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Three Keys to Developing Powerful Virtual Training

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

As our world evolves with Google at everyone’s fingertips and things like COVID19 forcing people to work from home, most companies are transitioning classroom training to virtual delivery.

While web-based training has received a lot of attention in recent decades, not much has been shared about how to accomplish effective virtual training. Many designers are under the impression that facilitators can just deliver their ILT (instructor-led training) courses virtually or that courses can be developed for delivery both in classroom and virtually.

This is a bad idea.  Why? Most of you have probably had some experience lately with sitting in virtual meeting rooms. You know working remotely means you are likely to get interrupted during the meeting by people, pets, network issues, etc.  Furthermore, you know how challenging it is to keep your attention on the speaker when you can’t see their face, nor that of others in the meeting.

The most important reason not to deliver courses designed for the classroom, virtually, is that it doesn’t promote effective learning. We’ll get to why that is as we progress.

So, if we can’t apply our tried and true skills for developing courses for the classroom, what should we be doing.  Here we consider the three most important factors for virtual delivery. 

1. Build in Powerful Engagement Activities

While engagement is an essential part of learning, no matter the delivery mechanism, no where is it as critical as in virtual training.  Sitting in one position and staring at computer screen for hours on end is not conducive to good learning. So, we must go to much greater lengths to get and hold the learner’s attention. Use the following checklist when thinking about how to develop your courses. 

  • Ask Questions

Ask frequent questions. Classroom facilitators often ask rhetorical questions to get learners thinking and then answer the question themselves.  In virtual training it is important to have the facilitator wait until one or two people have answered the question vocally. Facilitators can have others enter their answers in the chat and then call on any individuals writing a different point of view.  Use the hand raise feature (available on most platforms) for questions that have a yes or no answer. 

  • Use Polls In most virtual delivery systems such as Skype or Zoom, you will find a feature for group polling. You can write the polls in advance and have them ready when you need them. Use polls to get group responses to any question the facilitators ask. Then have them debrief. When you do not have polls available, use the chat to get people to respond. 

  • Animate Slides Think about creative and interesting ways to animate slides so that the material appears on the screen as the facilitator delivers it. This keeps learners interested because they cannot anticipate what is coming and assume that they already know it. 

  • Avoid Bullet Points Avoid using bullet points like the plague. Nothing is more boring than a screen full of text.  Instead, consider using Smart Art, or images that illustrate the point.  Create graphic representations of content rather than using words.

An important tip. Aim to have one engagement per slide or two at the most.

2. Keep it Short

  1. The average attention span for an adult is just 20 minutes. So even if you are using breakout sessions, you are still expecting learners to sit in front of a screen for extended periods of time. You must break it up. As you develop your virtual learning consider the following:

  • Limit to 4 hours Limit your virtual classroom time to a maximum of four hours. If you have more than four hours of content you must deliver, then break it up. Have sessions on consecutive days or build in a lot of independent learning activities (see key #3) between shorter, instructor-led sessions.

  • Activity Every ¼ Hour Design learner involved activity every 15 minutes. Make sure that you offer exercises and activities that require some from of action from the learner frequently. These could be breakout sessions with partners or small groups, or individual exercises, but the rule of thumb is that these activities must require every learner to do the activity. This does not have to be breakout sessions. It could just be an exercise where the facilitator calls on each learner in turn to engage in some activity, such as a hot seat practice.

  • Cut Content It is easy to get caught up in thinking that learners need all the content we offer them. Try asking yourself these two questions about each content topic: What would be the consequence if the learner did not know this?  Will the learner need this piece of information to be able to apply this knowledge/skill on the job?  If they do not really need it, take it out. It will optimize the likelihood that the learner will remember the important things.  (see also #3 here). 

3. Trust the Learner

Today’s learners are much less dependent on the facilitator to deliver content than they were even a decade ago.  And because they are accustomed to using services such as Google or Wikipedia to acquire knowledge when they want, and to use blogs, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn Learning to acquire skills whenever they want, today’s learners know how to pilot their own learning experiences.  What does that mean for us?  It means that we can now develop training that relies on the facilitator as coach rather than teacher and let learners take the helm for ingesting content. So, as you develop content, consider the following options:

  • Content in Self-Study Put the bulk of information, knowledge, and procedures into self-guided materials that learners must complete with learner cohorts during a specified period.  A typical training along these lines might begin with the facilitator and learners coming together for a kick-off meeting of 30 minutes or so where the facilitator supports an icebreaker and clarifies expectations. Learners print out or access on-line content and then proceed to engage in self-study and small group activities such as roleplays. Reengagement may happen as a small group discussion or it might be with the whole class. Finally, learners come together to debrief, engage in activities, and then get new assignments. This style of design maximized that value add of the synchronous classroom time. 

  • Another Way? As you are developing, if you find yourself falling into the trap of writing a lot of content for the facilitator or subject matter experts to deliver, ask yourself, “Is there some other way that the learner could acquire this same content?”

These three things are the key elements to providing powerful and effective virtual training. However, if you would like to learn more, contact us about our course Designing for Virtual Delivery

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