The world has changed. We are all feeling the effects of the work from home environment. Employees who never thought they would attend a Zoom call or work virtually are now forced to adapt and attempt to manage the learning curve of remote working tools. With every workday, employees face new challenges that were not the norm before COVID-19. This is especially prevalent in virtual corporate trainings.
While virtual corporate training was certainly a practice before COVID-19, most corporate trainings were built for and conducted in classrooms unless there was a monetary or space constraint. Now, instead of being able to read the audience for nods of agreement or keep watch for a confused expression, a trainer is behind a screen hoping that someone will speak up if they need help. Likewise, an attendee is playing the balancing act of remaining focused on training with distractions like emails, phone calls, or a dog that needs to go outside.
The goal in a corporate training, regardless of the method of delivery, is not to cope with the new environment, but to continue to deliver exceptional and well-drafted content for attendees. There are three components to a successful corporate training: the content, the audience, and the trainer. In this article, we will discuss the three major challenges facing virtual trainings and our best practices for how to overcome them.
Challenge #1: Redesigning Dull Content for E-learning
During in-person training sessions, content can be used as a job aid to engage with the audience, teach the material, and establish a schedule. The content is then supplanted with interaction between trainer and participants when everyone is in the same room. During virtual corporate trainings, that interaction is more difficult and the content itself becomes the main medium to reach participants.
Design Engaging Content
Content must be designed so people want to engage with it. First, goals must be aligned and the value proposition needs to be clear. Participants need to understand what’s in it for them, why this training is important, and why they should stay engaged. Introducing new items, such as processes or procedures will need a clear case for change to provide context and bridge any gaps of understanding. Some examples of this may be to make their job easier, help the company succeed, or level-setting everyone’s ability with a certain process or software. This needs to be stated clearly and often, especially for longer training programs. Earning participation early on with engaging content will help facilitate virtual corporate trainings.
Gamification can also be used when rethinking content. This is used in many industries and can be a great tool for successful virtual trainings. Gamification can include short question and answer sessions, testing the speed of completing a new process, prizes, and many other activities. Creating friendly competition will encourage most people to increase their performance and encourage increased participation. It can also be a great way to check for competency by identifying people who might need more attention or concepts that need to be revisited.
There are many ways to include gamification in trainings. This can be simply adding extra slides to a PowerPoint or using software or websites to automate the process. There are many options for both free and premium products that can be utilized and easily scaled for any training. Take a break in the training session to include these gamification tactics by asking a few preset questions about the topics included in the session. See who can answer the fastest through the chat or automated system, keep track of the score, and have a small prize at the end of the session for the winner. Used correctly, it can be a great way to engage with your audience and add a little more fun into the training.
Invest the Effort
Redeveloping existing training content will make a big impact on the success of virtual training, but it’s an investment. The schedule will need to allow for adequate time to create engaging content. Putting in the right time, effort, and creativity will pay off by providing great virtual corporate training experiences where people will be excited to participate. This can drive adoption, advocacy, and the overall success of the training program.
Challenge #2: Winning Attention, Removing Distractions and Building Engagement
It’s important to maintain participants focus throughout a virtual training. Following these rules will help you grab their attention early and maintain it through intentional disruption.
Rule #1 – Get participants to place a down payment of their attention.
With decreased accountability behind a screen, you must make participants accountable to themselves. They need to internally agree to invest their attention in your training because they know it will make their job better. To do this, you need to align your goals with the audience’s goals and level-set often so they don’t forget.
Gain engagement early. Whether they know it or not, people take pride in what they contribute to. So get your audience to contribute early and take part in guiding the discussion of the training. You can do this by asking them thoughtful questions like “what they want to learn the most today” or “what their biggest concerns are.” Not only will this help you know where to focus your training, but the audience will begin to take ownership over it and give you their attention during those sections. If the audience is too big for an open forum, a simple poll may work as the idea is to get them involved.
Rule #2 – Intentionally disrupt.
Disruptions will happen in any training, but they happen much more when training virtually. Whether it’s a technical glitch, someone’s child who is staying home from school needs to ask a question, or their Uber Eats driver is knocking at the door, many things are vying for your audience’s attention right now. Plan for it and be empathetic toward it. How? By intentionally disrupting the training before the unintentional disruptions take over.
Plan to start a training two to five minutes after the scheduled start time. We have all been in the situation where our computer decides to update when we try to log in for a meeting.
Set time for breaks. This may sound counter-productive at times, but the brain is a muscle like any other and needs a rest period during a workout. To maximize performance, you must train smarter and not harder. A good rule of thumb is having a 10-minute break scheduled within every 60 to 90 minutes of training.
Clearly communicate when the breaks will be. Otherwise, people may take the two minutes needed to answer an email during the climax of your presentation because they did not know a break was ahead in the agenda.
Challenge #3: Preparing to Virtually Read Non-verbal Cues and Gain the Audience’s Confidence
In preparation for virtual training, it is critical to establish confidence and learn to read non-verbal cues. Prior to COVID-19, instructors had the luxury of seeing the audience’s faces, notice non-verbal cues, and gauge their level of engagement in real-time.
Create an Open Environment
Without seeing the audience, it is a challenge for the instructor to know if the lack of participation by a learner stems from the learner’s personality, level of focus for observation, or distraction from the training all together. As a result, it is important for the instructor to create an environment of discussion and questions. By doing so, the instructor will have a better gauge on the knowledge base of the audience based on the type of questions asked and tone of voice.
Show Your Confidence
Gaining the confidence of your audience is key in building a bond that ensures effective knowledge transfer. As previously mentioned, identifying your audience and their confidence with the content is essential to developing and delivering a successful virtual training. In virtual training, instructors need to go the extra mile to connect with learners and make them feel comfortable with establishing themselves with the material. In order to do so, developing a well-outlined script and agenda is critical to successfully delivering the training content. This script should include talking points that align with content, key notes, and built in breaks while capturing and maintaining the audience engagement. Developing a script allows the trainer to feel confident, prepared, and equipped for a virtual training.
Try the Teach-Back Method
The teach-back method, also known as the “show-me” method, is a communication confirmation method originated by healthcare providers to confirm patient understanding in a non-shaming way. If a patient understands, they are able to “teach back” the information accurately. Similarly, this teach-back methodology should be applied during virtual corporate training ramp up. Ideally, instructors will work with the existing trainers and subject matter experts (SMEs) as the audience of your teach-backs to help: anticipate tough questions, poke holes in the training script, provide feedback on the flow and structure of the content layout, and receive tips and tricks from an experienced trainer. In order to be best prepared for a virtual training, a teach-back should include: a realistic role play, prepared agenda/script, built in breaks, engagement tactics, strong Wi-Fi connection, and tested sound equipment.
As you might have identified, the three challenges discussed revolve around audience engagement. And rightfully so, because engagement in any educational system is the catalyst to the learning experience. No one knows when business will return to pre-COVID-19 normal, and for now, corporate training will continue to be conducted virtually. However, we can still build and deliver great content that engages and educates our audiences—no matter where they are in the world.
If you are interested in learning more about how we can help you design and facilitate virtual training, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.