We all know that training is not just a necessity to ensure our workforce has the knowledge and skills to do their jobs as well as possible, it is also a powerful way of engaging with employees and demonstrating the value we see in them. Upskilling and engagement is more important now than ever!  As life is getting back to (the new?) normal organisations will have to prepare employees with the skills they need to navigate the new ways of working and also show belief in the future and new beginnings by investing in their people!

A question many organisations will face is “How do we train colleagues in a post-Covid world”? Does return to the office also mean return to the classroom? For some teams and organisations the answer will be “Yes” but many others will have discovered that virtual training is not just a necessary evil, it actually has several advantages that are likely to make it a popular choice for the future, including;

  • Reduced or NO travel and accommodation cost and time
  • Ability to train a geographically dispersed team in one go
  • No need to find available booking rooms
  • Employees can learn in the comfort of their own home
  • Courses can be broken down into shorter chunks

Karin MauleOf course, virtual training also has its challenges, and unless the organisation or trainer takes proactive steps to mitigate those the training can become dull, one-sided and “death by PowerPoint”. We also cannot get around the fact that we lose a lot of the factors that make face-to-face communication impactful, such as body language. The virtual trainer has to understand these challenges and proactively address them. The good news is that creating engaging training for the virtual classroom is not just possible, it is actually quite simple with these “tricks of the trade” from Wellingtone’s Senior Training Consultant Karin Maule.

Dare to step away from the PowerPoint!

Good ole’ PowerPoint may be the railroad that allows your train(ing) to reach its destination, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use other tools to create little stations of learning along the journey. Use whiteboards or flipcharts (either physical or virtual ones) to draw key messages just like you would in the physical classroom.

Practice beforehand to make sure you can draw clearly and big enough for the pictures to show on camera!

Don’t bin the PowerPoint, but do re-work it!

PowerPoints are brilliant for sharing information and in a virtual setting they can help capture the learner’s attention, convey messages and help explain concepts.

Tips to make your power points increase engagement;

  • Take slides with a lot of text and split them up into several slides with less content on each
  • Where possible replace text with illustrations or pictures
  • Consider what messages are lost when the learner cannot see your body language. Can a slide with pictures, videos etc replace some of that?

Learn your classroom tool and make sure the learners can use it too!

Make sure you know how to share content and use various annotation tools. Familiarise yourself with basic functions such as chat, mute buttons etc.

In the physical classroom we always start by pointing out exits and bathrooms (even when the learners work in the building every day) so why not start the virtual class with a little tour of the classroom? Make sure everyone knows how to use basic functions.

Consider what tools you will ask the learner to use (virtual whiteboards in break out rooms for example). Will everyone know how to do that or will that add frustration and stress? Think of a fun and simple way to practice using all the relevant tools at the start of the course.

Limit the use of complex tools if you think it is too much for some learners. Unless you are teaching a “how to use virtual classroom tool” course the learners did not come to learn how to use the drawing function in the breakout room so don’t create cognitive load if you can avoid it.

Invest in equipment

Recommended virtual training equipment:

  • A good webcam that can zoom in and out as you move through the room and draw things on whiteboards or flipcharts
  • Good speakers or conference phone tool that captures your voice but blocks background noise, Or a good set of headphones that allow you to move around
  • Whiteboard/ flipchart stand with good pens (darker colours are best!)
  • Draw the same picture a lot? Consider drawing it on paper, laminate and then use blue-tack to place it on your whiteboard
  • If you use virtual whiteboards consider getting a graphics tablet and pen that allows you to draw and write by hand onto the board

Word of warning: using equipment and techniques to deliver training is fantastic and will give the learner a bit of variety. Don’t overdo it though – the learners have not signed up for a showcase of different teaching tools and using too many different techniques will confuse the learners. Pick a couple, learn how to use them well and then swap between them.

Tell stories that work

In the virtual classroom, it is even more important than in the physical classroom that you can explain concepts with examples and stories that the learner can easily understand.

Make sure you understand the audience and their cultural references and prepare stories and examples accordingly. Use a mix of serious business and real-life examples and silly pop-culture or current affairs examples.

Avoid: complex examples or stories that mean the learner first has to learn about the example before they can understand your message. Also avoid cultural references that have no meaning to the audience, such as a very local tv show or phrase, or find a fun and simple way of explaining them.

Practice your stories and stick to just two or three that become the “silver thread” that runs through your course.

Make it fun

The biggest issue people have with virtual classrooms? It’s boring!

Well, let’s make it fun then!

Start the course with silly (but never embarrassing) icebreakers to find easy topics to talk to the delegates about (favourite tv shows, films, action heroes, chocolates etc). Refer back to these throughout the course to show you remember the people in the class.

Use fun (but appropriate) pictures, films clips, comic strips or little games and quizzes throughout the course to keep energy up.

Break the time up

Provide plenty of breaks (90-minute chunks of learning followed by 15 minutes break works well for most audiences) and let the learners know upfront how the day is structured. Make sure you stick to the timings you have promised!

Provide hard copy material

Staring at a screen for a whole day is tough. Staring at two screens for a day is tougher. Make things easier for your learners by providing hard copy material for courses that are a full day or longer (and where there is quite a lot of content).

Use the camera

Turn your own camera on and ask the learners to keep theirs on too. Seeing real people (even though it is on a screen) helps ensure engagement.

When using your camera for training, ensure you:

  • Position the camera well. It should be at a good angle and allow you to look into it as you speak. No one wants to see up your nostrils or the top of your head!
  • Look into the camera so that the learners feel you are speaking to them. If it feels awkward staring into a little round dot place a mirror next to the camera – it will help remind you where to look and make it feel less weird.
  • Adjust your lighting so the learners can see you clearly
  • Use virtual backgrounds or blurring if you have to – but even better is if you can show the room that you sit in (maybe give it a tidy before the course starts!) as it makes you seem like more of a “real person”
  • Mind your mannerisms – people can see you so don’t do something you wouldn’t do in public! At the same time, you are not a news anchor so no need to sit stiffly with your hands on the desk. Move around, use gestures – smile and behave like you would in the physical classroom!

Remind the learners they are with real human beings

When sitting in a virtual classroom it is easy to forget that the people on the other side of the screen is a real human being. It can become a little robot-like after a while and that impacts levels of engagement (people tune out more when they do not feel a personal connection). Mitigate this by continuously showing you are a real person and that the other learners are real people too;

  • Tell jokes
  • Talk about personal experience (good and bad) and share personal successes and failings relating to the subject matter
  • Share your tips for the best way of doing something, people love little “life hacks” or “cheat codes” and it makes it easier to transfer learning to real life
  • Move around the room; by moving from sitting in front of your computer to standing a few feet away to draw on the whiteboard you create a new dimension to the classroom
  • Get the learners to share examples of relevant challenges or experiences, ask them to describe the scenarios when they can use what you have taught them. Encourage them to disagree with you

Find a balance. The learners are not there to learn about you or your problems so share a bit of relevant information but don’t go over the top.

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