Lessons from a year of online training
As the world begins to reopen, there is ongoing speculation about the changing shape of our work and workplaces. Last year, Dr Nick Bell asked, “Is online training a ‘new normal’?” Here, he reflects on what he has learned since…
The past year has convinced me that online training should feature in our new normal. I have taken part in online CPD events, hosted all around the country, that I would never have been able to attend in person. Online delivery obviously minimises the time, effort, cost, carbon footprint and other barriers presented by face-to-face events (e.g. for disabled delegates). Sessions have been held at different times of day (e.g. breakfast or early evening seminars) which can fit around other commitments. At one event, the facilitator told the over-two hundred delegates that they would be lucky to see a couple of dozen of people when they ran events face-to-face.
The quality of delivery has been patchy. Rather than rehashing basic principles of delivering training online (which I covered in the previous article), I will share new insights and lessons learned.
Managing your on-screen presence
In face-to-face training, trainers’ body language can help create an impact and keep people’s attention. Trainers have to work harder when they occupy a small panel on the screen. My camera takes in my head and shoulders (which incidentally gives the impression of being a few paces away and respectful of personal space). With my upper body in shot I consciously emphasise my facial expressions and posture to convey emotion and deliberately bring my hands into frame and gesture (without waving them in people’s faces) to emphasise key points. I have also become more aware of the importance of the tempo and tone of my voice.
Do not assume everyone is comfortable with the technology
Even now delegates may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with modern technology or video conferencing platforms. Recently a delegate turned their camera on to reveal a blacked-out panel. They explained that this happens on every session. I asked if there was a cover on their camera. A moment later I could see him! I still allow time at the start of the programme to settle people in, sort out technical glitches and explain how to use the features.
Using multiple platforms
Different companies favour Microsoft Teams or Zoom and being comfortable with both could be a real advantage. These platforms have improved, undoubtedly due to the shifting demands and feedback of increasing numbers of users. For example, Teams eventually introduced a breakout room function. Attending CPD events can offer ideas about how other trainers use these functions.
Increase your resilience
I occasionally, although temporarily, lost my connection due to a wobbly Wi-Fi signal, power outages, a broadband hub that stopped working and so on. I used a rudimentary failure mode and effects analysis to identify and overcome these points of weakness. My set up now includes:
- A back-up computer in case my laptop stops working.
- A cable directly plugging my laptop into my hub (so I do not use the Wi-Fi signal).
- An uninterruptable power supply (or UPS, essentially a battery back-up) for my hub.
- A back-up 4G hub!
This is ‘belt and braces’ but I have never had to cancel a training session, temporary IT interruptions are very rare, and I am much calmer and focussed without those worries.
Do not try to replicate face-to-face training
In their feedback, delegates say how engaging the sessions are, partly due to the different ways of getting them involved (e.g. polls and breakout rooms). I suspect people arrive assuming that online training means being talked at for hours (and unfortunately some delegates confirm that this is what they have experienced).
Using these functions creatively offers a very different and powerful learning experience. For example, everyone I train can respond to a question on chat (rather than the delegates talking over each other or hearing one person at a time). People who might struggle to speak in a training room can get involved. We can then discuss the responses, picking up themes, acknowledging novel or insightful ideas and inviting delegates to come off mute to expand on what they have typed.
As a slight aside, when delivering training in Microsoft Teams, I use a system called Slido to run polls. This has now been fully integrated into Teams and Powerpoint. With a click of a button, the delegates can access and complete a poll in Teams and my presentation directly links to Slido, showing the collated results. It comes across as a very slick experience.
With effort and creativity by trainers, and the imagination and support of their clients, a shift to online learning may prove to be a lasting benefit from this annus horribilis.
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