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ALX Training / News / Navigating the Virtual Training Landscape

Navigating the Virtual Training Landscape

by Mark Jones on Jan 18 2024

Introduction

The corporate digital landscape is always moving, and while the realm of education and training has undergone a profound shift towards virtual platforms since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, virtual training delivery is more common now, than ever before.  Having been a virtual instructor of all things Microsoft for more than 15 years, without question, this medium of teaching is extremely powerful if done correctly, offering:

  1. Unparalleled Accessibility
  2. Flexibility
  3. Self-Paced Learning
  4. Cost-Effectiveness
  5. Career Advancement

That said, it’s not without its challenges.

The Perils of Winging It: A Recipe for Disaster

No matter what you do, never be tempted to just wing a virtual training session.  Having delivered quite literally hundreds of virtual sessions for various FTSE 500 clients around the world, I quickly learned that no training session, virtual or otherwise, was going to be successful without my carrying out my due diligence—prior preparation and planning (remember the 6P’s principal).

This should include a piece of work that consists of:

  1. Defining your business’s goals.
  2. Defining the actions that support those goals.
  3. Defining the actions for each of the goals.
  4. Then determining what people need to know and apply in their day-to-day roles for each of the above-listed activities you have defined.

In the field of Learning & Development (L&D), this process is known as “Action Mapping.” By meticulously carrying out this crucial step, you can guarantee that your training will consistently achieve its objectives.  Furthermore, having a clear roadmap of the required training content streamlines the instructional design and material development processes.  This is because the chosen instructional design concepts align with each learning activity, ultimately supporting each action that needs to be taught during the virtual session.

Lesson Planning (Absolutely Critical)

It is my experience that lesson plans can very quickly take on a mind of their own without the proper care and attention.  Once you have designed your action map and obtained all the key information, you need to map out:

  1. What are you going to say?
  2. How are you going to say it and present it in the session?
  3. What is the interaction going to be that supports the action and topic?
  4. Have a backup plan if technology lets you down.

Over the years, I have become very familiar with two types of lesson plans.

Option 1:

Is what I like to call “quick and dirty.”  This is essentially a list of bullet points that define the order in which the material is going to be delivered. There is no additional detail; it is simply a list of topics. The only place this should ever be used is in the planning phase, when you are having a course planning meeting or discussing the initial merits of the course you are designing and need to outline the subjects.

Option 2:

When it comes to your course delivery, you must have a proper and carefully thought-out delivery plan.  Mine is a Microsoft Word document with a carefully laid-out table in landscape orientation, which consists of the following headings:

  1. Slide No.
  2. A slide thumbnail image.
  3. The script or points I must convey.
  4. The duration.
  5. The interaction type that comes from me.
  6. The interaction type that the learner needs to perform (what do they need to do?)? or actions do they need to take?
  7. Additional comments or risks? What could go wrong? and what will I do and say if it does?

Having a document with this level of detail will not only ensure that you have everything covered, but it will also mean that anyone who has at least a little experience in delivering training programs can pick up this document and run your course for you to an acceptable level of quality if provided sufficient preparation, rehearsal, and review time.

The transition from traditional in-person training to virtual formats

This requires deliberate strategies to ensure effective learning outcomes. However, overcoming these hurdles won’t be easy, as it demands a combination of technological innovation, pedagogical adaptation, and a human-centric approach.

One of the biggest challenges that I/we, the ALX Training Team, encounter is a lack of engagement and interaction.  Sometimes it feels like your trying to pull teeth, as learners either don’t have camera’s or they are simply too camera shy; thus, the host is left presenting to a screen full of silhouettes, and at times it feels like this is fast becoming the new normal.

Staying Focused

Without the physical presence of an instructor or one’s peers, learners are likely to find it challenging to stay focused.  To address this, we need to leverage the various interactive tools that are present across most platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, Citrix Goto Meeting, or Webex.  Tools include, but are not limited to:

  • Live Polling: The ability to pose questions and surveys in real-time, pre- or post-sessions
  • Breakout rooms: These are ideal for promoting group discussions with two people or more
  • Chat: This can be used to communicate useful information, such as links to websites and other reference materials, but it can also be used to engage with your audience by asking open or closed questions and capturing their responses.  Hints and Tips: Be sure to write the question you want answered in chat before prompting your audience for responses. That way, if you plan on exporting the entire chat conversation, all answers to questions are grouped together.

These and many other tools and options are available, and if managed correctly and you have given careful thought and consideration to where you plan on using them at the course design stage, the levels of engagement experienced can be similar to those achieved in the physical classroom.  Furthermore, encouraging active participation through discussions, group projects, and interactive sessions will help to foster a sense of community and engagement among participants.

Technical difficulties are a significant obstacle to virtual training

Over the years, I’ve experienced pretty much everything you can imagine, from learners struggling to access the session to the learners camera or my camera failing, functionality in the collaboration tool like sharing just stops working, security permissions preventing learners from joining the session or sharing controls being disabled to poor internet connectivity, or just a lack of familiarity with platforms.  All of these items have the potential to impede the learning process.

So what can we do about it? How do we mitigate these challenges?

Without a doubt, it will require you to have some thinking time in the design phase, ahead of the delivery, and you need to adopt a proactive approach, including pre-training technical checks, providing clear instructions on platform usage (I often provide a short 3-minute walk-through of the features and functions we are going to use), and also considering having dedicated technical support available ahead of and during your virtual session.

Simplicity in platform design and providing alternative communication methods can serve you well as part of your backup plan in the unlikely event that technical issues and glitches should arise.  I’d estimate that based on the number of courses delivered each year, the number of those that fall foul of technical issues is around one, possibly two percent (best guess).

Personalized learning experiences

These are often harder to achieve in virtual settings.

Why?

Well, trying to tailor the content to every individual’s learning needs becomes more challenging without face-to-face interaction.  Adapting to this challenge involves employing adaptive learning technologies that use data to personalise content.  In addition, incorporating regular feedback mechanisms and one-on-one sessions with instructors can help address specific learning needs and provide a more personalised learning experience.

Another challenge is the lack of a physical presence, which often leads to feelings of isolation and detachment among learners.  Building a sense of community in the virtual space is critical.  Encouraging regular interactions, fostering open communication channels, and creating a supportive online environment can help combat feelings of isolation. However, only by incorporating elements that promote social connections, such as virtual social events or informal discussion forums, can we as professional instructors, contribute to the creation of a more inclusive and connected learning environment.

Time Management is Key

Whenever you are tasked with delivering virtual learning, time management is always a challenge due to the flexibility it offers.  Learners might struggle to balance their personal schedules with the demands of training. Teaching effective time management skills and providing structured schedules can assist learners in organising their learning routines.  Moreover, offering on-demand access to recorded sessions allows learners to review content at their own pace, aiding time management and their desire for just-in-time training (JIT).

Delivering training sessions on time and according to a schedule can also present challenges of its own.  Unforseen technical issues can cause delays; sending learners to lunch without implementing a timer on screen that indicates when they should return is critical. Therefore, you need your audience back at their desks, ready to go, so that you can be respectful of their time and your own, as well as keep everything running on track.

In 2004, I reduced the risks associated with learner’s returning to their desks late by designing a purpose-built clock timer in PowerPoint.  It can be branded to any client ALX works for, and by inserting custom presentation links, I can quickly start an animation that begins a 30, 20, 15, 10, and 5-minute clock timer.  My screen is being shared at that moment, so I’m essentially beaming the clock timer into the rooms and offices of every learner in attendance.  When the timer is complete, it states, “Welcome Back, Let’s Get Started.”.  The beauty of this timer is that even if you are 50 feet away from the screen in an open-plan office, you can still see exactly how many minutes and seconds remain before part 2 of the session resumes.

Any delays to your session will impact the remaining topics scheduled for delivery and the end time of your course, so time management in every respect, hard breaks included, needs to be given the same amount of thought and consideration as every other timing in your session to ensure its delivery is perfect, or near perfect every time.

In Summary

While virtual training presents numerous challenges, proactive strategies and a multifaceted approach can help overcome these hurdles.  By fostering engagement, addressing technical issues, personalising learning, planning carefully, thinking outside of the box and troubleshooting every eventuality, nurturing a sense of community, and aiding how you think and manage your session time management, virtual training can be as effective as traditional in-person methods, if not more so.  Adaptation, innovation, and a strong focus on human connection and individual needs are pivotal to successfully navigating the virtual training landscape.

To enhance your online learning capabilities or acquire support managing and delivering your next technology project, contact a member of the ALX Training Team today via email at admin@alxtraining.com or by phone at +44 (0) 1534 873785.  Here’s to your growth, success, and contribution.

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