Why moving classroom training to virtual now is exactly the right time

In the face of unexpected and recent challenging health events our clients are suddenly asking us to adapt previously booked classroom sessions into virtual sessions. In the first of two articles we’ll describe today how to fulfil these sudden requests and get your learning into the virtual space and happening quickly and efficiently.

A sudden switch to the virtual space under pressurized circumstances

The underlying design principle that makes virtual learning effective is to break learning into a series of small pieces, spread them out over time and integrate learning with application on the job. In this article, however, we’re describing how to cope with the critical situation of changing full-day classroom training sessions, scheduled to happen very soon, into remote learning. Picture this, the learners have completed their pre-work, the texts are sitting in an unopened box at the venue, the trainers are ready, and management says the show must go on. However, they don’t want anyone to travel to the venue and so they insist that everything be delivered remotely. This is what we did to make this request happen at short notice*.

The four main design considerations to make the switch to virtual

Before we started sweating Adobe Connect compatibility or checking how many break out rooms were possible on Zoom, we took a breath and thought about these four simple things.

  1. Learning modules: We didn’t plan an entire day of virtual training in one step. We designed short 60-90 minute modules so that if we had to do it all in one day, we could put them all back-to-back to fill the schedule.
  2. Knowledge input: We repurposed the new information to be learned through reading, listening or explanation, which was done through various media.
  3. Output and Practice: We knew that learners need to practice what they’ve learned to actively process it and develop competence. So, we embedded this into a remote environment.
  4. Feedback and Reflection: We created opportunities for learners to get feedback about what was good and not about their practice and output, have discussions with others to refine their understanding and be debriefed to ensure the activities achieved their purpose.

You too can design these different pieces to fit your number of learners, IT environment and learning objectives to make your virtual sessions decent. In our case we had to redesign a program that was supposed to go live within a week for 270 people in a telecoms company that was originally spread out over 6 live classroom sessions. This is what we did.

Adapting a large scale training program in a virtual space

Knowledge Input

The client couldn’t allow for all 270 people to kick off the series in a room together, so we came up with the idea of doing live streaming using YouTube Live. We set up live broadcasts so that we could disseminate big chunks of information and ‘how to’ advice to many people at the same time. Some of the questions we asked ourselves were: How can our broadcast be entertaining? How can we divide up the content and make it interactive? Who do we need to get help from? Where can we set up my broadcast room?

We’ve found that if you make the broadcasts light-hearted, entertaining, fast-paced, and interactive on a small scale, using Twitter or surveys, you can deliver some pretty dense information to a big audience of people who are all in different places.

Following that step we adapted our smaller knowledge sessions into live webinars for smaller groups so that people could ask many questions about topics that require discussions. We knew that webinars are often used in our industry by associations like ATD and Training Industry to connect SME’s to people hungry for information in an environment that is similar to a real classroom. So, with some modification and a bit of imagination we were able to create interactive and informative sessions that people could attend at their desk or at home.

Output and Practice

Depending on the location of where output and practice would take place, the client agreed to implement two solutions. The first was to use small study groups for people in less densely populated areas. We created bite-sized study sessions for people to get together in a meeting room to use high quality materials with clearly defined instructions to complete short burst of exercises. The sessions were facilitated through videos we shot in our office and supported with text including instructions about how to manage the process. The main benefits were that small groups could collaborate to work through the exercises together without meeting a lot of people and trainers.

The other option was to use virtual study groups for people in more densely populated areas. The objectives of these groups were the same as the small study groups, so they went through the same process but with a trainer acting as a facilitator where breakout rooms and other IT aspects were managed for the learners. In this way we made sure that people working from home could still participate and collaborate with their peers.

In effect what we did was to break larger study groups into smaller groups and keep people safe while not impacting the effectiveness of the training.

Feedback and Reflection

You can’t have effective training without meaningful feedback and reflection time. To keep this relevant and personal we opted for two styles of feedback and reflection. The first was to have virtual study groups that focused solely on discussion and not skills practice. We chose the cohorts to reflect the type of feedback we hoped to give to the group based on their ability levels. We started by separating learners into small groups and planned a schedule around them. Our main consideration here though was to have the discussion highly structured and managed by a facilitator so that the sessions could achieve their goals without running out of time.

The second thing we did was to get back to basics and use chat to involve a larger groups of people. A lot of learning delivery platforms offers this feature, but we decided to use the tools available in the client company that people were already familiar with, like Slack, to allow people to interact directly with the trainers to get real time feedback and to allow people to bounce ideas and reflections off each other.

We also allowed the posting of comments on a digital message board so that many people in the cohort could be reached at the same time. This worked well for sending bigger messages and content to a wide group of people on the program.

Final considerations

What we described above are some novel ways we implement a training program in a virtual or remote state that you can emulate from today. If you can do just three simple things, you’ll be onto a winner:

  • Design the knowledge input to be smooth, easy to access and entertaining.
  • Make sure that output and practice don’t fall by the wayside – design in the    practice elements.
  • Consider the best ways to accommodate feedback and reflection that is most relevant to your learning content and the group involved.

Good luck

*This is an unfortunate situation but common right now. PTT prides ourselves on effective learning transfer, but most importantly we try to be practical. Just this week, we’ve had to redesign more than 60 days of planned classroom training sessions within the same full-day time constraints. This is not what we ideally want, but it’s definitely happening. We’re always doing our best to help learners grow and thought you might have a similar situation which is why we wrote this article.

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