Has your training organization (and your life) been turned upside down because you’ve been given the mandate to convert all your face-to-face training to a virtual format in the next couple of weeks? How prepared are you and your team to pull off this project?
It’s a daunting task, but it’s not insurmountable if you keep some simple yet powerful concepts in mind. Here are five tips that will help you put some order and careful thought into what you convert and what you don’t convert, as well as how you make this conversion a success.
1. Convert Strategically
First and foremost, the urgency with which you’ve been tasked to make this conversion demands that you convert only strategically impactful training. What makes a course strategic is the impact it has on achieving the most important strategic goals and objectives of the organization.
Most organizations have programs or courses that they developed without careful consideration for their alignment to strategic goals. If a course won’t move the needle on business strategy, why would you spend your limited time and resources converting it to a virtual format? It’s like moving unpacked boxes from the house you moved out of five years ago to the house you’re moving into next month, even though you never used them. The contents of those boxes don’t have much value if you haven’t opened them for five years.
Don’t spend time and effort converting “nice-to-have” training; instead, convert your most critical programs. Start by asking yourself how strategic the training is on a scale of 1 to 10. Focus on the items that you rank at an 8 or higher first, and consider not converting anything that you rank at a 5 or lower. Consider what the impact would be if you didn’t do the training. Would there be a significant negative impact on one or more strategic goals? The higher the negative impact on achieving a strategic goal or goals, the higher the strategic score.
Once you’ve determined the list of critical courses to convert, there are several other considerations to keep in mind as you move forward. First, don’t assume all of your face-to-face content is well suited for a virtual instructor-led training (VILT) format. Consider other options, including dividing the content into multiple formats, such as eLearning or videos, in addition to VILT.
How does the instructional design differ between face-to-face and virtual training? What technology do you need in order to deliver high-quality virtual programs? What skills do effective virtual facilitators have, and do you have those skills in house? Finally, what should you do if this process is new to you and you have no idea where to start? The next four tips will answer those questions and help you move forward.
2. More Is More
Converting from face-to-face to virtual training goes beyond delivering the same slide deck and activities using a virtual platform. It may be counterintuitive, but for effective VILT, you need more slides with fewer words. Build in more interaction to achieve more engagement from the participants. More slides, more interaction and more engagement will keep your learners’ attention on the course, not their inbox.
A good “rule of thumb,” says Cynthia Clay, president of NetSpeed Learning Solutions, “is one minute per slide, which is a reminder to keep people’s attention by changing the visual elements in the virtual classroom. Interesting graphics and one or two clear messages on each slide help to make the content memorable. It’s likely that a slide deck for a 60-minute web training session might expand to over 60 slides.”
Without frequent interaction, learners will tune out. All major virtual platforms have multiple methods to keep learners interacting with the learning content. Polls, chats, annotating, emoticons and breakout rooms are all standard. Remember, more slides plus more interaction will equal more engagement and more learning.
3. Consider the Platform
There are a lot of options to consider for your VILT platform. Consider your goals and the tools you already have available. Does your current technology support virtual classroom delivery? If not, determine which bells and whistles you need to deliver interactive content before selecting a platform. There are many options to choose from, so review a variety of platforms before making your final choice.
“Finding the best web conference platform for an organization is such an important step in the move to virtual learning,” says Clay. “It’s important to identify specific uses and types of users before evaluating the right fit. Are you planning to host 1,000-person web meetings around the world? That’s a very different use than the delivery of engaging virtual classes of 25 to 50 people. Are most of your users tech-savvy or tech-phobic? The answer to that question might drive you to select very different platforms.”
Keep in mind that most providers will offer a free trial, so you can test platforms and make your own comparisons before making a significant financial commitment. You wouldn’t commit to buying a car before taking it for a test drive, so why would you buy a virtual training platform before trying it out?
4. Use Skilled Facilitators
One factor that remains the same between face-to-face training and virtual training is the importance of skilled facilitators. The facilitator can make or break the experience for the learners, regardless of the instructional design. Being a great classroom facilitator does not automatically make someone a great virtual facilitator. Many of the skills are transferrable, but great virtual facilitation also requires skills specific to the virtual platform.
“The best virtual facilitators combine an energetic style, comfort with technology and a desire to connect personally with participants on the other side of the web camera,” says Clay. “Learners will respond to their presence by saying, ‘Wow! Attending this web training is just like being in the physical classroom with a live instructor. I was never bored.’”
The good news is that instructors can develop the skills needed for virtual classroom facilitation with practice — and by taking a virtual course. There are many options available for you to upskill your face-to-face facilitators for virtual training and a variety certification programs for anyone serious about mastering the skills required to be a great virtual facilitator.
Consider using a producer to help with a smooth delivery, especially with inexperienced virtual facilitators. Producers can handle many of the tasks required for an interactive experience, such as launching polls, initiating chat discussions and helping manage the technology platform, so the facilitator can focus more on the participants. Practice and skill-building are essential for facilitators who are new to virtual delivery. Contracting with skilled or certified external facilitators is another option to consider, especially if time doesn’t permit you to build your internal talent.
5. Ask for Help
Building an effective and engaging virtual course is different from building a face-to-face course. If you’re in a pinch, consider looking for experienced help to give you some breathing room until you can build the talent and expertise internally. If your organization hasn’t developed and delivered much virtual training in the past, now may be a great opportunity to demonstrate the power of well-designed and -delivered virtual training.
This opportunity also comes with some risk, especially if your organization is inexperienced with virtual training. Delivering “death by PowerPoint” in a virtual format will not serve the learners or the organization well, and it may diminish everyone’s openness to doing more virtual training in the future.
There are many providers to choose from to help with this daunting challenge — companies that can help with all the tasks involved and companies that specialize in development or delivery. You have options. You also don’t have to use only external or only internal resources; you can blend them to fill short-term gaps and meet short-term deadlines to deliver quality results.
These are challenging times, but with careful consideration and the five tips listed above, you can navigate through the choppy waters and deliver on the mandate to convert your face-to-face training to effective, high-quality virtual training.