Removing barriers to learning is a big training design and administration challenge
We can all agree that online training sessions are efficient. No need for a training room, no need to travel to a venue, no need to spend on refreshments and meals. But are they effective? They can be if the right conditions are present. In this article, I share five tried and tested tips based on over a hundred online sessions I’ve conducted since the start of the pandemic.
1. Ask participants ahead of time to find a distraction-free area. An attendee’s workstation, if located near other workstations, is a bad place to participate in online learning. It only takes a chatty seatmate or people dropping by unannounced to distract the learner, and, for that matter, the facilitator (especially if the camera is on). Taking the online session at home is only good if the participant is seated in a quiet corner and the learner is equipped with noise-canceling headsets or apps.
2. Encourage learner participation through relevant interactive activities. One of the biggest challenges in online learning is how to prevent the learners from tuning out. People often mistake hearing for listening. If the resource person resorts to lecturing for more than 10 minutes, learners would think that all they have to do is listen. There are a lot of great education technology apps out there. I find the Google Jamboard and the Padlet very useful for enabling my participants to contribute to a discussion. I also use a lot of annotation, polls, and breakout room activities in Zoom. I have to warn you though against designing interactive activities for the sake of making the course interactive. Given the limited amount of time you can run an online training (i.e., 2 to 4 hours tops), every minute counts. I always say that a good training session is a well-designed one. Be sure that the activities you incorporate advance your learning objectives.
3. Mind the learners’ tools. When designing an online training, always consider that some of your learners will be using computers, while some will be using phones. In addition, it is safe to assume that they will have varying internet bandwidth. So, yeah, technology can get in the way of proper online training. It is important to invest in the needed technologies so that employees can fully appreciate and benefit what you roll out. Holding online training for employees who can barely hear the facilitator much less access the apps is a waste of time. If you can’t have the right technologies for the participants, you will have to dial down what you expect your participants to use for the training.
4. Keep the camera on. Of course, it goes without saying that you will need enough bandwidth for this, but there is a world of difference between running the training with the camera on compared to keeping it off. Seeing the faces and reactions of the people in the virtual classroom is important. It allows you to “read the room” through the various non-verbals of your participants. You know the drill: nodding and smiling faces mean you have engaged learners; blank stares mean you better think of something creative fast or you lose your audience. Make no mistake about it. With the video off, you and your participants might as well be listening to a radio program or watching a talking head.
5. Incorporate asynchronous learning activities to reinforce the key takeaways. One thing that often goes bad during online training is the playing of videos. If the learners have a slow internet connection, they are most likely not going to appreciate what you worked hard to curate. It helps to send the videos before or after the training with an accompanying learning activity. This will compel your learners to watch the video and process the information. In this regard, when I design online training, I always incorporate learning assignments or learning action plans so my learners can reflect on the learning content in the context of their work.
Without a doubt, migrating from face-to-face to online training takes more than just presenting to an online audience using Zoom and similar conferencing apps. If you are a learning and development manager, I recommend that you channel the savings you make from not spending on food and training venues to designing online courses which are mindful of each of your learners’ contexts and circumstances and investing in the right education technologies.
About the Writer
Edwin is the founder and president of ExeQserve, Corporation, an HROD Solutions Company. He is also the company’s head consultant for Organization Development and Human Resource Development. Ed developed his skills in training, recruitment, human resource management, organization development, and management consulting through twenty years of collective experience in the retail, financial, BPO, and HR consulting business. He is the PSTD’s Publication Committee Head.