Delivering training virtually has always presented the potential for distractions — whether by a smartphone or a neighbor walking his or her dog on the sidewalk outside. These distractions are compounded and heightened amid the coronavirus pandemic. Sticky little fingers reach for mom’s and dad’s laptops, a house cat seizes an opportune moment to finally show the learner’s ankles who’s boss, or a roommate turns on some loud — and enticing — reality television in the next room. Instructional designers and training facilitators must vie for their learners’ attention now more than ever before.

When you packed your desk and moved your office into your home, you may have hoped this would all blow over in time to deliver the in-person training your organization had scheduled in the coming months. But states extended stay-at-home orders and began creating policies on protective gear in public spaces, and the show must go on.

In a recent Certified Professional in Training Management™ (CPTM) alumni roundtable, learning leaders shared the most prevalent challenges they’re currently facing as they seek to move their previously live, instructor-led training into a virtual environment. Here are the top three struggles the learning and development (L&D) professionals in the roundtable reported were giving them trouble, as well as tips to overcome these challenges and train virtually, effectively.

Challenge #3: Converting on a Time Crunch

Strategic alignment is the most critical process capability a training organization and its leaders must develop to ensure the right training content is converted at the right time and in the appropriate delivery modality. Research conducted by Training Industry and Conduent on converting content for digital delivery suggests there are five indicators that training content may be better suited for the virtual environment:

    • It needs to be updated regularly or has a short shelf life.
    • It serves a large number of learners.
    • Learners access it frequently.
    • It can be learned independently, without an instructor.
    • It can be learned in small pieces.

When your team thinks about converting instructor-led training (ILT), consider how many of these boxes the content checks. The more boxes it checks, the better it will meet the needs of your online learners.

Accounting for your organization’s most pressing business needs will help you identify which in-person training programs need your immediate attention. For example, if demand for your products and services has risen amid the pandemic and/or your hiring efforts are ramping up, product and customer training and/or onboarding should be the first programs to go virtual.

Challenge #2: Training and Preparing Virtual Facilitators

Your training facilitators are accustomed to the classroom setting and must suddenly become comfortable in the virtual classroom. This shift can be challenging, as facilitators’ first inclination may be to say, “I’m just going to record myself talking to the screen and do exactly what I would’ve done in the classroom,” says Katie Evans, vice president of learning experience design at WeLearn Learning Solutions. Facilitators will need to shift their perspective to ensure that their debut in the virtual classroom is a success.

Although not physically in a classroom, facilitators should still strive to create an environment that closely resembles the classroom to engage participants in learning. In the roundtable, Brady Sutton, CPTM, learning and development manager for the Renewable Energy Group, recommended that facilitators greet virtual attendees as they join the online training environment. He noted that this approach works well for small, online training courses but may be more difficult for classes with dozens of participants who enter the course simultaneously.

Setting up facilitators new to virtual training with a virtual producer can help mitigate technical difficulties and keep the course from stalling, says Diane Gaa, SHRM-SCP, vice president of learning strategy and program management at WeLearn. Virtual producers can take the responsibility of managing breakout rooms, launching polls at correct times, and monitoring video and audio stability. Then, facilitators can focus on their students rather than diverting their attention to technical issues.

Challenge #1: Quickly Designing Effective Virtual Training

When it comes to virtual instructional design, remember that interactivity is key. An effective virtual training program, says Gaa, is “one that engages the learner at all points and [allows] the learner [to] reflect and practice.” Keep online learners engaged by building interactivity into the course every three to five minutes, whether with a quick discussion, a prompt for the participants to respond to in the chat or a poll so the instructor can gauge learners’ understanding. In an online classroom, less is more when it comes to content and interaction. More slides with less information help prevent overwhelming or disengaging learners.

Don’t assume that everything you include in an in-person training session should be included in your virtual training event. Videos you carved out time to show or readings you set aside five minutes for in the classroom may be better suited for prework, for example. Prework enables participants to engage in meaningful conversations about the topic early on in the course and helps facilitators create a baseline of knowledge for all participants to work from.

“You have to create [online content] knowing that your learner isn’t captive — that you have to make it sing for your learner,” says Evans. Instructional designers must ensure the online content is captivating, interactive and learner-centric to keep participants engaged.

There will always be distractors that threaten to take away the learners’ attention you work so hard to retain. However, with strategic alignment, adaptive facilitators and effective instructional design, L&D can engage online learners and mitigate the myriad of distractions they face in their new in-home workplaces.

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