Adopting, and excelling at, the virtual classroom is much more about attitudinal change than it is about implementing technology. Ultimately, people need to BELIEVE that the virtual classroom will work. Organizations spend more time worrying about firewalls, security, hardware, and software (important topics all) than they think about adoption and usability.
This isn’t a case of ‘if we build it, they will come.” We need to implement technology, and create a change plan that includes training facilitators, designers, participants, and managers to use the virtual classroom, repurposing or creating content that meets quality expectations set in more traditional settings, and integrating the virtual classroom into robust blended learning.
I have been using the virtual classroom since 1997 – so I am always a little bit surprised that there are individuals, training departments, or even entire organizations who have not fully embraced the technology as a legitimate way to deliver engaging content.
Each department and organization has its champions who are committed to virtual learning success, but the project sponsors (Is that you?) need to recognize that people are on different places on the change curve, and plan accordingly.
The Four Stages of the Change Curve
Denial. The tricky part about the Denial stage of change is that many individuals will not share concerns for fear of not appearing to be a team player. They continue to focus on more traditional methods and processes, and may try to ignore the change altogether. You should assume, especially early on during an implementation, that you have team members in denial. If they do talk about the change, it may sound like this:
- This is just a fad. It will pass.
- Training can’t work as well in the virtual classroom as it did in the traditional environment!
To get people out of this stage, keep them informed and encourage them to participate in as many virtual classroom sessions as possible. Introduce training opportunities to help them add to their facilitation and design toolboxes, and use volunteers to participate in early programs. This will create success stories, and minimize the fear of being the first to fail.
Resistance. Once people realize that the virtual classroom isn’t going away, they may start to get angry, and become concerned that they won’t be able to succeed as a professional in this new training environment. The concern may be based on the idea that they have invested years in developing skills for a job that might not exist in the future. People will talk more about the change, but not necessarily in a positive way. Prepare to hear:
- Ok, maybe this will work for some classes – but not my content.
- I need to be face to face in order for my content to be effectively communicated and taught.
- The technology doesn’t work for training! I tried it – and I didn’t learn anything.
You can’t force people to accept this change; if you are leading this change process you need to empathize with their concerns and provide answers to their questions. Remember, you need to provide answers based on facts, not hopes or unsupported business plans. And you need to continue to provide training and opportunities to participate in virtual experiences; always providing avenues for your team to provide feedback and improve the new process.
Exploration. Finally, individuals stop expressing their concerns (we may, in our personal frustration, think they have stopped COMPLAINING) and started to accept that they need to be part of the process. Conversations are more positive, though not fully committed. Questions about process and outcomes, as well as suggestions about the same, arise. Listen for:
- I’ll try it. No promises.
- What if it doesn’t work? Whose fault is it?
- Are we trying to achieve the same outcomes as we did in the traditional classroom?
- How do we know if it is working?
Take advantage of the enthusiasm and keep the momentum going, so you can get people to commit as quickly as possible.
Commitment. Ah, normalcy. Business as usual. When virtual training is just part of the work flow. People know their jobs and know their place in the process. When virtual training is no longer a threat, but an option. Everyone will get there at a different time, but you’ll know you are getting closer when conversations include statements like:
- It’s not the same as the traditional way of teaching, but it can work, and can sometime be even more effective.
- Let’s get the facilitators, designers, and participants together to find the best way to make it work even better.
- I can see where this fits.
- Can I use the technology for another project?
Now, it’s time for you to celebrate with your team. Change is hard. But don’t stop looking for people that might fall back on the change curve when a project doesn’t go as planned.
Change Curve Resources
- Stages of the Change Curve http://www.brighthubpm.com/change-management/87472-stages-of-the-change-curve/
- Dealing with Redundancy http://www.graftonhaymes.co.uk/2012/03/27/dealing-with-redundancy-by-barbara-babcock/
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