The Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for change. It has sped up changes that were already afoot and made them a stark reality. And nowhere is that more evident in the world of learning and development than in the rush to move from classroom-based training to virtual online workshops.
Learning & Development professionals around the world are united in their task of overseeing a massive transition from face-to-face to online delivery. From Bangalore to Birmingham, Dublin to Dubai, the move to online learning has taken a giant leap forward. In the last few weeks we've spoken with Directors of Learning & Development and Heads of Training in a variety of sectors who are all advocating this change.
At Scott Bradbury, we too have moved to a virtual workshop model. All our data accuracy and attention-to-detail workshops have been revised to work with online learners and we’ve been able to take advantage of our WATCH & GO video resources too. What follows is a short summary of ten key lessons we’ve learned. If you’re grappling with the changes hastened by the pandemic, we hope you find them useful.
- Don’t let the learning get lost in the technology
The technology is your friend if you let it work for you. But if it dominates the workshop you lose the whole purpose of the session and the learning is lost. Take advantage of the screen sharing, ‘Chat’ facility, whiteboard, polling options and breakout rooms but ensure these enhance your learning messages. It’s also a good idea to ensure that your participants are comfortable with using the technology before you start. Holding a short ‘Essential Workshop Preview’ session saves time and confusion at the start of your training. Checking in advance that everyone has what they need for the workshop and knows how to use your meeting platform, really pays off.
- Allow more time
Everything takes longer online. And your participants will need regular breaks. Make sure you tell people when to expect the next break in your session, so they don’t get distracted, or go off to make drinks or go to the bathroom, until the allotted time. Maintain a brisk pace and keep people proactively doing activities and answering questions, so that they feel the time passes quickly. Keep to the agreed timings. Be specific about exactly what time you want everyone to be back after a break and make sure you start on time.
- Use video
Virtual platforms are an audio-visual medium, so take advantage of this. Ask everyone to turn on their webcams so you can see them.
Integrate video resources into your virtual workshops, too. Put a link to a video (we have lots if you’re interested!) in the ‘Chat’ function and ask your participants to watch it. Why not take advantage of the breakout rooms facility and divide your participants into groups to discuss their reaction to the video’s learning points before holding a group discussion back in the main meeting?
Video is great for short, virtual sessions as well as being a tool for changing the pace in longer ones. Why not use video in a ‘lunch and learn’ or ‘start your day’ mini virtual workshop? A three- or four-minute video, accompanied by a fun interactive ‘challenge’ activity is a great way to boost morale, bring people together and keep them motivated when working from home on their own.
- Be precise in your instructions
Be very clear about what you want participants to do and when you want them to do it. You don’t want some people rushing ahead, some lagging behind and others switching off altogether, lost or bored. Keep people on their toes and paying attention. Name people you want to speak and never ask an open question to the whole group because they are all muted and will wait for someone else to respond. Giving clear and precise instructions will help to keep everyone together ‘on the same page’ metaphorically if not literally!
- Channel engagement and energy
You need bags of energy to be a successful virtual trainer. You might like to try standing up, as you would in the classroom, but don’t move around too much as this is distracting and make sure your webcam is correctly positioned.
It’s difficult for human beings to concentrate for long periods of time, so keeping your participants engaged is vital. If you make a ‘human’ connection with your online participants, they will feel more involved and appreciated. Use lots of praise, use people’s names and help the participants feel good about the time they spend with you online. Let everyone know that you’ll be asking individuals to answer questions, but don’t give advance warning of who you’re going to ask – so everyone has to keep paying attention! Remind people to unmute themselves before they speak to avoid embarrassment. ‘You’re on mute!’ must be the phrase of the year already and you don’t want to add to it.
- Do contingency planning!
Consider what you will do if you, or any of your participants, experience a power cut and/or lose the internet connection. Virtual workshops are vulnerable to breakdowns in these services and although thankfully rare, you do need to consider what to do. Having your meeting app on a separate device like an iPad, using your data connection as a fallback instead of your wifi, is well worth doing.
- Look and sound good
It’s important to think about how you look and sound online. Think about your posture, as well as the clothes you wear (plain colours work best on screen), and make sure you have everything you need to hand, including a bottle of water. Using a microphone and headphones looks professional and can improve the quality of the sound too. A microphone means you can speak intimately and have impact, whilst headphones help you to focus on what is going on and listen intently. Always test everything thoroughly before you are due to start.
- Know your resources
You’ll come unstuck if you don’t know your materials inside out and know how to use them online. So, practise over and over again until you can give a polished, professional performance. Be friendly, be smiley, be encouraging. But most of all know your stuff. There’s no ‘wriggle room’ online!
- Use multiple screens
If you can, it’s really helpful to have more than one monitor screen. We prefer to have multiple screens – one for your resources and another to view your participants, and perhaps a third (we use a tablet) to display any pre-work your participants have submitted in advance.
- Ask for feedback
We ask that our participants remain on mute unless asked to speak. That prevents the distraction of noisy backgrounds, but it also means there’s no banter, and you don’t get the usual feedback from the ‘buzz’ in the training room. This can leave the trainer feeling as if they are working in a vacuum, without knowing how they are being received. It feels strange when you first start delivering virtually.
To find out what your participants are thinking, you must ask them. The ‘Chat’ function is great for this and of course you must ask for formal feedback when you finish. Encouraging your participants to verbalise their feedback is important too, and you should ensure they always feel comfortable raising questions throughout your virtual sessions.
Scott Bradbury delivers the virtual workshops ‘Developing an Eye for Accuracy’ and ‘Accurate Written Communication’ and provides a wide range of video-based learning resources through its online WATCH & GO video library.
If you’d like some advice, or just an informal chat, about the challenges of transitioning from face-to-face to virtual workshops, please call 01638 723590 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a virtual meeting. We can provide video resources and interactive activities to enhance your own programmes.
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