Virtual and remote training is on the rise, in part to innovation and part to good old COVID. Whatever the reason, there is no denying the cost savings and time effectiveness of remote training. One company, Sysmex, implemented virtually led training for all of their new customers. They went from 900 customer trainings a year to over 2000 per year. A Citrix Benchmarking Report noted that virtual training saves between $9550 and $15870 per training session – even for training that did not require travel, companies still saved $1910 and $2535 per session.
Despite all the benefits, remote training comes with its own set of challenges. And with most firms new to remote work, looking at onboarding or conducting on-going training and development may seem daunting. Because of the nuances involved in maintaining remote team members, your training needs to evolve from being just a slide presentation and lecture to an actual learning experience. How do you do that? I am glad you asked!
Decide your delivery model
There are three different choices when considering a learning model: synchronous, asynchronous, and blended learning. Synchronous learning involves a group engaged in learning simultaneously and can happen in a training room or online. A facilitator and training schedule are required. Asynchronous learning allows the group to learn the same material, but at different times and locations. A facilitator is not needed in order to deliver the content, but all the materials, videos, activities are planned out in advance. Once the learning materials are set, then you just need to add deadlines for when each piece should be completed. Blended learning is a combination of both. There are individual, self-paced modules, and then group learning through virtual facilitation. This does require a facilitator but provides some elements the team member has control over.
Ensure you have the right tools
Thank goodness we have cool options, so we are not limited to just a video call link, spreadsheet attendance tracking, and a slide presentation! A solid conferencing or webinar platform is a good starting point. Just make sure it offers the features your team may need, like screen share, interactive whiteboard, text chat, and file sharing. Depending on the size of your teams, include capabilities to broadcast to large passive groups. You could also choose to go with a virtual classroom instead. Those are specifically designed to run training and offer additional features like virtual assessments and breakout rooms.
A Learning Management System (LMS) will help you track, manage, and house your training. You can upload videos or build out course materials and then assign different modules as needed. You will also be able to pull reports to see how well your team is doing overall and at an individual level. It also creates tracking for what has been completed and shows you where different team members may be struggling.
While you can upload PDFs and Word documents to an LMS, a basic eLearning authoring tool will allow you to make that same content more engaging. Look for authoring tools that are HTML5 based, allows for easy content creation, and supports multiple output formats. Authoring tools can also automatically prepare your courses to function on mobile, tablets, and any browser.
Be mindful not to let shiny things distract you from the end goal. Whatever tools you decide to use should meet the requirements of the courses and processes you have designed. If the tools are getting in the way, reconsider your options.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Building out your content can be the most significant piece of building your remote training. The same Citrix study mentioned earlier highlighted that 49% of trainers develop content in less than a week. Make sure you allow for enough time to create content. Otherwise, the investment of not only your time but also your team’s will not be well-served. You will need to start by identifying what the end goal of your training will be. Use that to begin outlining your high-level plan, and then break that outline down to courses, then dig into content for each. When you have written and gathered all your learning materials, look at how the remote team will be given all that information. Do you need to record videos? Are there activities to flush out? When will knowledge checks take place? Will those assessments just be testing, or should they combine essays and presentations? Are there modules that would be best suited to having each team member complete on their own? Each of these considerations will also vary based on which type of learning model you decided on. While you work out all of these details, remember to keep it simple. If you get wrapped up in all the bells and whistles, your overall plan will be lost.
Make it interactive
Team member engagement could be considered the most challenging piece to solve, regardless of whether the training is in-person or virtual. Start by encouraging interaction during the training. Have team members introduce themselves, use a cheesy icebreaker or conversation starter, and encourage them to use the chat function or the space for comments on your platform. Include breakout sessions, group discussions, role-playing, and other group activities to encourage collaboration and team building, while fostering more in-depth learning. Bring in case studies to help prompt problem solving and allow them to put their analytical skills to use. Having only slides to look at can become mundane and boring. Using carefully chosen support videos, infographics, audios, and gamification will help support varied learning styles and further foster engagement.
After you have created all of your content, you will need to schedule your training. Is this a one day workshop, or a quick 30-minute review, or a two-week onboarding training? Make sure you allow enough time for the team not only to review the content, but have time during the sessions for participation in activities and discussions. It is so much fun to sit in front of our computer screens with one virtual call after another, said no one ever. Design your schedule with plenty of breaks and a mix of different activities mentioned earlier. Encourage your attendees to walk away from their screens during the breaks. Another thing to be mindful of is time zones. Remote teams present the potential of having individuals in several time zones at once, so you may need to adjust start and finish times for live events.
Whether you are facilitating live or recording, make sure you have tested all the capabilities of the tools that will be used during the session. Test your microphone, webcam, and how your visuals are viewed. Imagine how annoying it would be to log on, start training, and then you need to update mid-session. Little things like this can de-rail the learning process, so test often.
Ensure everyone is familiar with the tools you are using. Technical issues are frustrating when you are trying to facilitate, so have team members install or log onto the needed software before training starts. This also means making sure that everyone attending has been given access to what they need. When you send out the technology or login requirements, include the agenda and set expectations. Depending on your audience, this does not always need to be a detailed breakdown, so tailor accordingly. If you decide they need to come prepared with something, make sure that is clearly outlined.
Choose the right location to record or facilitate. While we are all forgiving of the occasional pet or child cameos when you are recording or facilitating, try to find a place to minimize those distractions. Your environment should have the tools and space to be effective – including stable internet service.
Just because you are recording or teaching online does not mean that you do not need to brush up on your public speaking skills. If you are recording, practice your session several times before you submit a final file. You can also record your practice of live facilitation. Recording gives you a chance not only to test the tools but also to see how the team will experience it. Both allow you to garner feedback on areas to improve or adjust. Be present, do not fall into the thought process that since you are sitting in front of a laptop that you do not need to worry about how you present. Helpful tip: if you have the setup for it, stand while you present for a recording or live session.
Encourage honest and real feedback from those that participated in your training. This is the best way to learn where to improve and develop more effective materials. Everything they have to say about the subject matter, visuals, facilitation, and overall experience matters. You can send anonymous surveys, or host a round table discussion, whatever method you feel confident will give you the information you need.
Remote training is no longer a thing that will happen down the line. It is here, now. It will take time, preparation, and failure to find that sweet spot of engaged learning, so don’t rush the process. Take these tips and use this as an opportunity to up your training game.