Moving instructor-led training online takes more than just setting up your webcam.
Virtual instructor-led training is becoming more vital than ever. However, there are ways to ensure effective online delivery and optimize engagement when converting your training from a physical space into a digital one.
Shannon Tipton teaches, consults, and helps organizations think differently about workplace learning. She is the founder of Learning Rebels, has over 15 years experience in corporate learning leadership, and specializes in converting instructor-led training from in-person to virtual environments.
Her goal is to help trainers think differently about training so you can deliver it in a way that adds business value. In this post, Shannon shares her methods and advice for how to successfully move your training online.
You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…
What is VILT?
ILT, or instructor-led training, is typically live training conducted in a physical space where the trainer and all participants are in the same room. VILT, or virtual instructor-led training, is when this training moves into a virtual space.
Examples of VILT include digital training programs, virtual conference classes, or a webinar. In most cases, it’s where a trainer leads one united learning session with participants joining in online, from a variety of different locations.
If you’re considering moving your training online, you should think about what you’re hoping to accomplish from that training. Can you feasibly reach yours and your learners’ goals through an online training session? If you can, then what type of VILT best suits that training goal?
“A webinar and a virtual training event, for example, are very different. […] Now, if there is something that’s just knowledge based, where I’m just giving you information and I’m hoping you’re going to use that information, that becomes a webinar.”
Shannon strongly believes that most training goals can be accomplished online, but it’s up to the trainer to reconfigure the learning objectives and find a virtual space that best serves their purpose.
Finding the right VILT tools
In order to successfully facilitate online learning, trainers need to equip themselves and their students with the right tools.
Shannon reflects on the available virtual learning tools – some of which even replicate what trainers use in the physical classroom. These include breakout rooms, whiteboard software, screen sharing, collaboration space, and more, that trainers can build into their VILT.
Finding ways to incorporate these tools is how VILT becomes more effective. Without motivational and engaging ways to develop and share knowledge, learners switch off far quicker in a virtual environment. Shannon suggests that if you can’t invest in the correct tools, then shifting your training online might not be a suitable solution for your learners.
“If you don’t have access to those tools, and you’re just looking at WebEx meeting, then do not try to convert your training. Because then what happens is, you’re just, you’re just talking, and maybe you’re using the chat feature, and nothing’s going to get accomplished by that. So you have to be sure that you have the right tools in place to hit the objectives that you want to hit.”
How to successfully lead VILT
Like any training, it’s important to hook learning participants with an interesting topic or enthusiastic trainer. After all, if the trainer isn’t interested, then why would the learners be?
Shannon’s tip is to encourage conversation and interaction from the moment training starts, just like in a physical classroom. As learners enter the virtual space, they’ll be joining an already energetic group. This should help establish a greater level of interest, than if they entered to a wall of silence.
Once you’ve hooked learners, the key is to keep them engaged. This can be interpreted in two ways. The first is to be engaging as the training’s presenter.
If you’re conducting training via virtual conferencing software, then participants can see you and read your body language. So, just like you would in a physical space, it’s important that you maintain a good energy level. Shannon points out that trainers should take notice of their physical behaviors and accommodate them for the small screen.
“It’s not about being funny, or over the top with your energy, nobody’s asking you to do that. But just be aware that your mannerisms and your tone of voice and your facial expressions all need to fit on a little space.”
The second way to maintain learner’s engagement is through interactivity.
Shannon’s method to achieving this is by keeping training fast-paced. She states that something new should happen every minute, whether that’s a slide transition in PowerPoint, a screen annotation, or a tone of voice shift as you change topic.
Then every four minutes, you should ask your learners to do something. This could be leaving a comment in the chat, using the whiteboard feature, or answering a poll, for example.
Finally, there should be a larger activity every five to ten minutes. This can be anything from using breakout rooms to a mini-pop quiz.
Following a structure like this helps trainers design a course that is primed for interaction as the speed keeps learners on their toes. But it also creates a rhythm that should propel learners through the training without them losing interest.
How long should virtual training be?
This design also optimizes training courses. With a fast-paced lesson plan, there’s little room for time-wasting. Online learners have little patience for waiting around, and, unlike training in a physical space, it’s easier to cut out the less valuable moments.
This is often why virtual trainings are much shorter than in-person ones. But Shannon highlights that this is a good thing. Trainers shouldn’t be trying to convert their eight-hour-long in-person training days into an eight-hour-long online session.
“If you have to do a longer VILT program, you have to make sure that your breaks are more frequent, and that they are longer. Because, people are staring at this computer screen – you’ve got eye strain, you’ve got brain strain, you’ve got cognitive overload, [and] there’s a lot of things that are happening in the environment that we have to take into consideration. So if you are doing longer training during the course of a day, then your breaks need to be more frequent, and they have to be longer.”
The optimum time for virtual training is around 90 minutes, but Shannon believes that you can go up to two and a half hours, if you build in a long break. Her solution for those who need more comprehensive training is to break it up over several days.
How to build your own learning assets into virtual training
Learning assets like graphics can be vital to training, but Shannon notes that they must always have a purpose. Every training asset you use should align with the greater goals and learning strategy to provide value to the learner.
Shannon uses multiple channels to engage with her learners, not just virtual conferencing software, and utilizes their file sharing features. Incorporating smaller pieces of supporting content, like graphics or videos that you’ve created, can be effective learning tools for participants who prefer learning in different ways.
Sharing short videos is one of Shannon’s recommended ways of reinforcing topics and new ideas. She suggests sharing a five-minute video at the end of the training session to wrap up the main ideas. This gives people an opportunity to comment and develop their thinking further.
How to find your virtual training voice
Shannon believes that a big part of dealing with any changes to training is your mindset. Approaching challenges with a can-do attitude is a necessary step to begin solving problems and trialling what might work.
“You’ve got your growth mindset and your fixed mindset – where are you? Do you find yourself saying a lot of ‘I can’t’, ‘I shouldn’t’, ‘I won’t’, ‘they won’t let me’, and finding yourself in this negative, fixed mindset place? Sometimes it’s just a little shift. Rather than, ‘I can’t’, it’s a ‘Why not?’“
Her advice to virtual trainers is to ask for forgiveness, not permission, and persevere when the inevitable setbacks happen. With the right knowledge and tools, Shannon believes that anything is possible in the virtual environment and encourages trainers to continue adapting.
To hear more advice from learning and development professionals, or for useful resources about how to design virtual training, visit the TechSmith Academy.