Oct 8, 2013

How can you get the best payoff from virtual instructor-led training?

How can you keep the learners from tuning out? How can you help them use the skills they learned when they return to their jobs?

Here are six (6) keys for getting maximum productivity from any virtual training program.

1. Join the BYOD Revolution

The single most important decision you’ll make is whether or not to let the learners use their personal devices to access the training. We strongly recommend that you allow this.

With a pro-Bring Your Own Device policy, the learners will be more enthusiastic about the training and you won’t have to teach them to use technology that’s unfamiliar.

You also lower the cost of the training because you won’t have to provide computers pre-loaded with software. Students will download what they need right onto their devices, virtually. They’ll access external materials, including supplemental study guides, workbooks and textbooks quickly and easily. Think about adding a QR code to handouts to make them personal device-friendly.

2. Keep it small

It’s harder to assure that every learner is engaged in a virtual classroom than it is in a physical one.

That’s because you don’t have the visual clues that would ordinarily be available to tell you if someone doesn’t understand or is tuning out or is multitasking. That means you have to monitor what everyone’s doing more closely than you would in a traditional classroom. It also means you have to interact more frequently with each individual learner.

You can’t do all this if the class is too large. We limit most of our training classes to 10 participants. Be certain that your class size isn’t so large that you can’t give each learner the attention needed.

You won’t save money by having a too-big class. You’ll only be guaranteeing the participants’ inattention.

3. Keep it short

Attention spans are shorter than they used to be. This is particularly true with younger employees.

Take this into account when planning how long a training session should last. The time span that’s becoming standard for a typical marketing webinar or announcement is 35 to 40 minutes of interaction-rich instruction, and about 15 minutes for questions and answers.

Don’t consider this a hard-and-fast rule, however, because the ideal time should be determined by the complexity of the program’s content, the makeup of the audience, and whether the instruction is for a just-in-time challenge or simply to transmit useful knowledge.

The session should be long enough to be worth the trouble of scheduling and logging on, or a minimum of 20 minutes, but not so long that the learners might feel it’s unbearable, which can be anything longer than 90 minutes. Keep each unit of the program short, perhaps between three and five minutes.

4. Keep it sweet

Virtual training is like show business. You have to be careful not to lose your audience. That means you have to keep them engaged. There are many ways to do this.

One way is by having more visuals than you would in a live, face-to-face training. If there isn’t something new for the learners to look at they’ll get distracted.

Don’t let the same screen appear for more than two minutes. Our programs average 38 slides. You can also use short embedded videos, images and audio clips. (While voice-over audio can help retain the learners’ attention, background music can distract them.)

Another way is to build in interactivity every two to three minutes. Keep peppering the learners with questions. They’ll stay alert to be sure they won’t have to answer with silence. Ask them how what you’re teaching relates to their work so you’re sure they don’t see the content as something that’s only theoretical.

You can also build in quizzes but don’t make them too long or you might make the lesson more about the quiz than the information you’re trying to convey. Use true-or-false or multiple-choice questions because open-ended questions might slow the lesson down.

Be sure all the participants understand how to give you feedback — via chat, raising a hand or using the phone when called on, for example. Call on people who you haven’t heard from for a while.

You can make the lesson interesting by creating a story on which the learning is pegged. Have a hero — and a villain. You improve retention of the learning with a story that evokes an emotional response. Humor also can help you hold your audience — but don’t use it unless you can really use it well.

Games also can help keep the learners engaged. Some alternate reality games are too complex but you can design simple ones that use the company’s intranet, email, chat and inter-office mail. You can use annotation tools to help focus the learners’ attention — highlighting, text tools, circling or arrows that point out critical information or steps in a process you’re teaching.

You should speak one notch louder than in a physical classroom. If you use a co-instructor, you’re less likely to become fatigued — and you’ll help keep everyone’s attention because the audience will re-engage when they hear a new person speaking.

5. Are instructors like the shoemaker’s children?

Sad to say, almost 90 percent of classroom instructors who are asked to conduct virtual training haven’t been given any training or coaching beyond a short demonstration of the platform. They need specialized training because a virtual instructor must have skills that classroom-only instructors may lack.

As noted above, the virtual instructor has to monitor the learners much more closely and engage them much more actively than a classroom instructor does. The virtual instructor also needs to help technophobes overcome their insecurity about learning virtually.

Though the instructor may not be able to deal with every technical glitch that can crop up, some knowledge of how to deal with common glitches – such as connectivity problems, learners’ inability to arrange Windows or navigate the web conference software – will be needed.

Instructors who aren’t fully confident about the technology should practice extensively at delivering the training. It’s best to have someone take the training during rehearsal on a separate network to see if there’s a problem with time lag or connectivity.

6. Now what?

The training’s over. You want the learners to apply their new skills on the job. Help them do this by providing all the reinforcement techniques that you use for traditional class training — and additional ones that virtual training makes possible.

The old standbys for traditional include: Showing the learners’ managers how to encourage use of the skills. Rewarding the learners’ successful application of the new skills — publicly, whenever it’s appropriate. Using workshops or individual meetings in which the learners explain how the new skills have affected their on-the-job experiences.

For virtual training, supplement the traditional reinforcement techniques by giving students the ability to access their materials anywhere there’s an Internet connection. Use the cloud, multimedia and social media to help the learners share information and collaborate to create innovations.

Reinforcing in this way will help you transform training from being an event into becoming a significant and cost-effective driver of ongoing performance improvement.