COVID-19 has brought an increased focus on virtual education, as schools and businesses moved to distance learning and remote work. It is likely there will be some permanent changes in how we live our lives after this crisis passes. It is too early to know the effect on training and education moving forward, but it is not hard to imagine adopting more remote technology to meet learners’ needs.

Companies and schools wisely spend time and money researching the best technology to support distant learning. However, do they invest equal amounts of time and money in the training needs of the instructors who facilitate that distant learning? There is no doubt that there are many tutorials and training programs available on the mechanics of using remote learning technologies. However, how do instructors gain the skills to move from the traditional classroom to the virtual classroom? Specifically, how do instructors go beyond the technology to connect authentically with learners, as they would in a traditional classroom?

Making the Transition

At Sysmex America Inc., this challenge is one that we have been grappling with since 2013, when we changed our training model to include virtual instructor-led training (VILT). As a medical device company, we had been following the traditional “train the trainer” model by bringing key operators to our training center. In 2013, we moved to offering unlimited live virtual training. The company invested millions of dollars in state-of-the-art studios and equipment and hired professionals with experience in broadcast television along with creative and instructional design — all with the goal of delivering an exceptional virtual classroom experience.

However, instructors who had taught in a traditional classroom were now asked to stand in front of a camera and teach to a group of students they could not see, which resulted in a skills gap. As our instructors transitioned to VILT, we developed a training program to help them build the skills necessary to be successful in this new way of teaching. This program included not only helping instructors become familiar with the virtual classroom platform of choice but also teaching them on-camera skills like being able to “hit a mark” and the importance of eye contact with the camera.

As we rolled out VILT, customers gave us high marks of satisfaction for their training experience, but we wanted to do better. Concerned with losing touchpoints with our customers, we set a goal to create a more personal connection with class participants.

Making a Connection

We looked outside of our organization for a pre-packaged training program but could not find anyone offering the facilitation skills we were looking to develop. Therefore, we set out to locate a partner to help us develop a training program tailored to our specific needs. We found that partner in a training and leadership development organization whose facilitators have acting and theater experience, which resonated, considering the instructor skills we were looking to develop.

We worked with the provider to develop a customized course that would teach instructors to make an authentic connection with VILT participants. Our training objectives were to:

    • Identify and leverage instructors’ personal presence and increase their creativity and confidence on camera.
    • Engage and connect with learners by sharing each instructor’s authentic style and personality.

The training consisted of four parts: a pre-training reflection activity, a workshop, an application project and a follow-up coaching session. In the pre-work, learners watched a selection of popular YouTube videos and reflected upon their reaction to the videos. During the workshop, participants practiced their new skills as they learned them. Coaching from both the facilitator and peers was a central part of this workshop. To round out the learning experience, participants had the opportunity to apply what they had learned. We recorded each instructor in the studio doing a short product demo. Then, a facilitator from our training provider offered a follow-up virtual coaching session to review the recording with the instructor.

The Response

Instructors responded positively to the training program and appreciated the effort we took to tailor training to their specific needs. Focusing on relevant content for this unique group of learners increased engagement, positive learning outcomes and skills that instructors could immediately apply to the their everyday work. In the most recent annual company customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, VILT class satisfaction rose from 8.3 out of 10 in the previous year to 9.0. To be fair, we have implemented a number of other VILT initiatives in the past 18 months besides this training program, and it is, therefore, difficult to correlate one specific action to this improvement in customer satisfaction scores. Qualitatively, however, we did notice an uptick in positive comments specifically about the instructors.

Moving to a virtual classroom is not a new trend, but it has accelerated in recent months. As training organizations move from traditional classrooms to remote learning, they face many challenges, one of which is helping their instructors develop the skills needed to be successful in this new learning environment. There is a plethora of programs teaching people how to use remote learning technologies, but we could not find anything that teaches instructors how to increase their facilitation effectiveness by connecting authentically with remote learners. By working with the right partner, however, we developed a training program specific to those important skills.

Want to learn more? Register for the 2020 Training Industry Conference & Expo, and come to Diane’s session.