“Virtually There” is a monthly column addressing the special challenges associated with designing, developing, and implementing virtual and blended learning.
If you’ve been working as a trainer (virtual or face-to-face) for any length of time, it’s probably difficult for you to attend a training class delivered by someone else. It’s easy to get distracted when the person in front of the room or leading the virtual class conducts the lesson in a way that you feel is less than optimal and not the way you would do it. Most of the time, we are able to recognize this distraction and acknowledge that our way isn’t always the right way, and then move on with the learning. Sometimes, though, especially when the issues are significant, it’s not so easy to ignore the mistakes and concentrate on the content.
My Recent Experience as a Learner
Recently, I, along with several members of our management team, attended a two-hour virtual classroom session intended to teach us how to use the new financial software we recently purchased to help run our business.
Prior to the session, we completed a detailed questionnaire that outlined how we would be using the software and which financial modules we required. We also received an e-mail with login information for the financial system we would be training on, asking us to test that login prior to the training to make sure it worked properly.
So far so good, right? A needs analysis was conducted ahead of time, we were able to verify that we had system access, and we were ready to learn.
Unfortunately, the training we received left us extremely unsatisfied. The training was designed for a one-size-fits-all approach, and the trainer broke all of the rules of engaging adult learners.
I was inspired to take lots of notes, though. But not notes about the content, unfortunately. I did take many notes about the training mistakes I observed and how I can make sure I don’t replicate those same practices.
Training Mistakes and Resolutions to Avoid Them
I observed many issues during this training interaction. Here are the four most important mistakes I observed, along with the resolution that will keep them from happening to me (or you):
Mistake #1: The initial interaction between the trainer and the learners set the tone for a less-than-optimal learning experience. We logged into WebEx 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start time and sat there waiting for the trainer, who logged in three minutes after the scheduled start time. She obviously was reading directly from a script, and went right into full-screen application sharing without setting expectations for the session or acknowledging that she’d been late. All phones initially were muted, even though there were only three participants in the session.
Resolution: We should always log in to our virtual classroom early—at a minimum 15 minutes prior to the beginning of a learning session. We should always set the stage for an interactive session. Also, while leader materials and scripts are great prep tools, the trainer should know the content well enough to make the conversation natural, especially at the beginning of the program.
Mistake #2: The trainer showed no appreciation of our experience or capability. She asked us to start by logging in to the financial system on our own computers. We let her know that we were already logged in and ready to go, but she insisted that we log out and log back in again according to her scripted instructions. I was sharing my desktop at the time, so I couldn’t pretend that I logged out and logged back in, and she would not allow the class to move forward until I did so. Also, I let her know that I use WebEx every day of my life, so she didn’t need to provide step-by-step instructions. But she had to, because her script told her to.
Resolution: Remember, adult learners want to be respected and have their experience acknowledged and incorporated into the learning environment. Once this trainer had verified that we had all logged in successfully, she should have congratulated us instead of punishing us for getting ahead of her. And, she should have taken advantage of the fact that we were fluent with the WebEx tool already and adjusted her content appropriately instead of just reading from the script.
Mistake #3: The trainer wasn’t prepared. Even though we had spent a good deal of time completing a questionnaire about our requirements and workflow, the trainer admitted she had not reviewed the information we submitted. Because of that, we spent quite a bit of our two hours reviewing system features we were never going to utilize, and that we didn’t even have access to.
Resolution: It’s so easy to lose your audience when you are delivering what’s perceived to be “nice to know” information. As trainers, we need to take the needs of our audiences into account. Often, that’s difficult to do because we don’t have any data providing information about what our learners need and how much experience they have. When that data is available, however, be sure to review it and adapt your agenda to focus on what the learners need to know. To accomplish this, we need to have the flexibility to go off script and potentially spend more time on the content critical to our learners.
Mistake #4: The trainer didn’t translate system-specific terminology into language that made sense. For example, the system used the word, “entitlement,” which I took to mean “something I was allowed to do.” That’s a common language definition. After the training was over, I found out that the word, “entitlement” actually meant “feature of the system.” The simple misunderstanding, uncovered when I called the help desk, resulted in me attending another mandatory training program before they would fully implement my system. The thought was that if I didn’t understand this basic concept, I clearly couldn’t use the system.
Resolution: Part of a training solution should include translation—when words aren’t familiar or are defined in an unconventional way, this should be recognized and then transmitted to the learner. A simple job aid with system-specific terms and definitions would have alleviated this problem and resulted in a less frustrated learner.
Final Resolution—Always Treat Learners with Respect
Unfortunately, my frustration with this training didn’t end when the two-hour session was over. This trainer only had expertise in one module of the system, and, when it turned out that what we actually needed was something different than what she had expertise in, she signed us up for four additional virtual training programs!
We won’t participate in those lessons because, at this point, we have very little faith that those programs would meet our needs and be of any value. Because this original trainer was unprepared and didn’t treat her adult learners with respect, she lost her audience completely and left us unwilling to participate in any additional training offered by the company.
The modern learner is not just mobile, global, and social. The modern learner is also savvy and expects to be treated with respect for their knowledge and experience. This new audience has little patience for “nice to know information,” unprepared trainers, or clumsy technology. And, as my recent experience showed, if those requirements aren’t met, the audience will go elsewhere.
In 2016, let’s all resolve to become part of the solution and support the needs of our modern learners and the modern learning culture.
A thought leader in the field of virtual classrooms, Jennifer Hofmann is the president of InSync Training, LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in the design and delivery of virtual and blended learning. Featured in Forbes Most Powerful Women issue (June 16, 2014) as a New England Women Business Leader, she has led InSync Training to the Inc. 5000 as the 10th Fastest Growing Education Company in the U.S. (2013). Hofmann is the author of The Synchronous Trainer’s Survival Guide: Facilitating Successful Live and Online Courses, Meetings and Events (Pfeiffer, 2003), Live and Online! Tips, Techniques, and Ready-To-Use Activities for the Virtual Classroom (Pfeiffer, 2004), and How To Design For The Live Online Classroom: Creating Great Interactive and Collaborative Training Using Web Conferencing (Brandon Hall, 2005). She has co-authored, with Dr. Nanette Miner, Tailored Learning: Designing the Blend That Fits (ASTD, 2009), a book focused on taking advantage of distributed technologies to create the best blended training solution possible. Her most current projects include a monthly Training magazine online series titled “Virtually There” and her newest book, Body Language in the Bandwidth – How Facilitators, Producers, Designers, and Learners Connect, Collaborate & Succeed in the Virtual Classroom (InSync Training, 2015). Follow Jennifer Hofmann at her blog, Body Language In The Bandwidth at http://blog.insynctraining.com or on Twitter @InSyncJennifer.