Is online training a ‘new normal’?
Avoiding the pitfalls of online training with some simple steps. Dr Nick Bell shares his thoughts about this new way of working, having recently started delivering training online.
Since the UK lockdown, in response to COVID-19, classroom-based training has largely halted. Delegates sit indoors in very close proximity for long periods of time. There are additional risks associated with using public transport and mingling at break times. In short, classrooms can be petri dishes.
Online training avoids these risks and, according to our beloved principles of prevention, should be considered before options such as distancing or barriers. It is also questionable how many delegates could fit into a venue if they must be physically distant.
There are subjects for which face-to-face training is unavoidable. If online training is an option, it is worth considering the benefits and potential pitfalls.
Benefits of training online
Initially, I was reluctant to deliver training online as it is an unfamiliar way of working. I quickly realised that online training offers huge benefits. These include:
- Not incurring or passing on costs relating to travel, venue hire or catering and the administration time organising all this. This can reduce the cost of online training (although there are other costs to be factored in as discussed later);
- Not incurring printing costs for electronic course materials;
- Training dates are not restricted by room availability;
- Delegates can attend regardless of where they are based, expanding the prospective market for courses. Delegates could find it interesting to attend events with people whom they might otherwise never meet;
- Most delegates log on at home. They turn up fresh and not agitated by the journey;
- Delegates are not delayed by traffic etc. so typically join the session on time;
- Participants are not worrying about getting home and remain focussed throughout the session;
- As a trainer, I’m not battling a venue’s ventilation or heating controls.
Recreating or enhancing the face-to-face experience
There are different platforms for delivering training online, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype. Some require paid subscriptions to use as a training platform. I will stick my neck out and propose that training online can provide a better experience for delegates.
These platforms offer clever interfaces. On Zoom, these include online polls (short quizzes which individuals answer and then review as a team), breakout sessions (splitting delegates into small workgroups), online chat functions, emoji-like responses such as thumbs up which can be used to quickly reply to closed questions and annotations (allowing people to scribble on a shared screen).
Different options will appeal to different learning styles and help create an interactive and engaging experience. Less confident delegates can contribute through chat.
Even breakout sessions online can be better than in a classroom. Delegates are not awkwardly perched on the end of desks, distracted by other groups or shoehorned into working with the same people. They can share screens, too, to review course materials or create flipcharts.
Avoiding the pitfalls of online training
Delivering training online undoubtedly has potential pitfalls such as being let down by, or being unable to use, the technology. The pitfalls can be avoided or managed with some simple steps.
- Make sure your office/home has a good, stable internet connection. Use introductions to check everyone is clearly hearing you and each other. Inform the delegates what to do if you or they temporarily or permanently drop out.
- Get comfortable with using the technology. Watch ‘how to’ videos, run practice sessions and attend online events as a delegate. Many of the ‘how to’ videos will help you sort out the basics such as your backdrop, lighting, testing your audio and so on.
- Amend the material to suit online delivery and the new options available to you. Consider where polls, breakout sessions or screen-scribbling could have most impact. If you might normally ask the group to quickly respond verbally to a question maybe ask for answers on chat.
- Help delegates get comfortable with the technology. Host the training on simpler and popular platforms, send out a plain English user guide and take delegates through warm up exercises in the course introduction.
- Cover the new rules of engagement in the introduction. For example, when delegates should be muted or the benefit of raising hands to join a conversation.
- Delegates need to be physically comfortable. Programme in more regular breaks and provide simple reminders on comfortable DSE use.
Many organisations have little option but to consider online training. Rather than being an undesirable substitute, this approach offers tremendous benefits and could become the new normal regardless of how COVID-19 plays out. Getting the best from it requires an initial investment of time and effort. As with most things in life, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.