In my previous post, I discussed the importance of strong design for virtual delivery, and how to achieve it. This post addresses the challenges you’ll encounter when proposing these design approaches to your stakeholders.
Part 2 – Challenges You Will Likely Face
Given the extensive migration to live online training, you’ll likely encounter some typical challenges – here are some ideas on how to address them:
Challenge #1 – You are asked to convert an existing classroom program to the virtual classroom in a short period of time.
There is an implied assumption that moving from face to face to online is easy. In reality, designing for the virtual classroom environment is much more than dropping your PowerPoints into Webex. To stimulate intellectual engagement in the content, you need to critically look at the existing program and determine what the new design looks like. In a redesign scenario, you’ll be asking questions like:
- Should there be self-paced components? (is a blend the best approach?)
- How do existing activities convert to maximize online collaboration?
- Do you need third party integrations (Kahoot, Mentimeter, Beekast…) to make the experience more meaningful? If so, where do those licenses live?
How do you address this challenge?
Be ready with options.
“I understand it is critical that this Project Management program be made available as soon as possible. We do need to ensure high instructional fidelity – this way we can achieve results comparable to traditional approach and the reputation of the program remains intact.”
“One potential way to meet the goals of getting to our initial audience quickly and having the time to create an in-depth design, is to deliver introductory content in the very short term and send them away with some robust self-directed activities. Several weeks later, we can deliver a more polished virtual program that meets the needs of the business and the learners.”
Be ready with an achievable delivery plan so your sponsors know what to expect.
Challenge #2 – Facilitators and learners are dealing with all-day, sometimes multiple days in a row, virtual sessions.
Preparing for and leading a meaningful, impactful instructional experience for multiple days is exhausting enough for your instructional team – now add on video all day and working from home to the mix, and we are really starting to burn people out. As discussed earlier, I have been suggesting for 20 years that two hours is the most comfortable period of time people should learn online. If there is a lot of valuable collaboration in breakout rooms, we can go longer. When training new virtual facilitators, we advise that learners should do something every 3-5 minutes, and if you’ve lectured for more than five minutes, you’ve talked to much.
How do you address this challenge?
In addition to segmenting long instructional programs in 2-3 hour sessions, there are two key elements in addressing this challenge. First, give your instructional team opportunity to practice and refine their skills in the virtual classroom. If you use a Producer alongside the Facilitator, have them interact in advance of a first-time delivery – it doesn’t have to be very long – just to give them the opportunity to discuss the mechanics and timing of delivery, cues, etc. Second, build a narrative for the program, so that learners can pick up from the last session with a sense that the session materials build on the previous sessions – this also makes it easier for the instructional team to provide a meaningful experience for the learners if they can induce the learners to recall and reflect on their instruction to date. Also, consider taking advantage of the inter-session time to provide an activity to reinforce the learning in the learners.
Challenge #3 – In many organizations, we are being asked to create designs that work for multiple platforms.
As organizations finetune their virtual work model (and whatever follows it), there will be expansive adoption of a variety of tools that allow personnel to work, collaborate, and communicate in different ways, and many of these tools can be used instructionally. As an example, there was an extensive adoption of Zoom in March and April 2020 as companies jumped on the first thing that they could find – it was quick, sometimes free, and easy to use BUT there were limited capabilities to share content, no breakouts, limited interaction, etc. – some of it good, some of it not so good. Since then, organizations have spread the training function to just about every virtualization platform you can think of.
Why is this a challenge?
Zoom, Webex, Adobe Connect, MS Teams, Blue Jeans and Google Meet are not the same. They all offer different sets of collaboration tools. Matching the desired learning outcome with the appropriate learning environment requires a review of the desired outcome and activities, and to what level of interaction is required in the instruction. (this is not new – there’s just a lot of new environments to consider).
How do you address this challenge?
The key to using the right platform is fidelity to whatever you need to train. As an example, if the training is workflow-centric that uses Slack as a tool, perhaps consider using Slack and a virtual platform as a training environment. Conversely, if the instructional objective focuses heavily on inter-personal skills, interaction between learners in a variety of treatments such as role plays, games, etc. in breakout rooms might be most effective. The biggest factor in a design and environment choice you should consider is obtained by putting yourself in the “shoes” (or seat) of the learner – HOW will they leverage this learning, and HOW can you use the tools available to you to make it as relevant as possible. The pitfall many L&D professional fall into is sticking with only one platform (“Adobe Connect is the approved Virtual Classroom”) without considering how you might supplement that platform with other virtual tools to make the training more authentic.
I’ve long been of the opinion that ‘bad’ training can cause negative results. Sending our learners to Zoom rooms for days at a time without thoughtful designs that stimulate intellectual engagement can be counterproductive – because everyone leaves with the expectation that learning has been transferred, when in fact the only real outcome is tired facilitators and overwhelmed learners.
Your organization can meaningfully adapt to virtual instruction and realize real benefits for everyone involved – the learners, the instructors, and the organization as a whole - but it will require you to anticipate the organizational needs and meaningful consideration on how to best evolve your training practice. The days of just-throw-it-on-Zoom are over! It is your obligation to enhance your virtual practice to realize the real benefits that virtual live instruction offers.