18 min read

Real Answers to Burning Virtual Training Questions

Real Answers to Burning Virtual Training Questions
InSync Training Podcast - Modern Learning on the AirREAL answers to your hybrid virtual training questions!

We hear many of the same questions over and over again - Most recently at the IACET Annual Conference. 

Listen to this episode for answers to your burning questions! And scroll to the bottom of this post for a full transcript of this episode. Here are a few questions that are answered in this episode.

  1. Do you have suggestions for activities for on-demand courses as well as live/virtual too? This is where some of my instructors seems to struggle more
  2. Which engagement activity trends have proven to not be valuable in the last two years? Stay away from activities
  3. What advice to you have for hosting courses that are primarily face to face, but also have a virtual component? It is challenging to monitor and engage everyone in two environments consecutively.
  4. How do you make an on-demand recorded training more engaging?  How do you manage report backs?
  5. How do you monitor participation in Zoom Breakout Rooms?
  6. What are some of your favorite debrief methods and activities?
  7. What is your recommendation for transition intellectual property owned by a training vendor from Face-to-Face to Virtual?


Welcome to Modern Learning on the Air, the InSync Training Podcast. In conversation with some of the top leaders and thinkers in the modern virtual learning space. We will learn about the latest virtual classroom techniques, creative training initiatives and virtual training best practices that will engage and empower your teams, colleagues and learners. Enjoy the show.

Karen Vieth: Hello everyone. I’m Karen Vieth, Vice President of Virtual Learning Services here at InSync Training. Welcome to Modern Learning on the Air. Today, I’ll be talking with Jennifer Hofmann, Founder and President of InSync Training, to answer questions that came out of sessions that she and I conducted at the IACET 3rd annual Continuing Education and Training Conference in Clearwater, Florida a couple of weeks ago. And Jennifer’s session was on Virtual Learning is real learning. And my session was on how to take that learning and go live. Taking good face to face content and turning it into great virtual training. Now, there was tons and tons of interest on the impact that going virtual can have on training departments and lots and lots of questions at her booth on how to transform your training in this digital age, and we want to just hop on here and answer those questions. But before I do, I just really wanted to give great big shout out. There were tons of great speakers at the IACET Conference, that transformational training from influence to impact, that really were impactful in what they had to say, and I just wanted to take a moment to say, thank you to IACET for putting on such a professional and well-planned conference. And I know Jennifer and I are so thankful and proud to have joined them this year as one of their Diamond Sponsors. We had such a great time at the Conference, didn’t we Jennifer?

Jennifer Hofmann: We sure did. There were so many smart people that were really committed to continuing education and workforce development, and I really encourage people, if you are a member of the IACET community, to see if you can watch some of the recordings. It was a wonderful thing, and I’m excited to see what IACET is going to be doing with their strategic plan going into 2023.

Karen Vieth: Yeah, I am too. So, Jennifer, let’s get right down to the questions, because we had a quite a few. We did compile them together so that we won’t be on here for hours and hours, I promise, but one of the questions that came up was, do you specifically have suggestions for activities for On-Demand courses as well as for live and virtual?

Jennifer Hofmann: Well, it’s really interesting, because On-Demand is hard to design, it is hard to complete, it takes a lot of focus and a lot of motivation for the learnings. And I understand why instructors struggle getting people to complete On-Demand courses, but this really speaks to me, Karen, about a blended learning campaign. So, we have Live Online, maybe start every session with them, or every campaign, every curriculum, with a Live Online session. That gets people connected. They are talking to one another, they start to commit to one another and hold each other accountable that they are going to complete this multiple session, multiple week campaign together. And in the live sessions, we introduce activities, we give them tools, and worksheets, and access to videos. Teach them how to use those tools, and then send them on their own to complete a self-paced tutorial, to shadow a manager or a mentor, and practice using those activities. And I do want to reinforce, the more that we can make this about real work, the more motivated our learners are going to be to complete these self-directed activities, instead of a scenario of an arbitrary, made-up person, let’s give them a scavenger hunt, where they can get the answers about a real client they are developing or a real problem they are trying to solve. The idea is to combine live and self-paced work in a way that creates a learning journey, and just keeps them interested along the way.

But Karen, speaking of the blend, and these activities around the blend, people had a lot of questions after 2 years plus in this pandemic. Some stuff just didn’t work in the Live Online classroom. People were throwing things on Zoom and hoping that they would stick, and some stuff just didn’t stick. And they were asking for our cautionary tales. What do we need to stay away from?

Karen Vieth: That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? Because when we all jumped in with both feet, we just threw things on and we hoped. And let’s just step back away from that for a moment. I’m going to say, the answer truly to any of this is stay away from fluff, right? Stay away from activities that haven’t worked, even in the face-to-face classroom. Stay away from things like lecture. Yes, lecture has its place, but a lecturette, something specific. Maybe we create it as part of the blend. Listen to this lecture and com to the live lesson to apply the principles that Jennifer talked about during the recorded session or the On-Demand session. So, I think if we stay away from bringing people together to just speak at them, and instead we really bring them together to speak with them and utilize that concept that you mentioned, Jennifer, about the real learning and really allowing that real learning to transfer into real work. I think that’s one of the biggest assets to what we can do in the virtual classroom.

The other piece is the idea of staying, not clear of, but being mindful of the different tools that we have available to us in the virtual classroom. Many of us who jumped in two years ago, decided that the camera, the video, was the way to replace the physicality of us being, you know, together or apart. And I think that that has become a big mistake. I think video on all the time has not created any more engagement, and in fact, I believe it has created some disengagement, but rather than turning it on all the time, making sure that we are picking out components, right, of our live and online delivery, where we are intentionally using the camera, the video for real learning and real work. Things like coaching conversations, right? Role playing, those types of situations, those types of techniques and activities really lend having that video on as an asset, and not necessarily a deterrent, right? So, I would just be very cautious and intentional about the utilization of video. And lastly, I would say, take a look at your content. Don’t just throw an icebreaker in, you know, list your favorite zoo animal or your favorite color, really think about the different types of ice breakers, the different types of content where you’re trying to pull people together and really think about what purpose it may have besides just serving an icebreaker moment, if you will.

Jennifer Hofmann: Karen, I want to jump on to that question. Because you said, we hope that it would work and I just want to say that, hope is not a learning strategy that we should adhere to. It takes design, it takes planning and your comment about video on all time and being purposeful, that ties back to our earlier discussion about making good use of self-directed work. Longer lectures can we make them into On-Demand recordings and then tie an activity to those? Our rule of thumb has been for years and years that if we’ve talked more than 5 minutes in a virtual training program, then we’ve talked too long. Keep that in mind as you are designing. And my last comment about video, Karen, is a lot of pushback we get, some people say, I need the video on all the time, I like it, it helps me connect, but we do need to remember that are just as many people that feel disconnected because of the video, for whatever their personal situation or reasons are. So, we need to give each group the same type of consideration.

So, Karen, another question that came in, what advise do you have for hosting courses that are primarily face to face, but also have a virtual component? So, we’re talking about audiences in different learning environments. Because, as our questioner rightly pointed out, it’s challenging to monitor and engage everyone in both of these environments consecutively.

Karen Vieth: So true. And I think the first thing is is to consider it not being two environments coming together consecutively, but treating it as its own environment and calling it what it is, it’s a hybrid. That’s what a hybrid environment in today’s world is all about, is that we are treating it as its own environment where we need to treat the training a little bit differently, and one example, if anyone goes back to the conference and listens to the very last session of the second day, I actually had a hybrid situation, where I was very focused on making sure that the virtual component and the individuals in the face to face component were blended, and that’s what is really, really important and the only way you can be successful in a hybrid environment is allowing yourself to speak directly to all people, make sure that you are speaking, not just to the people in front of you, not just to the people virtually, but that you are speaking to the entire group and then you’re appointing a producer. Now, what I mean by producer, is an individual that can monitor the in person while monitoring the virtual component of that environment. So, an example of this is what I did at the IACET conference is I had an individual sitting at one of the round tables with the face-to-face participants and as I was conducting our training, very workshop focuses, she was connecting and adding comments and questions to the virtual component for our virtual learners so that they could then be a part of the conversation that was happening that face-to-face environment. She became the eyes, the ears, the hands, the feet of the virtual participants. And not having that individual as the advocate for those learners would have been detrimental to those learners. Now, number 1, they might have fallen off. Those learners might have felt like, yeah, Karen’s trying to speak to us, but she, you know, we can’t response. So, this gave them an opportunity to have a voice in that face-to-face environment. So, utilizing a second pair of eyes, ears, hands, if you will, that producer, that host that monitor, and utilizing them way more than technical support, really helping them to focus on being learner support, both in person and virtual, is vital to the success of bringing those environments together and creating the actual hybrid environment.

There’s a lot of challenge around losing those people and I think if we’re not purposeful, we’ll always lose them. If we’re not purposeful about focusing on the environment as its own entity, we’re destined to fail. Jennifer, do you have any thoughts on that?

Jennifer Hofmann: I do, it’s, if you’ve got people in a face-to-face environment, and people virtually, the best way to keep them all connected is to have them all logged on to the virtual classroom, and run those chat activities and run breakout activities, even for the people that a collocated in the same room. Because that really connects them to the people that aren’t collocated. It really creates a more, I think inclusive environment, and helps us remember the people that aren’t right there with us.

Karen Vieth: Well, and it also allows as a designer to truly create activities that are inclusive. Things like a breakout group, I’m not going to say, okay, those of you in person, go ahead and connect together in person. Those of you virtual, go ahead and go to your breakout room. If we are all in say a Zoom environment, a Webex environment, Adobe Connect environment, we can then put, you know, the individuals from all over the world together and still be working in that hybrid environment and I think that that is what is going to really be the success story, is being able to bring all learners together through the vehicle, whatever the platform is that you have, the vehicle, or the technology as the vehicle, if you will, to be able to drive this hybrid environment.

Now Jennifer, there are times where this On-Demand that you mentioned earlier, is that is super important as part of the blend, and our audience is curious about these recordings that you mentioned a little bit ago, how do we make these recording more training based and much more engaging than we’re being?

Jennifer Hofmann: So, the first thing I want to say to people is, if you can watch a recording of a virtual session and have the same experience that you would have if you were there live, and that’s probably not training, it’s probably more of a lecture-based webinar, which is an important part of our training strategies now a days, but we want recordings to have a particular place and to make them meaningful, and I think that instead of just recording every old thing, we pick and choose and create On-Demand recordings, and I’m about to date myself with a couple of different stories here, Karen.

When I started in training way back in the day when we would run videos in a face-to-face class, a screen would come up and it would say, pause recording now. So, we’d watch maybe a five-minute roll play or some kind of disaster video with a problem we need to solve, and it would say, pause recording now, and then the facilitator would be ready with a set of debrief questions or a way to manage a conversation around what they’ve learned so far. So, with the way we can edit recordings nowadays, why not stop and put a pause and say, consider this, or go ask this question, and then come back and restart.

So, another, I feel like I’m dating myself, is the days when infomercials were all over television. And they would run for 30 minutes. Thirty minutes about the best new juicer or the best way to dry meat. Now, I had never had any interest, Karen, in drying meat. But I’d be there vacuuming or doing whatever I was doing with the television on in the background and I would stop and I would say, huh, and I would watch it, even though I had no earlier motivation for this particular topic. What they did in those informercials is they kept them very short, even though it was 30 minutes, it was the same story repeated three times and just with different speakers in different ways. They had success stories built in. They had the, what’s in it for me, built in from the observer. They had key points only, how to learn more, what to do if you act now, what was, they gave the watchers, the viewers a call to action, and I think this informercial approach of short, 10 minute videos that are planned, maybe with some planted questions that come in through chat, might be a better use of our time than recording every 2 hour session we do, and hope that people will listen from beginning to end and get what we hope they get out of it. Again, hope is not a training strategy, Karen, right? What do you think? I mean, how do you think we can make these On-Demand recordings that are just everywhere a little bit more effective, a little bit more interesting?

Karen Vieth: Well, I think, you know, the informercial approach has always been something that has fascinated me. I mean, there’s the idea of, why can’t training be fun? And I mean, they capitalize on that, right, that the idea of using entertaining with purpose, and that act now. And I think, something that you said really made me think about how we flip it to the learning, right. It’s about our learnings. It’s not about how much content can we get out in our recordings, but it is about how is the learner going to take that content and act upon it. So, if we really focus on the infomercial concept of act now and ask ourselves that, we can start to flip things around for our On-Demand recordings, and we can start to think about, well, isn’t there a question I could ask? And something I always like to do is, is I’ll throw in rhetorical questions and actually answer, right, like as if I’m talking to them directly, or I might point down and say, below you’ll notice that there are 3 surveys to take, you know, like I think if we include them, even though it is On-Demand, but if we include them as if we are speaking to them, the learner will start to think, ponder, ask, question, right? They’re going to start to do those things that we want them to do. And then at the end, it’s always something that’s a part of something bigger, right? And so, at the end of those, or during those On-Demands, we might say, and join me next Tuesday to really put into practice these five techniques that we just about. So, give them something else, kind of like a good movie, right? Give them something else to chew on in the meantime I think is really important.

Jennifer Hofmann:  Well, that goes back to tying our live sessions and our self-directed work together, doesn’t it?

Karen Vieth: Yeah, it does.

Jennifer Hofmann: So, Karen, we really want to make it about the learners, don’t we? And sometimes it’s a struggle to figure out what it is they are doing, if the learners are doing anything at all. So, one of our questions came in that said, how can you make sure that people are being successful in breakout activities when we’re not able to walk around and look over their shoulders and actively monitor these activities? You have any advice on that?

Karen Vieth: I do, this is another question that comes up a lot, right, as we are transitioning from face to face to virtual or just in virtual in general, how do I keep my learners accountable? If I can’t physically see them and walk around and touch their shoulder and overhear what they are saying, how do I know that they are actually doing the work? Well, first and foremost, I want you to take that idea of accountability and I want us all to think about, how can I create accountability within the activity? So, if it’s a breakout, number one, we as facilitators, we can walk the room, but we do it virtually, right? We have to know the technology well enough to be able to pop in and out of those breakout rooms, not necessarily to oversee what they are doing, but just to be the presence of you know, maybe at answering a question that might come up, listening to the conversation so you can bring it back for the debrief, but the piece that is going to make the breakout groups or the breakout activities most successful, is if you as the designer, you as the facilitator provide some sort of tool, whether it be a white board activity, whether it be a scenario that they have to answer four questions and come back and share, we have to create the technique for them to go and discuss, give them exactly what you want them to discuss and talk about, but then also tell them what they need to come back with, and if we provide something for them to come back with and then provide the opportunity for them to share out, they typically will come back with that task, and then they will want to showcase that to the rest of the group. What happens so often in the virtual environment is we send them out to do a group activity and then we look at our watch and go, ooh, we don’t have enough time. So, we’re going to let them do this and then we’ll post their answers later for them to review.

Jennifer Hofmann:  Because we all have time for that, right?

Karen Vieth:  Right, because we all have time for that, we just don’t have time for it in the class. So, I think we short change those types of activities and I think it goes back to something that I talked about in my session a couple of weeks ago and that’s facilitator fear. We’re fearful that if we let them stay in a breakout too long, that they’re going to fall off, but instead, we should be fearful that we haven’t given them enough to do, and to create that accountability to bring it back that they are bored, right? So, we really need to shift that. We need to make sure that we’re creating that accountability within each activity so that they have something to bring back and share, and that they can take it from real work and then transfer that into, you know, real learning back on the job.

Jennifer Hofmann: But when they bring it back, they’ve got this wonderful whiteboard or interactive document that they’ve collaborated on. How do we turn that into a learning point? What’s your favorite way to debrief these activities?

Karen Vieth: Well, first and foremost, don’t skip it, right? The actual learning happens within that debrief. So, we can not skip the debrief. But a couple of my favorite techniques are techniques that, you know, I took for face-to-face years ago. Number one, we all know it, you know, letting learners shout out the results of their group activity to the rese of the class and really be able to let them hear what they came up with. So, sharing out, shout outs are always, you know, first and foremost, however they take time, right? And so, we might also think about a pair and share, where learners pair up to brainstorm ideas, and then come to some sort of consensus or practice a new skill and then each pair then shares maybe with another pair or perhaps they share with the entire group. So, you break it down a little bit.

Another one that I love, love, if you can think about the gallery walk back in the day of face to face with those large post-its that you could put on the wall, the large pieces of chart paper that had post it on the back and you could put them on the wall, and then you could have the groups work together and then you, you know, everybody walk the room and then they read what other groups said and they added their comments. You can do the same thing in the virtual environment, depending upon which environment you’re in, you have the capability to allow multiple individuals to look at and write upon those white boards, and it’s just really an interesting way to simulate that gallery walk and really does feel like you’re walking around a room paying attention to other people’s work and being able to absorb it, just another nice way to be able to share information and then the last piece that I think is my absolute favorite, if you have the time and if the activity itself lends it to need a teach-back, it’s where learners actually teach their peers what they’ve learned or developed during that specific activity, because we all know that we’re going to learn something in concrete if we actually teach it to somebody else. If we can teach it, we basically have that understanding of that piece of knowledge.

Jennifer Hofmann: And it is really kicking it up to a higher level. It’s proving, demonstrating what you know, not just parroting it back.

Karen Vieth: Right. And speaking of the teach-backs and why I kind of ended with that, is somebody specifically asked, how do we manage those report backs or those teach-backs, and this is how we do it, you know, there is, we basically just allow enough time, number one, and we also allow enough time in between for them to practice that teach back. So, you would never want to send them into a break-out, giving 15 minutes to work on something and then come back and teach it to somebody else. That’s probably not enough time, depending upon the topic that you’re wanting them to teach, So, sometimes, and you might have been in the situation over the last couple of years, where there is maybe an 8 hour session, sometimes if you’re going to build in a teach-back, maybe you build it in, you start the conversation, you teach them the skills that they need for this teach back, you give them the materials that they go off and practice either independently or in a break out for a good hour even, right? But you’re not there. They are working on their own just like they would do in a lunch and learn in a face-to-face environment, right? They go off, they do this work, and they are prepared to come back for that teach-back, and I think that that’s what’s key is making sure that you designed it in such a way that individuals aren’t just rushing through and teaching something quickly, but they are actually thoughtful going through the content and then having the time to practice and prep on their own.

Jennifer Hofmann:  Well, it’s funny Karen, because for years and years, and we’ve been fighting the good fight for 20 years trying to get people to adopt virtual as a legitimate way of instruction, the big pushback on things like breakout rooms and other in-depth activities is they took too much time and nobody’s going to hang around that long, and now, you know, we’re pushing 8 10 hour sessions. So, it’s funny how we went from one extreme to the other.

Karen Vieth: It is, it’s crazy to think of that. So, these are all specific to keeping learners engaged in the live lesson. Some of our learners want to know from you, Jennifer, if you have any recommendations for transitioning intellectual property owned by like maybe a training vendor, and how you would work with them to transition from face to face to virtual?

Jennifer Hofmann: Wow, this is a totally different type of question than the engagement and the activity stuff that we’ve been talking about, but it is an important question because so many of us buy wonderful content from proven vendors like say Dale Carnegie, for example, or Harvard Business Review. There’s a lot of great content out there that companies have invested in and have been teaching face to face, and it is important to remember that teaching it virtually is effectively a different license. So, if you want to use somebody else’s content and deliver it in a different way, you need to start by asking permission, and after the couple of years that everybody has just had, the answer is probably going to be yes, but an event better answer is, they may have done it already and then you’ve got a great piece of content that has been converted and takes advantage of what the virtual environment has to offer. So, first ask permission, find out if they have virtual options. If they don’t have virtual options, say, can we do this and we’ll share it back with you. And then you are building a partnership with this training vendor as well, but always make sure you ask permission. Don’t assume that just because you are paying for a face-to-face version, that you can change it and move it online to virtual classroom.

Karen Vieth:  Yeah, and even if you have a license, right, you need to make sure that that license allows for the conversion to face to face to virtual as well.

Jennifer Hofmann: Yeah, always respect the intellectual property.

Karen Vieth: Well, thank you, Jennifer. Thank you so much for joining us to answer these questions. This was a way for us to just be able to continue to lean in and provide this context to our team, and all of our listeners. So, for all of those that are listening to Modern Learning on the Air, we thank you, and if you want to learn more about Jennifer, myself, InSync Training, please visit our website at www.insynctraining.com. We do have a Jenna Bot where you can ask any and all questions and if there are specific things that you want to know more about, she can connect you to us, and if you didn’t already know, I wanted to share something with all of you, that InSync Training just recently has announced that we are a partner with IACET. Now, IACET we have been an accredited IACET provider for over 15 years and we are now partnered with them to offer our Train the Trainer Virtual Learning courses where you can earn CEU credit as you become virtual learning experts. So definitely be sure to check out our course calendar on the IACET website to locate those titles and those dates. So again, thanks for coming to InSync Training’s Modern Learning on the Air Podcast. We’ll see you next month.

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