While the pandemic spurred many companies to go online with their training, there are still many that have stayed with in-person and instructor-led training (ILT). For those who are looking to make the switch to online, this blog will provide recommendations and tips on how to prepare for the transition with a 3 phased approach:
Phase 1 -Move your existing training to virtual delivery
Our first recommendation is to use your existing instructor-led training program and move it to a virtual format. This is the easiest way to get a quick win without having to overhaul your entire program and is a great interim step while you build out a more robust digital strategy. Here are some tips on what you should consider when taking your existing training virtual.
Choosing a virtual training platform
This is always the first question I get from organizations looking to make the switch to virtual instructor-led training. There are so many options that exist in this space today, and most of them are easy to use and reliable.
The one thing that I find most organizations overlook is that making the right choice for a virtual training platform is not the same as making the right choice for a virtual meeting or webinar tool, although there are some that do both well. I have used over 10 tools for virtual instructor-led training myself, and the features that I value the most are:
- Interactivity – The ability to interact with your participants with your technology makes for a more professional polished experience. Some of the features to look for are polling & quizzes, chat, breakout rooms, and a whiteboard that all participants can use.
- Ability to perform advanced setup – Great instructors spend time preparing for their sessions to ensure participants have a great learning experience, it is no different when the training is virtual. Tools that allow you to load your slides & handouts, create polls & quizzes, and reuse your setup save a lot of time and create a more professional experience.
- Video – The best way to keep your audience engaged is to request that everyone joins using their video, not just audio. This creates an experience that is much closer to an in-person session and allows you to connect better with your participants.
- Localization – If your sessions will include international participants make sure you choose a platform that has this feature. We look for platforms that have international call-in numbers in case participants don’t have broad enough bandwidth to support the audio and video of sessions.
- Recording – Recording your sessions allow you to share it with participants after so they can review it again, or to reuse it for others to benefit from.
Many of the options in this space also provide free short-term trials, so you could try a few out and find the one that has the features and functionality that will work best for your program. Also, it’s a good idea to check the virtual meeting platform that your organization already has as it might be suitable, many of them have features that can be enabled that you may be unaware of, so do some homework before looking outside your existing tech stack.
Tips & tricks for using your existing content
The whole purpose of phase 1 is to preform a quick switch of your current program to a virtual delivery model, so I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time on adjusting your content until you are ready to build out new modalities or self-directed courses. That said, you should look at your current content to determine if there are any elements that will not work virtually.
- Group work may be difficult to translate to a virtual experience. You may be able to use breakout rooms that are included with some platforms, or conduct the same activity but with the whole group.
- Hands-on labs can be another difficult one to navigate. I’ve overcome this one in the past by having the students take turns instructing me on my click path while I share my screen, or having them use their own instance of an application.
- For the length of course and when to take breaks, I would recommend providing shorter sessions and more frequent shorter breaks. Typically, training content that is intended to be delivered in-person is structured to fill an entire workday with logical spots for breaks and lunch; virtual sessions work better when they are 4 hours or less, with a 5 minute break every hour, with one longer 10 – 15 minute break around the halfway point.
Tips & tricks for instructors
Most effective in-person instructors can make equally excellent virtual instructors, but it is important that they are given time and training to become proficient at it. It is critical for instructors become very comfortable using the virtual training platform you have selected.
Instructors conducting virtual training must be tech savvy as they will inevitably need to spend time trouble shooting with participants that have issues connecting. You can mitigate these risks by ensuring instructors have time to learn and practice with the technology, have conducted test sessions, and know where to find support for the tool if necessary.
Once they are comfortable with the technology, the instructors will have to adjust their training style for this format to provide a great experience for participants. This includes doing the following when conducting virtual sessions:
- Request that attendees join early. This way if you have to help anyone get connected you aren’t eating into your session time.
- Set the expectations right away. This provides the rules of engagement for everyone and should include a tour of the functionality of the virtual training platform. For example, I typically request that everyone mute their microphones when they are not talking to cut down on background noise.
- Build in interaction often. Keeping your participants engaged is that much more difficult when conducting remote sessions. During the expectation setting I recommend letting them know that you will be calling on them to participate so they are not surprised when you call on them out of the blue. A trick I use is to write down or print off the attendee list and use check marks each time a participant asks a question or provides an answer, when I notice that a participant’s check-marks are getting low, I ask them an open-ended question to re-engage them.
- Follow-up survey. Since you might be new to virtual training it is more important than ever to request feedback from participants. Review feedback as soon as it is received and look for opportunities to improve your virtual sessions.
Phase 2 – Transforming your content
After you have made the switch to virtual learning, it is time to do a deep dive look at your content to transition it to digital learning (both Virtual Instructor-led (VILT) and Self-directed (eLearning)).
Having in-person training sessions help to prevent the audience from becoming distracted by outside influences like email, the goal when making the conversion to a digital format is to convey the same information to your audience and keep them engaged. Think about the following:
Transition content to digital – Examine the content and find ways to break it into chunks. Instructions text can be converted into text with a lot of graphical interest with a talk track on top. Demonstrations can be the same, just recorded or completed live through screen sharing (in the case of VILT) and there are several technologies that are easy to use to do this. Self-paced exercises can be re-used, but add survey questions to test understanding
Transition interactions to digital – Consider what content and delivery technologies work well to facilitate exercises and activities in a digital format. Determine if there are effective digital techniques that can be implemented to further engage learners. For example, you can still do a “live demonstration / exercise” by taking the same content and recording you doing it. The learner will be engaged watching you show them what they need to do.
Another example, when you are teaching through VILT, use technology that exists in the live meeting platforms, like polling questions or break out rooms, to add variety and help you to encourage discussion and group work to learn.
Apply the same instructional design methodology – All learning happens the same way, regardless of how its delivered (in-person or self-paced). You need the following elements: instruction and definition, show me how, let me try on my own, questions and answer to reinforce the learning. So, when transitioning to digital, make sure you have these same elements even if you do them in a different way, and you’ll have awesome training!
You may think the transformation to digital means that you remove the need for instructors, but this is certainly not the case. You will want to analyze your content to determine how to best present it to your audience. Think of the following:
Keep the content and delivery techniques that are successful in your current program. Classroom activities can be transformed into a wide range of digital inter-activities as discussed above.
Identify if you can convert all in-person content, or if you need to consider a blended approach (blended means a combination of remote live instruction or “ask me anything sessions” plus digital self-directed training).
Certain pieces of content may be best delivered by an instructor, in which case you would deliver via virtual instructor-led training. You also have the option to create your learning content in a format that would allow for both self-paced and instructor-led delivery. Especially when some of the learning content is repetitive (often a good candidate to make self-paced) and then add discussion about it after to ensure everyone has completed it.
Phase 3 – Marketing your digital learning program
As you work through phase 2 of this process and transform your content to a digital format, begin planning how you will drive awareness of it. You want to make sure that you are ready to launch your new program as soon as it is completed. I recommend starting to plan the launch well before your content transformation is complete, this way you will have any necessary marketing materials in place and enough time to run some awareness campaigns before you launch.
There are some key differences when bringing a digital learning program to market, either virtual instructor-led, self-paced, or webinar style workshops, compared to the traditional instructor-led or in person. If you miss these, your program may not work smoothly.
While you may already have a pricing model that you are using today for your training, it is a perfect time to review if that model is the right fit going forward in a digital version. Training programs typically fall into one of three models:
Cost center model – no cost for training, so the company funds the development, maintenance, and delivery on behalf of the learners.
Cost recovery model – training is priced to recover the costs for development, maintenance, and delivery. In this case the department breaks even.
Profit center model – training is priced to make a profit. The department makes money for the organization above what it costs to run the department.
When considering a digital learning strategy, you will want to consider cost recovery and profit center models. This is because digital learning requires different (and often more) technology, and if you decide to get fancy with a learning management system, there is also the admin overhead of managing the technology (not just the cost of the subject matter expert or trainer to travel to a location to deliver the training based on what they know in their heads).
A cost center model will always necessitate keeping costs low, and therefore can lack investing in the right technology and people to create and maintain a high quality and modern training program.
If you don’t charge for your training today, it’s OK, you can still transition to a digital program with a low cost model in place and start by running virtual instructor-led sessions or simple recorded sessions for self-paced (see past blogs for tips and tricks!), but then as you think about enhancing your program to include self-paced courses that may be hosted in a learning management system you will want to carefully understand the ongoing costs of running this type of digital program and think about what to charge for it.
If your organization has traditionally had an event-based instructor-led training program it was likely being sold or delivered via one-time transactions at or around the time customers purchased your solution or services.
Going digital better facilitates continuous learning (especially when learners have the flexibility to do the learning anywhere / anytime) which is proven to drive higher adoption of your solution. Users continue to deepen their knowledge of your solution, onboard any new users they may add, re-skill, and access learning whenever and wherever they need it.
If you charge for your learning program, you may want to take advantage of “going digital” and create a subscription pricing model. If your solution is already being sold using a SAAS model this can translate into a really good fit. Some additional items you should think about are:
Will you package your program by role? Or will they get all the content? Programs with a variety of users may require different content and packaging depending on the type of user. Consider a user that has very limited tasks in the product, it may not make sense to provide them with the entire learning path when all they need is a small subset.
Who will position your program? Will your department require business development personnel to speak to and sell to your customers? Or will your existing sales team take on this responsibility? With either option, they need to be well versed speaking about the value of learning and the various options.
Is it easy to understand what you are offering? Keep it as simple as possible. When you consider how you will package and present your training options, I really recommend making them simple to understand. You want your customers, internal employees, and partners to easily understand your offerings.
Critical to the success of your new program is promoting it well both internally and externally. You can make the best program ever created; however, if no one knows about it, it will not get used. If you can, leverage your marketing team’s expertise for your launch; they can help you with planning, branding, and messaging. They are experts at these types of tasks. I had great collaborations with marketing while launching learning programs in the past and learned so much from working with them.
Promote internally – I see time and again organizations underestimate the importance of communicating changes to major programs inside the organization, which is why I chose to address it first. Do not let this important task be forgotten in your program launch. The benefits of promoting your new digital learning program internally:
- Customer and Partner-facing employees can speak to customers at a high level about the program and point them to where they can get additional information.
- Internal managers leverage the learning available for new hires as they join their team.
- Employees who want to brush up on the latest or acquire additional in-depth knowledge on your company’s solution know how to obtain it.
- You create advocates for your program when internal employees take the learning you create and have a great experience.
Promote externally – Your marketing team will be particularly helpful promoting your new program to external stakeholders. They are familiar with your organization’s company vision and brand promise and have existing customer marketing channels that you can leverage. I recommend working with your marketing team to create a launch plan that includes:
- Appropriate copy: Getting your message across concisely is critical when promoting externally. Ensure your copy includes (1) what the program is – a concise description of the offering; (2) the value to the learner – what is in it for them; and (3) a call to action – where to go for more information
- Web presence: If you are converting an existing program you likely already have an area on your company’s website, you should ensure that it is updated to reflect the new program for your launch.
- Company branding: Ensure that anything you are creating that is external facing is branded to your marketing standards. If you can, have someone from your marketing department review or brand these materials for you.
Ask for Help
I was fortunate to have the support of some fantastic folks with backgrounds in marketing who helped me launch the programs my teams built, and I learned so much from them along the way. Do not be shy to ask for help from those that have the experience necessary for your learning program to gain wide adoption.
The tips and tricks I shared in this blog series come from launching many programs during my career and are just the tip of the iceberg of what to think about to get started. Need assistance going digital? We bring over 100 years of combined knowledge, hands-on experience, and best practices in the learning industry, driving adoption and customer success strategies that can help you grow and scale your organization.