More than six months into the pandemic, most of us have become accustomed to virtual training, meetings, and interactions with our managers, coworkers, and clients.
Though we do more of them, do we ever actually get better at them?
Virtual training, of course, has now become the norm for most organizations. While virtual training is nothing new—according to a 2019 Brandon Hall study, 77 percent of companies already have eLearning modules in place—how can organizations make it more effective?
To find out more about how virtual training is really going across the industry and how it can be improved, we (virtually) sat down with two experts to get the lay of the land.
Kassy LaBorie, a virtual classroom master trainer, author, and speaker, previously served as the Director of Virtual Training for Dale Carnegie Training. Sardek Love, President and Founder of Infinity Consulting and Training Solutions, is an international keynote speaker, author, leadership expert, master trainer, master performance consultant, and speaker coach.
Virtual Training Fatigue
So, first things first, how is L&D handling the unexpected and speedy shift to virtual training?
“When remote work and virtual learning became the only way learning leaders and trainers could continue to connect with people, many were forced to dust off those Zoom, WebEx, and other logins and figure out how to create meaningful and thoughtful learning experiences for participants,” explains LaBorie.
“Once we got past the technology confusion, we then became fatigued by the constant requirement to stare into a webcam for hours on end.”
There certainly needs to be a way to address this confusion and fatigue, so that talent developers can deliver much-needed training to employees virtually and at scale.
Is it in the design?
Unfortunately, “most training is not designed to deliver results,” reports Love.
Instructional design is all about theory. “But when people are in pain, they don’t have time to worry about pedagogy,” he explains, “scrap all that and tell me what I need to know to get to the finish line.”
For online training, there exist both live instructor-led and asynchronous experiences. “Most professionals don’t know the difference,” warns Love. “The industry is very transient, and most people haven’t been trained in instructional design.”
Love goes on to explain that most instructional designers are limited by the tools they have. Such tools or platforms are not designed for an engaging learning experience.
“Skype, for example, is not a tool for engagement,” he explains.
To design effective courses, instructional designers need to create a whole new set of habits and routines.
Love goes on to advise organizations that they must adapt quickly or suffer the consequences. Fortunately and unfortunately, the pandemic has accelerated plans to take all training online and pivot to a virtual training environment for everyone across the organization.
Love points to a grocery retailer that was able to implement a new curbside pick up process in just 2 days. An operational change of this nature would have normally taken 18 months.
He calls this performance acceleration, and says “the days of taking forever to do things are gone. Those who can speed things up will have a significant competitive advantage.”
To ease the transition, many companies will combine both live and on-demand, for a blended approach to training.
…or in the engagement?
In order to absorb the content properly, learners need to connect with it somehow. It’s a virtuous cycle: we do well at things we enjoy, and we enjoy things at which we excel. It stands to reason that learners will do well at something that they enjoy, and if they find themselves enjoying it, they will do well at it.
The word for this goal is that ever-elusive learner engagement. However, talent developers continue to struggle with engagement and getting learners excited—and even interested—in virtual learning experiences.
According to LinkedIn Learning’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, L&D pros spend only 9% of their time championing learning programs to executives. Without executive buy-in, it’s difficult to expect managers to convince or encourage employees to participate actively in training.
“Spend more time communicating with executives, and get them to champion employee learning,” advises the authors of the report.
However, getting employees excited about starting a training or learning experience is one thing, but keeping them interested as they go along is something else.
“For the last two decades I have been using the following mantra as my guideline for creating quality learning experiences: ‘What did I just say or do that I could have let the participants say and do?'” offers LaBorie.
Her biggest piece of advice to keep learners engaged is to stop and ask questions and call on learners to always include them in the discussions.
LaBorie explains: “You are lecturing, sharing your screen, and reading your slides, wondering why no one is stopping you to ask questions. You are trying to get through all the content in an hour and are surprised no one has offered any comments. The power is in your hands to make a change! Choose to make the learning about your participants, rather than placing all the responsibility on yourself to explain and do everything.”
She advises talent developers to have their subject matter experts or training facilitators open a session with a question, request that participants chat to respond, and then call on each to unmute and share more about what they typed in the chat.
Love agrees that asking open-ended questions is the right approach in a virtual training environment.
Another way to get learners more involved is to show a list of key points, let participants read them, and then have them annotate their names next to the points they want to discuss further. The facilitator can then request that participants unmute in order to share.
As for advice for an organization pivoting to virtual learning? Love calls upon organizations to look inward and have them ask local managers, “What is the one thing that will improve performance as quickly and easily as possible?”
Further, how long does it take learners, after completing the training, to achieve the level of performance proficiency that her manager expects?
He points out that 9 out of 10 training professionals cannot answer the question. As such, imagining the goal of the training as an answer to this simple question goes a long way in designing and implementing a constructive virtual learning experience.
“Managers expect results,” Love admits. “It’s not unrealistic.”
To achieve better results from virtual training, designers and instructors need to consider the experience from both ends. Instructional design principles shouldn’t be forfeited in the name of speed, and virtual environments does not mean forfeiting the quest for learner engagement, either.
For more practical tips on creating engaging and performance-driving virtual learning experiences, check out this recent on-demand webinar recording with Kassy LaBorie:
5 Keys for Effective Virtual Classroom Training
For easy-to-implement techniques for overcoming the biggest challenges when designing and facilitating virtual training programs, check out Sardek Love’s Ask a Master Facilitator video series: