desk and clients.
- Quicker response rate to training needs – Training can happen more immediately because you don’t have to book training rooms, travel and accommodation.
- Accessibility to training for a global audience – As long as we line up the time zone differences correctly, our learners can attend a training course wherever they are; many can attend courses that they wouldn’t have been able to access previously.
- Improved Training Quality – The virtual classroom allows the delivery of consistent learning experiences, as opposed to in the more free-flowing face to face classroom environment.
- Supported learning for remote workers – Virtual classrooms remove the barriers to entry for remote workers, whether they are joining from home, coffee shops, or other remote locations, because the learning can take place anywhere, any time.
- Reduced Carbon Footprint – There are clear environmental benefits to removing the need for learners to travel.
Challenges of the Virtual Classroom
However, just because we have opted to move our training programmes from one method to another does not mean we are going to be successful.
Technology has to work. Having worked with a number of clients, this is the number one show-stopper to online training. Your IT Departments have to ensure technology works to ensure training delivery is efficient and effective.
Another challenge is that of duration. Often we invite learners to a full-day experience, maybe even two or three days, in the face to face classroom. With virtual online training we need to provide the same information, but in a much shorter format. We can’t just convert an existing three-day face to face course to a three-hour virtual classroom. It has to be redesigned, rethought.
During a recent event, when a number of experts were asked, the common duration of a live online event, 97% of respondents run sessions of 90 minutes or less. Our training courses are schedule for 1.5 to 2 hours. Any more, and we incorporate 10 min breaks, as we would do so in a classroom training session.
Here are some of the other considerations to online training.
- Training content has not been adapted or redesigned to allow for the activities available in online
- Trainers or learners are not always comfortable or familiar with the virtual classroom environment and toolset.
- Learners see the reason for moving training into the virtual classroom as a cost-cutting measure for the business and are somewhat cynical about it.
- Learners are multitasking because the content or delivery is not engaging enough to keep their
- There is a lack of Learning and Development Team skills, a lack of stakeholder buy-in, and a hesitancy of trainers to engage in the technology.
Adapting as Training Professionals
Before moving to online training, trainers need to adapt. One of the reasons for this is the change in dynamic between trainer and learner in the virtual, online classroom. In the face to face environment learning involves seeing others, their body language or facial expressions, in the virtual classroom, we lose that visual element.
In the face to face classroom, we can sense when someone wants to ask a question or share a comment through body language or facial expressions. In the virtual classroom, we need to provide other ways for learners to indicate that they want to speak – we have to rely on virtual classroom tools like the feedback icons or the hand raise tool.
Part of the adaptation has to start with us as learning professionals. We need to develop new skills as we design and deliver training to an invisible audience because virtual classrooms are not just plug and play. There’s a separate skill set for designing and delivering engaging, effective instructions in a virtual classroom.
In a recent webinar, several hundred practitioners were asked about their online training skills:
- 15% had received some formal training
- 30% had developed their knowledge and experience through trial and error
- 33% planned on doing formal upskilling for the virtual classroom
Translating Activities into the Virtual Classroom
Facilitator Led Brainstorm – Use the chat tool, ask learners to suggest ideas, which you can then summarise and debrief. Alternatively, invite learners to write their ideas directly onto the virtual whiteboard.
Case Studies – Prepare a case study with detailed instructions, making them available in the virtual breakout room. Assign learners to the various breakouts and invite them to collaborate on working through the case study. Then, bring the group back together and invite representatives from each group to present their solutions verbally.
Quizzes – Develop a series of questions with multiple-choice or yes-or-no questions and create a series of polls, which you can run. Share the results with participants and then go through the correct answers.
Group Discussion – Provide a discussion question and show it on the screen or in the chat space. Invite participants to share ideas using chat or by raising their hand and speaking verbally.
Group Presentations – Give each group of learners a task (the same one or different ones), provide separate instructions and expected outcomes. Assign participants to the breakout rooms and invite them to use the different tools to complete the task or prepare a presentation to share with the rest of the group.