5 Recommendations to Move Your Training Programs to the Virtual Classroom, and What Virtual Learning Experts™ Need to Know
This is part of an ongoing column by Virtual Learning Expert™ Jennifer Finan. She’s exploring trends that impact virtual classroom trainers and designers to improve learner engagement in the hybrid virtual classroom.
Moving Great Programs To The Virtual Classroom
Over the last few years, many learning professionals have had to quickly convert in-person training programs for online classroom training. In 2020, many organizations rapidly switched to a work-from-home model, and training teams around the world had to follow suit. Often this happened with just enough time to arrange the Zoom links they needed. We did it because we had to and we succeeded! So what do we do now with the technology, accessibility, and knowledge we’ve gained?
What Do We Mean By ‘Moving Programs To The Virtual Classroom’ And Why Is It Trending?
Many organizations are still taking great face-to-face training programs and adapting them to the virtual classroom experience. However, this transition is motivated by different reasons and with significantly less urgency than was experienced in 2020. If you’ve been asked to convert your classroom training to the virtual classroom, you may be worried that it won’t continue to get the great reviews and results it did with face-to-face programs. You may worry that the content just isn’t right for virtual and if it doesn’t work, you’ll get the blame.
In the spirit of embracing hybrid working and learning, many organizations are taking a ‘virtual first’ approach. Learning professionals in many companies are keen to take the programs that were quickly adapted for virtual classroom learning under review to make improvements and continue to do them virtually. Now that organizations know it can be done successfully, they want to elevate virtual programs from good to great. However, there is some resistance!
Adapting Virtual Learning Platforms For The Modern Workforce
As organizations around the globe open their doors again and encourage their workforce back to the office, learning professionals are being asked to return to traditional training rooms. However, people are resisting. Learning professionals want options. Employees want the option of going into the office and working remotely. If people want options on where they work, they will certainly want options on where they learn. With all these changes, it is beneficial for learning professionals to practice their love of learning and continuous development of skills.
Other economic and workplace trends impact the ability to adapt training programs to the virtual classroom design. Budget constraints may impact training leading to pressure to deliver a greater return on investment. This may drive decisions on whether training should occur in person or virtually. It also pushes for training to improve performance and productivity among learning professionals.
Improving Employee Satisfaction By Meeting The Needs Of The Modern Workforce
The recent trends of ‘great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ have sparked many conversations about employee engagement and ensuring people are happy at work. In Harvard Business Review, Annie McKee writes, “To be fully engaged, people need vision, meaning, purpose, and resonant relationships.” We can follow her advice to ensure learners are engaged in our virtual learning workshops and the work they do with an organization.
Taking this into practice means that learning professionals need to up their game regardless of where people are learning and the pressures we experience. It’s imperative to make virtual and hybrid training even more engaging, more relevant, more valuable, and more available to our learners where and when they need it. We need to ensure the content is a good fit for virtual delivery and that we’re converting face-to-face activities into virtual formats that are engaging students online.
So let’s stop just taking content designed for one environment and adapting it poorly to fit another. Let’s ensure learners have quality learning experiences, whether learning remotely or in person.
What Impact Does The Conversion Of Programs For Virtual Delivery Have On Learner Engagement?
We know that learner engagement is key to positive learning outcomes. This makes it important to ensure that we remain focused on engaging students in the virtual classroom when we move in-person programs.
Just as Annie McKee mentioned, employees need ‘resonant relationships’. We know that learners are engaged when they feel they’re part of the learning community. To build that community and enhance learners’ emotional engagement, we need to bring them together at the same time to share experiences that help everyone involved. They’re building relationships inside the classroom that support their careers outside of the classroom. They also need to enjoy the learning experience and feel the training is a valuable use of their time. Managers and Facilitators can help reinforce the value of virtual training by ensuring it’s not portrayed as inferior to other training methods. Let’s hold our heads high and say that virtual or hybrid training is what we’re doing because it’s the best solution, not because it’s cheaper or quicker than another method.
Engaging Online Learners With Virtual Classroom Training
Learners also need to be intellectually engaged. Make sure that when we take training programs intended for traditional classroom-based delivery and convert them to a blended, hybrid program, we keep this in mind. No matter how the training is being delivered, we need to ensure it aligns with adult learning principles. This means incorporating virtual learning strategies including the use of inquiry-based and brain-based learning techniques to encourage learners to think and make connections between the content and their work. It’s also integral that learners get the opportunity to practice applying their learning in a safe space.
The environment is probably the biggest difference when we take training programs intended for the traditional classroom and move them to the virtual classroom. All of a sudden, we have the technology to manage as well as microphones, webcams, and new software to figure out. However, we also have a whole new suite of tools to use. Embrace these tools and consider how to use them to encourage collaboration and interaction from all learners. For example, instead of relying on learners to speak up and share verbally, we can invite them to use the chat or share their ideas on a whiteboard. This is one of the many creative ways to engage students online to encourage everyone to contribute. With the smart use of teaching tools for the virtual classroom, our learning programs can be even more inclusive than traditional training methods.
5 Recommendations For Moving Your Program To The Virtual Classroom
- Start with the objectives. Always. Consider what the learners need to be able to do as a result of attending the training first. This will determine what they should be practicing in the classroom and what questions they need to be able to answer. Design your program with that in mind. Any time you become distracted by shiny tools or apps, make sure to come back to those learning objectives. Design activities that align with those objectives and facilitate the sessions based on them. Don’t make the mistake of designing activities around the tools you have available!
- Consider the blend. Although we’re massive advocates of the online virtual classroom, we acknowledge that not every single thing belongs there. If a particular learning objective doesn’t need any collaboration, that section should be self-paced content. If a particular learning objective involves the physical operation of the equipment not seen in the virtual classroom, consider moving it to a face-to-face environment instead. Consider the rest of your blend and include self-paced work, job aids, and other tools and resources to help your learners in their moment of need.
- Build in regular interaction. In the virtual classroom, you’re competing with a lot of other distractions. Combat this by keeping the program moving while engaging online learners by including an interaction every three to five minutes. Remember, interactions don’t need to be lengthy conversations. They can be asking for reactions, asking for comments in the chat, or adding a stamp to a slide. Also, ensure you vary those interactions! Don’t just throw up a poll every few minutes or stick with the chat all the time. Keep learners’ attention and ensure inclusion by varying the interaction type. Variety really is the spice of virtual life!
- Be proactive. Think through the program ahead of time and identify where things could go wrong. Have backup plans and have back-ups for your back-ups! Technology doesn’t always work. This makes it very important to have a plan if something fails. What will you do if there are storms forecasted or the facilitator has a power cut? What if some learners join on a mobile device or decide to go into the office and share a computer? How will you ensure the program continues successfully without leaving anyone behind?
- Details! Provide as much information as possible to learners ahead of the event. They’ll need links as well as details. Details include what device to join from (a computer, not a mobile device), where to join from (a quiet space, not a shared meeting room), and anything else they’ll need to know in advance (pre-work, how to test their devices). Provide even more information to facilitators so that they encourage those interactions. Know how long to allow for breakout activities and have questions ready to prompt debrief discussions. Provide even more details to the producer too. They’ll need contact details, copies of slides and workbooks and they’ll need to know what tools will be used as well as any polls or breakouts that need to be created.
What Do Virtual Learning Experts™ Need To Know About Moving Programs To The Virtual Classroom?
The whole instructional team must work together to move programs to a virtual learning platform. We want to ensure facilitators are set up for success. They must understand the importance of the instructional partnership with the producer. As with any successful change initiative, involve everyone early and often.
- Virtual classroom designers need to know how to design hybrid or virtual blended programs. They need to ensure they provide the details the instructional team will need to deliver a smooth, engaging learning experience. They need to know the virtual classroom platforms and understand what they can do. They also need to know which is the right virtual classroom design tool for each interaction or activity. Designers need to hold themselves back from using the tools just because they’re available and focus on the learning objectives.
- Virtual classroom facilitators need to know how to encourage interactions and ensure learner engagement throughout. They also need to know the virtual classroom platform and how they’ll use it as a presenter. Facilitators also must consider how those learning in a virtual classroom will use it based on where and how they are accessing the training. They need to have great facilitation skills and know how to apply them in a virtual or hybrid environment. Facilitators also need to work closely in partnership with the producer to ensure the learners have the best possible experience.
- Virtual classroom producers need to know all the details! They need to know how to work in partnership with the facilitator, the learners, and the technology to ensure that the class runs smoothly. Producers must also ensure that the technology almost blends into the background.
- Virtual Learning Coaches™ need to know what great virtual classes look like and need to understand the roles and responsibilities of the designers, facilitators, and producers to be able to coach them to attain excellence.
Learn More About Making In-Person Training Virtual and Teaching Tools For Virtual Classrooms
To truly master the art of taking face-to-face training programs into the virtual classroom, your team must learn how to redesign activities to maximize interaction through the virtual platform. Your team must be able to excite the instructional team and your learners about virtual learning. They must also know exactly what needs to be planned and completed to manage a successful conversion.
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