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Uh oh. Your boss just told you that next year 60% of your training programs have to be delivered online. You know that it’s faster, cheaper and more efficient, but wonder if virtual training can ever be as good as connecting with people live and in-person.
The answer is “yes,” but to make that leap without falling into a virtual abyss requires a significant shift in the way things are done. And a little imagination.
Picture all the ways a training session in a traditional classroom can fall flat:
- the delivery tools are boring and outdated
- the program is entirely facilitator-driven with limited opportunity for interactivity or experiential learning
- the facilitator lectures impassively from the front of the room reading off a set of slides
The bad news is that in a virtual environment, each of these factors has the potential to be exponentially worse. The good news is that they don’t have to be. With the right software, program design and facilitator skills, virtual training sessions can be every bit as impactful as the best sessions in a traditional classroom.
Three Steps to Going Virtual
1. Invest in the right software
There are plenty of excellent software solutions available today. When choosing a program, here are some of the classroom tools you want to have:
- multiple chat pods
- multiple whiteboards
- show desktop
2. Modify course design to allow for virtual exercises
Don’t assume a virtual course is a one-way lecture. Take the exercises you’ve developed for traditional training and adapt them for use with the virtual software. Be creative.
For instance, your software will allow you to have a table discussion or do a quick polling question — you just have to figure out how to use it. Keep in mind that exercises will take a little longer in a virtual session, so build in extra time.
3. Ensure your facilitators have the skills to bring virtual learning to life
Once you’ve got the high-tech tools and a program designed to optimize them, the last and most important piece is a trainer who can use those tools effortlessly and keep the audience engaged throughout the delivery of the program.
Even the most seasoned facilitators will tell you that they struggled to adjust to a virtual environment. I’ve seen exceptional facilitators choke as soon as the camera was turned on and blow it completely. Sadly, I was that facilitator at first. But with lots of practice and real-time feedback, I’ve watched people go from awkward to awesome.
Managing a virtual classroom is like learning to drive a car. At first, the myriad of features can be overwhelming — turn signals, windshield wipers, rearview mirror! With practice, however, operating the vehicle becomes second nature and the individual features are no longer distracting. That’s true with a virtual whiteboard, table discussions and polling. With practice, the tools are mastered and the facilitator can focus on the participants.
Training in a traditional environment — live and in person — may be the ideal. But with the reality of an increasingly mobile workforce, it’s often simply not practical. Virtual training is faster, cheaper and more efficient. Invest the time, resources and creativity required to implement them properly and turn your virtual classroom or meeting into a real success.