• Jack Waller

Virtual Training: 5 Discoveries from adjusting to learning online


The pandemic forced a lot of us to spend the most of our time at work virtually. As a business that offers a lot of face to face training, we had to react to the changing environment and challenge ourselves to deliver informative and enjoyable virtual training. So, what have we learnt so far and what should you consider for your training?


1. Choose a tool that will enhance your training

I’m sure over the past few months you’re sampled the many variations of video conferencing platforms be it Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype or WebEx. All are slightly different in the options they can support, and all can go wrong with a dodgy internet connection!


Having delivered workshops using all of the above (different clients have different systems they want to use),I can say the most useful one for us has been Zoom. This is mainly due to the ‘Breakout Rooms’ feature.


We recently used ‘Breakout Rooms’ in a workshop with Bovas Group. We pre-allocated the teams beforehand and then once briefed, set them off to complete their group work. As facilitators, you can then move in and out of the different breakout rooms in order to check the teams have understood the task and are making progress.


We set a time limit (which was shown in the breakout room) and automatically brought the groups back when it expired. This is one of the positives we have found compared to face to face:No time is wasted organising people into teams or trying to usher people back to the main room.


Once the teams had returned, we discussed in the plenary what everyone had completed. We found this tool really helped to re-create the feeling of face to face group work in a virtual setting.


2. If training has worked face to face, that doesn’t mean it will work virtually

It may sound obvious, but putting people through face to face workshops that haven’t been adapted for virtual delivery isn’t going to have a great impact.


We’ve really had to challenge ourselves to include content that will work in a virtual environment. An example of this is a CPD session that we recently ran for National Grid.


Typically, when we deliver face to face training, we have around 10 people in the workshop all in a room where everyone can see each other. We have an open discussion about the subject to kick off the workshop which gets everyone talking and produces rich and relevant discussion.


That same exercise doesn’t translate well to a virtual learning environment. We’ve found you can’t see all the participants and on occasion they can talk over each other. This forced us to change the exercise from an open discussion to a team exercise in breakout rooms. Each team were asked to consider a few simple questions on the subject for 10 minutes. One person from each team then presented back to the group in plenary.


This slight change ensured everyone was involved and produced some interesting discussion from the participants, whilst helping keep the exercise manageable.


3. Bite-sized content = Bigger Impact

Full days don’t translate well to virtual delivery formats. You no doubt will have found that if you’ve been in a virtual meeting for a prolonged period of time, your energy and engagement levels start to drop and the last thing you want to do is look at a computer screen.


For us, the maximum time for delivery to ensure participants are engaged and involved is three hours in one day. Try to group content into sections that are relevant to each other. Spread programmes over days (ideally concurrently) to manage large content.


4. Pre-workshop material increases participant engagement

We’ve all been in a virtual meeting waiting to start because of technology issues. To help avoid this either send out joining instructions and technology tests prior to any workshops or build it into your timings. This will avoid wasted time at the beginning of a session and will also stop participants dropping out of the workshop as you’re just about to tell them why it was the best they ever attended!


Make sure to also send out any relevant material in advance. This enables participants to understand what will be covered and bring any ideas or questions they have to the workshop.


Doing will help to maximise the time spent on discussion, group exercises and less time going over lots of theory.


5. Less slides, more exercise

Part of the challenge of virtual delivery is that you can’t see participants in the room. You can’t react to them in the same way, read their body language and therefore it can be a struggle to create the same type of rapport. This is why avoiding “Death by PowerPoint” is even more important during virtual training.


Try to make your workshops as interactive as possible. Use tools like sli.do and in-built features like polls to ask questions, increase participation and generate discussion.


Summary

In summary, the change from face to face training to entirely virtual experiences can seem a scary prospect. However, by considering your audience and planning properly, the change doesn’t have to be massive.


Plan your workshops carefully, build in lots of engagement and discussion and use video conferencing platforms that work for you to help deliver successful virtual experiences that participants will learn from and enjoy.

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