To Tech or Not to Tech: Keys to Deciding

Every decision we make as we design and facilitate training should deepen our learners’ connection with, understanding of, and application of the content and learning objectives.

I am a trainer, not a techie. Yet, in our increasingly virtual world, we trainers (and designers) must deal with a lot of technology. Some of us enjoy it more than others. Some of our learners like it and some don’t. As a fan of simplicity who fiercely guards my participants’ learning experience, I am keenly aware that technology will not improve poorly designed/delivered training and that it can leverage the learners’ experience and impact of great training.

As we design and deliver virtual training, let’s be picky about when and how we use technology. Here are four things to consider:

  1. Our Technology: These days there is so much at our fingertips! Whatever platform you use—whether you design training or deliver it with or without a producer—learn your platform well and get to know the embedded interaction tools such as the chat or Q&A function, polls, breakout groups or pods, whiteboards, cameras, and more. Also, consider external tools such as Kahoots, Miro, Padlet, Lucidspark, Flippity games, Trello, Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, and more. Use any tech tools that enhance your learners’ experience. Leave the rest alone, no matter how cool they are. And never forget how easy it is to create powerful engagement and results with low/no-tech organic interactions like having learners doodle, visualize, talk, give a thumbs up/down, stand up, participate in a group discussion, co-create as you draw on an old-school flip chart (on the big screen), and more. I am committed to using minimum viable technology and only that which truly supports the learning.
  2. Our Learners’ Technology: Generally, this is the hard stop. Training is only effective if learners can fully participate, so we must accommodate their tech limitations. Often, I am training professionals with lots of resources, so I can get sophisticated—if it benefits the learning. Sometimes I teach in very challenging environments. I recently conducted a series of eight weekly sessions with rural youth scattered across Iowa with weak WiFi signals Zooming in on iPhones (really!). In fact, two brothers were sharing one iPhone. These learners could not possibly have viewed a slide and commented in the chat and seen my face or made much use of breakout groups. So we went old school. A few slides, then me on the big screen sharing some ideas and leading a discussion with lots of skill-building practice (they were preparing for virtual job interviews), plus a verbal or chat share at the end. Always design with your learners’ capacity in mind. Often, less is more.
  3. Time: Some things take longer than others. As you design training, consider how much time it will take to use the tech tools and if the interaction and learning is worth it. You may choose to invest 15 minutes moving learners in and out of breakout groups for a 12-minute discussion or choose to simply give them 8 minutes to journal/process in silence before debriefing in the big group. Also, as you train, you may decide to make real-time changes because a conversation or segment goes longer than planned or a new, valuable issue comes up (some of us have more freedom than others to adjust as we go). I have replaced a more time-consuming poll with a simple thumbs up/down, cameras on/off or chat storm to keep the training moving or make more time for something important. If the learning is worth the time it takes to use the tech tools, do it. If not, go simpler.
  4. Who Needs to Know: Not everyone needs to know everything that our learners are processing during a training. Some tech tools are more public than others. If everyone needs to know, have learners share in the chat, on a Padlet (anonymous or not), or in a Google doc. If only the learner needs to know, have them simply think about it, picture it, make notes, or turn their cameras off to complete an exercise. If only you need to know, have them privately chat or text or e-mail you. Allow people to participate in ways that are less public and give learners permission to “pass” without negative repercussions. This supports those who are introverts or anyone who needs more time to think.

Deepen the Connection with the Content

Technology can make great training even better. However, using technology without strategic purpose is indulgent, and interaction for its own sake is a misuse of learning time. Every decision we make as we design and facilitate training should deepen our learners’ connection with, understanding of, and application of the content and learning objectives. In every case where technology bolsters that, let’s use it!

It is a pleasure to be part of your good work. Let me know how I can support you.