12:55 pm: The session starts at 1:00 pm Eastern to allow participation from multiple time zones. I received initial and reminder invitations and completed my pre-work. I have my New Hire Participant Guide in hand and log in. I’m ready.
I listen to the facilitator and producer chit chat. No problem, I’m a bit early; I’ll just work on my email and a couple of other assignments while I wait to get started.
1:03 pm: Did I just hear the facilitator say, “We just need to wait a few more minutes for the last few people to sign in?”
What? Why do we need to wait for others? The rest of us managed to be ready. Alright, take a breath. I can answer another email.
1:07 pm: “OK, we’ll have Jim (the producer) help the remaining participants get in; they’re having some technical issues.
“So, let’s start with introductions. I’ll ask each of you to share your name, where you’re from, what location you’re working in, and how long you’ve been with the company. Let’s start with….”
NOOOOOO! There are 20 people in this session! This is going to take 15 minutes at least and we’re already 7 minutes in to an hour session.
1:20 pm: “Linda, how about you?”
Oops, sorry perusing LinkedIn jobs because so far you have been wasting my time!!
OK, so maybe perusing job ads is a little extreme. But what do your participants do when you put them through training sessions that are often disorganized, unfocused, and sometimes just plain bad? Some may tune out, play solitaire, surf the Internet, or look for other jobs. But none of them are learning and developing the skills they need to move your organization forward. So, my call to leaders, training designers, and facilitators is this: Stop wasting time and resources. Give employees a reason to become participants in training and in moving your organization forward!
Virtual learning has been around since the 1990s. The technology is good, design principles are sound. There is simply no reason for bad virtual training. (There’s also no excuse for bad training in general, but this is about virtual instructor-led training, or vILT.) Here are a few quick suggestions for leaders, designers, and facilitators.
Engage your learning team
You may be excited about the cost- and time-savings vILT offers. But talent development professionals know that no single mode of delivery is the be-all and end-all of training, and vILT is not appropriate in all cases. Listen to your talent development team’s recommendations for the training solutions that provide the best overall cost-to-benefit results.
Enable your learning team
You likely recognize the value of ongoing professional development for your sales, customer service, and operations teams. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to provide your training team with the budget and time to learn and research technologies and practices that will enable them to create the best experiences for your employees? Check your training calendar and budget to make sure those opportunities exist.
Design the Participants’ Experience
Your participants’ experiences are in your hands. In addition to using sound instructional design principles and adult learning theory, design from the chair of your participants. As you design the content flow, activities and resources, imagine what your participants will experience during the training sessions. What will they:
- See at their desks and on their monitors?
- Hear from the facilitator and other participants?
- See and do with their participant guides and other printable resources?
Learn the Tool
Online meeting and training platforms offer many tools to enable participant engagement. You need to know them inside out so you can design activities that will actively involve participants and help them learn and develop skills. You also need to create interactions that will work with the technology, enable easy flow between activities, and prevent technology from overshadowing the learning. There are many opportunities to learn about the features and capabilities of your specific hosting tool, and there are many general “virtual training design” courses and blogs. Seek them out and use them.
Keep time in mind
Sessions should be 60–90 minutes with interactions every three to five minutes. Remember, an interaction need not be a full-blown activity, but it does need to lead the participants to think, reflect, or do something related to the content.
Work with your Facilitators
The use and content of facilitator guides vary by organization. However, you must always work with the facilitators to ensure they have adequate instructions to lead activities and use the tools as envisioned.
Learn the tool
When facilitators do not know the technology of their virtual meeting/training tools, they often fall back on what they do know: talking and a slide deck! NOOOOO!
If you are delivering virtual training, it is your responsibility to use the tools in a way that facilitates the training activities and maximizes participants’ engagement and long-term learning.
Practice and Prepare
Practice to learn how to use the tool’s capabilities and to transition between screens and functions with ease.
Practice each specific session, especially when there are multiple activities and functions used within a single session. Ensure you can set up rooms; move, edit, and use polls; clear whiteboards; use breakout sessions; and recall participants to the main session. Whenever possible, set up breakout rooms, polls, and resources before the session begins.
Develop your delivery skills
Aside from the technology, your voice is your primary tool. Unlike classroom training, you cannot rely on facial expressions and body language to help engage participants and hold their attention. You must ensure you can use your voice to add definition and emphasis. You must also be able to regulate your tone, volume, clarity, and expression. Your voice is your greatest training tool, so take time to develop it and use it to its greatest advantage.
All of us in talent development and related professions are responsible to help shape the human capital strategies our organizations need to successfully execute their visions and missions. We also have responsibilities to the individuals within our organizations to help them develop the ever-changing and growing knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Virtual training can help us meet our responsibilities if we use it well. Please take time to learn the technology and use it to support, rather than hinder, success.