James Culver is a partner at Target Training Gmbh and has 25 years of experience in delivering customized training solutions. His career has encompassed being a HR Training Manager, a Major in the US Army National Guard and a lecturer at the International School of Management. He’s also a talented percussionist and storyteller. In the final part of this series of blog posts on Virtual Training delivery, he answered the following questions…
You have 25 years’ experience in training delivery. When did you start delivering virtual training?
James Since the 90s. In the United States we started very early with virtual delivery in the community college system. We often had remote sites of small groups of students who still wanted to take advantage of the kinds of courses that we would offer on the main campus, so we started delivering virtual training . When I started working with virtual training it was extremely expensive to do some of this work. Our system was basically a camera set-up and the professor or the trainer was just speaking to the camera. There was very little interaction available with the other sites and it was like TV school.
How would you say that virtual delivery compares with face-to-face delivery?
James There are probably two things to think about. One is the content that one delivers and the other is the context. By context I mean everything that surrounds the content. How things are being done, who is interacting with whom and how they are interacting – the richness of the communication. As far as content is concerned, the topic that’s covered, the information that’s shared, I’d say virtual delivery and face-to-face delivery compare quite favourably. In fact, the virtual platforms that we use at Target Training are tailor made for delivering lots of content in interesting ways. It’s very easy to add videos, recordings, to have whiteboards etc. For example, if we have content that is pre-prepared on a slide and made available to people, they can annotate it, they can put questions there etc. That’s really, really easy on a virtual platform.
What is harder most of the time is everything that we get from being in the same room as someone. Facial expression change, body language changes. We often don’t see or get that in a virtual environment, even with the market-leading systems. The challenge as a trainer is that we risk missing a large chunk of the information that we would get from participants in a classic face-to-face training session. That is a major challenge. As a trainer in face-to-face training I have a feel for how things are going because I’m in the room. It’s much more difficult to have a feel for how things are going, when you’re in a virtual environment. And you need that “feel” so you can adjust and give the participants the best possible learning experience.
What are your workaround strategies for that?
James There are workaround strategies and through external and internal training and on-the-job experience our trainers use them. One strategy is that you have to ask a lot of open and closed ‘check questions.’ Questions like “Are you with me?”, “Is that clear?”, “So what are the key points you’re taking from this?”, “What are your questions so far?” Experienced virtual trainers will ask those kinds of questions every 2 to 3 minutes. Essentially, as a trainer you have a 2 to 3 minute time limit for your input before you ask a check question, and the check questions should be both open to the group and targeted at an individual too.
Which training themes lend themselves best to virtual delivery and which don’t?
James The themes that lend themselves best to virtual delivery are those that are more content focused – for example classic presentation skills training or presentations delivered virtually. These types of training solutions focus on input, tips, do’s and don’ts, best practice sharing and then practice-feedback -practice – feedback etc.
Another theme that works very well for us when delivered virtually is virtual team training, whether it be working in virtual teams or leading virtual teams. By their very nature, virtual teams are dispersed so the virtual delivery format fits naturally. Plus, you are training them using the tools they need to master themselves. And of course, another benefit is if the training is for a specific virtual team the shared training experience strengthens the team itself.
The types of training solutions that are more challenging when delivered virtually are those where we are trying to change ourselves or others. Topics such as assertiveness or self-efficiency need to be thought through and developed carefully if they are going to be more than an information dump. Here the coaching aspect is far more important.
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, management and leadership training can work really well when done virtually. Our Driving Performance solution is a good example of this. The secret here is to emphasize the bite-sized learning, provide additional resources outside the session e.g. flipped classrooms with relevant videos and articles, and provide opportunities for one-on-one conversations too.
More on virtual delivery
Please see the posts below, or start here.
- Getting started with virtual delivery
- 5 questions you definitely need to ask when you are setting up a virtual training program
- 5 things you can do to make virtual training a success