E-learning has been around since 1960 and the “virtual meeting room” is not a new idea either. Many companies already have experience with learning via online platforms or mobile learning, and already have some type of tool to meet and collaborate virtually. The jump from meeting virtually to training virtually seems simple – and it is, if you carefully consider what it will take to make the virtual training successful. Here are a few things we have learned during 7 years of virtual delivery. The posts 5 questions you definitely need to ask when you are setting up a virtual training program and getting started with virtual delivery have more information on this topic.
Work with a trainer who can design, deliver and debrief with confidence in a virtual environment
Clients come to us with the experience they have with face-to-face training. They know what they can achieve in a one-day seminar and they are looking to transfer this experience to a virtual training environment. However, not everything is directly transferable. In a face-to-face session a trainer observes, reacts and adapts on the fly. They constantly monitor what’s working, and what isn’t, what people are getting and what not etc. In a way, the trainer “feels” how the training is going. With virtual delivery, trainers have less opportunity to do that. A common response for the trainer is to focus a lot more on the content rather than the training dynamics … which can turn the training into a lecture.
Virtual training demands trainers with new skills, qualifications and experience. You need an experienced trainer who can design, deliver and debrief with confidence in a virtual environment.
Create time for interactions
As touched upon above, in a face-to-face seminar it’s easy and natural for interactions to occur – either with the trainer or between participants. When you deliver training virtually this becomes much harder. Don’t assume that interaction will occur easily. It’s much more challenging for groups to actually get together and get a feel for each other in a virtual environment. An experienced and qualified trainer finds workarounds: Interactions are planned, activities are scripted carefully and more time is allocated for group and pair activities.
Keep the training groups small
The difficulty level of enabling and encouraging interaction means that smaller groups (not larger groups) are a must in a virtual environment. Our experience is if you want to go beyond knowledge transfer to building skills and changing behaviours, a group of 6 is ideal. The more participants you have beyond 6, the harder the interaction becomes, and the more likely it is that somebody tunes out and/or starts multi-tasking – and the more time the trainer needs to spend on monitoring and controlling the technical environment and not focusing on the individuals themselves.
For groups above 8 you should use a skilled and experienced “producer”. A producer supports the trainer in managing the virtual environment, monitoring interactions, setting up breakout rooms and maintaining speed, flow and interaction etc. An experienced technical producer can easily enable the trainer to work with 12+ participants.
Deliver several sessions of max. 2.5 hours instead of one long session
A full day face-to-face seminar won’t translate into a full-day virtual seminar. People can’t concentrate for that long in a virtual environment. Our experience is that 2 – 2 ½ hours is the maximum length for a single session. This means that you should be thinking about three 2-hour virtual sessions to equal one day of face-to-face training. You can cover a similar amount of training in the same time BUT if you are delivering the training virtually you have to redesign the approach and split it up and break it down.
Plan carefully, when working with multiple time zones
One benefit of virtual training is that anyone anywhere can join. We encourage you not to get carried away with that. It may save you money but you will lose the full effectiveness of the training. In our experience, it’s a huge challenge for the participants and the trainer when some are joining at six in the morning, some during the post-lunch lull, and some at six in the evening. Respecting people’s concentration spans and environments will pay off in the end.
For more information
If you are new to virtual delivery, looking to ramp up your virtual delivery or interested in making your virtual training more interactive and valuable then find an experienced partner or a consultant. We could be the one for you, who knows. If you’re thinking of starting with virtual training put out an RFP, be clear about what you want to achieve and ask for suppliers to tell you what you need in order to make it work.