Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Preparing for Virtual Training

By Danielle Slatinsky

Cindy Huggett, author and online trainer, delivered a webinar titled “Virtual Training Implementations: Preparing for Success” on April 19, 2012. She mainly discussed ways to successfully utilize online training for corporate learning.

A challenge you may face in the workplace is how to switch to virtual classroom technology from traditional, in-person methods of training. The 2011 Training Industry Report showed that “76% of organizations report using virtual classroom technologies (up from 71% over previous year).” This shows a significant increase in the use of online training.

Before we go further into how to implement online training, it is important to understand the definition of virtual training. Cindy defines virtual training as an instructor-led, online class that includes participants from various locations. There are four types of online training: meetings, presentations, seminars, and training classes. Each type varies in the amount of interaction from participants and trainers.

Cindy described many “best practices” that will help make the transition into virtual learning smooth and effective.

Best Practices
  1. Define it. You need to make sure everyone is on the same page and understands the expectations for the online training. Explain what type of sessions will be held (meeting, presentation, seminar, or training class). Explain if it will be a casual learning environment where participants can eat lunch and e-mail, or if it will be a more structured learning environment where participants will be expected to interact and be responsive.
  2. Involve the right people. It is very important to get support and buy in early on. Figure out who needs to be involved: trainers/facilitators, IT department, designers, managers, participants, etc.
  3. Thoughtfully select facilitators. Be sure to prepare facilitators on the virtual delivery and platform. Facilitators will need adequate prep time. Consider what facilitators will need: headsets instead of speaker phones, correct technology, and possibly a co-facilitator. A co-facilitator is someone who can assist with technology and delivery.
  4. Consider scheduling. It is necessary to consider the schedules of participants. If the participants are in a different time zone, then arrangements need to be made to accommodate them. Virtual training is not necessarily on a typical 9-5 timetable.
  5. Create an appropriate learning environment. Find a good spot for effective learning. Maybe set up a room specifically for training where learners can focus. If participants need to be at their desk, then it is good to at least have them clear off their desk to reduce distractions.
In addition to her five best practices, Cindy also discussed three “must dos.”

Must Dos
  1. Prepare facilitators. Facilitators need a different skill set from classroom trainers. They need to be able to multi-task, engage with an unseen audience, and use technology. They also need to learn a virtual platform.
  2. Prepare participants. Before conducting online training, make sure the participants are ready to get the most out of the training. Check to see if they have an appropriate learning environment. Find out if they have the necessary technology. Ask if they will have any distractions that will keep them from focusing for extended periods of time.
  3. Get details right. Administrative work needs to be done before the virtual training begins. A process for logistics needs to be established in regards to how the participants will get handouts, who the communicator will be, whether or not there will be a discussion board, etc. It is also very imperative to send out correct connection information, including proper links, handouts, and session times.
Cindy also provided a few practical tips for the successful implementation of virtual training.

Practical Tips
  1. Check technology. Participants need to have the right technology in order to receive the online training. They need to know ahead of time if they will have to install software or obtain headsets.
  2. Have a kick-off session. You might find it beneficial to provide an overview of the training before it begins. Include a welcome message from leadership. Teach learners how to participate in an online environment. Give them an opportunity to experience what it is like to use a virtual platform.
  3. Conduct technology checks. Test the audio to make sure the participants will be able to hear the training.
  4. Involve the participants' managers. A participant should not have to worry about their boss thinking they are playing online games instead of working. It might also be helpful if the manager tries not to disturb the participant during the training so they can focus on learning.
  5. Have backup plans. As everybody has experienced at one time or another: technology fails. Make sure to have a plan in place so that if the technology does fail, the training does not have to stop.
As the major shift from traditional classroom training to virtual training continues, these best practices, must dos, and practical tips that Cindy provided will prove very helpful.

Do you already use these methods when planning your own virtual training sessions?

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