The State of Virtual Training and Hybrid Learning, and the Toll it Takes On Learners
Editor's Note: This post has been updated from the original, published in November, 2020.
I don’t remember what prompted this tweet in January, 2012, but I feel it even more strongly now than I did then. Since the onset of COVID, we have seen 3 phases of its effects on training and training delivery:
Phase 1: Emergency remote teaching. In many cases, this was just a rush to get things online as quickly as possible, largely via the virtual classroom. Zoom and other video-heavy approaches became quick substitutes for the traditional face-to-face approach. There seemed to be general acceptance and understanding that circumstances were driving less-than-optimal, presumably temporary, stopgap efforts.
Phase 2: Grudging Adoption of Virtual. Organizations continued to move training to virtual formats, often with more concern about sticking to existing training schedules than to spending effort on good design/redesign and developing facilitator skills. By June of 2020, more than 90% of organizations were offering at least some virtual training, up from three-quarters in 2019. InSync Training saw the number of 7+ hour sessions they were asked to support surge from 116 in 2019 to 1267 scheduled in 2020.
Phase 3: Hybrid Virtual Learning Environments. Learners are logging in from different devices, different types of locations (home, office, mobile,..) and different times of day. And as we move to a more 'virtual first' approach, this mixed format will become more and more common. (Read More: Best Approaches to Hybrid Learning so No Learner is Left Behind.)
Phase 4: The New Normal. Ish.
Reports indicate that many people who have shifted to remote workspaces will remain there. Much of the former traditional classroom training will stay in the virtual environment, likely permanently. For those of us who have been advocating for virtual approaches, this is bittersweet: Businesses and face-to-face-loving L&D staff have lessened their resistance, but much of what is moving online is still being shifted without much regard to redesigning for the different environment or helping facilitators develop skills for virtual classroom delivery. And scheduling remains a challenge: InSync Training has booked more than 2000 7+ hour sessions in 2021, and the trend continues into 2022.
While all this has certainly been hard on training departments and vendors, there’s little conversation about the toll it has taken on learners who, in addition to their work, have been subjected to:
- Meteoric rises in virtual meetings and classes
- Meteoric rises in 7+-hour, single-day online classes
- Requirements that they be on video throughout the virtual sessions
- Rules about how learners should dress (in some cases including shoes) and what to have in their backgrounds in said video
- Multiple products, all with different interfaces, and all with different logins and some learning curve
- Rounds of needless “icebreakers” and similar activities that they often hate, that eat up time in the name of making the experience interactive, even if the activities are unrelated to content
All while products keep morphing and changing, sometimes to resolve security concerns, sometimes to enable or disable a particular feature, and sometimes they just change for the sake of change. This puts the learner on unsteady ground again and again. Zoom fatigue is real.
My question: Why do learners put up with this?
A key element of effective learning experience design (LxD) is empathy – understanding the learner’s point of view and the points of delight – and pain -- in their journey. Stepping back and taking a look at things from the learner’s perspective can help us see where we are making their lives worse, not better; where we are doing them and our practice a disservice; and where we need to adjust to find ways not just of delivering instruction but achieving better outcomes.