5 Ways to Help Your Company Excel at Virtual Training

Due to COVID-19, Learning professionals are under a lot of push-and-pull pressure to expedite converting planned in-person training into digital experiences—and quickly.

COVID-19 has changed the learning dynamic of companies all over the world and challenged companies in a way many haven’t experienced before. Particularly in the learning and development space, they are being pushed to get really good (really fast) at something I’ve seen avoided for years. Surprisingly, virtual training has been around since the invention of Webex (pre-Cisco acquisition) in 1996! In 1996…Michael Jordan was still on the Bulls. President Clinton was starting his second term. And I thought “jelly” sandals were the best thing since sliced bread. What has changed since then is organizations’ commitment to invest in more tools and new approaches to achieve higher user engagement in a virtual world.

As Learning professionals, we are under a lot of push-and-pull pressure to expedite converting planned in-person training into digital experiences—and quickly. Did your team or company make the scalable investments in virtual learning before finding yourself here? It’s OK if they didn’t, but the bad news is that you may not have the right skill sets (hello, graphic designers) or framework for your team to begin making these changes now. The good news, however, is we all have the unprecedented opportunity (and more likely, the budget approval, praise be!) to heavily invest in the virtual space now. And frankly, that’s all that matters!

So what does this mean? If you’re a Learning professional like me, you’ve already been asked how to conduct virtual training, how to use interactive tools, and the general “where do I start?” questions. Whether you are an instructional designer helping others develop their virtual training or a trainer looking to shift your in-person training, here are five things to think about when speaking with or helping your company adapt to virtual training:

1. Commit to virtual training 100 percent. There’s no half-steppin’ when it comes to long-term strategy shifts. Either you jump in 100 percent and put in the necessary effort to ensure it’s designed for effective consumption and behavioral change or don’t do it all. Seek out the best tips (eLearning heroes, Linkedin, etc.). Take them to heart. Don’t skimp on the details. I promise the best virtual training or Webinar you’ve ever been to was planned and structured to a “T.”

2. Understand that instructor-led training (ILT) is NOT 1:1 with virtual training. I’ve gotten this question a few times with very good intentions and reasons. You worked hard and spent numerous resources on designing an ILT course, and we would all love to “lift and drop” it into a virtual environment. Sadly, the answer is a big “NO”—you cannot just take an ILT agenda and outline (especially if it already included text-heavy slides) and make it “virtual.” Why not? There are many reasons, the main one for me personally is that in ILT, you can bounce energy off your participants live, which allows you to “energize” your learners or provide further clarity. These “in-the-moment” reads of your audience are harder to accomplish with virtual training (although not impossible). An ILT framework does not translate equally into a virtual learning framework—only do this if you believe in creating lasting memories of modern-day corporate learning torture for your teams.

3. Create a company-branded virtual instructor-led training (vILT) best practices document. Right now, there are instructional designers and learning program managers (maybe you) in your company who don’t have time to put in the effort up front to redesign their classroom, and you don’t have the time to consult with them (because if you’re like me, your plate is now overflowing. Hello, job security!). For scalability, consider making a standardized virtual training best practices document and posting it publicly for other teams to use. You can’t be everywhere, and they need help now.

4. Consider how your company culture meshes with virtual training standardization. Given these unprecedented times, virtual training is likely to be the norm for the foreseeable future. The shift to integrating an LMS and building teams of skilled designers was already occurring—the pandemic just forced the peak and all the ILT holdouts now must adapt. So we must remain empathetic, and understand it will take your teams some time to redesign classes, distribute best practices, recommend platforms, etc. Most importantly, there’s still work to be done after your virtual deliveries. How did the deliveries go? Did they merge well with your company’s culture? If they didn’t, how could they improve upon the deliveries to make it “fit” better? Being guided by adult learning principles is the goal, but being flexible enough to make sure the trainings are familiar to your learners culture-wise is equally important.

5. Assist guest speakers. Something that has come to my attention lately as being overlooked (I hadn’t thought of it either) is how to assist guest speakers in virtual trainings. Given all I’ve mentioned above, throwing a guest speaker into the mix who 1) has no part in the development of the course; or 2) doesn’t facilitate often means they will need your help with best practices. Consider making a one-pager of “Guest Speaker Tips.” Give them your top facilitator best practices—a crash course, if you will. You might even consider making a short engaging eLearning they can review whenever they want. Suggested topics to cover in a one-pager include:

  1. How do you suggest they deal with difficult learners?
  2. How can they use the Art and Power of Questioning?
  3. How do you suggest they smoothly transition between topics using segues?

What else would you add to get your company started?

Ramona T. Ayala is an adult learning enthusiast and instructional designer holding an M.A. in Digital Media Design for Learning from NYU with more than 10 years of experience. She specializes in program management, employee onboarding, digital learning strategy, learning management system (LMS) implementation, and C-level collaboration ideation. She has built and redesigned key business corporate programs at companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Hearst Magazines, and AOL. Follow her on Medium at: https://medium.com/@ramonaayala and www.RamonaAyala.com.


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