When we recorded this episode in April 2020, many, if not most, organizations had implemented remote work policies in light of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, many training managers were working to convert their in-person courses and programs into virtual training.

To help organizations with these immediate needs as well as to create a better strategy going forward, we spoke with two experts: Cindy Huggett, a consultant and facilitator who helps organizations and training professionals move to the virtual classroom and has written several books on virtual training, and Heather Schultes, the director of global training at TransPerfect and a certified professional in training management (CPTM).

Listen now to learn about:

  • The benefits of virtual instructor-led training (VILT)
  • How to determine which courses to convert from in-person training to VILT.
  • Best practices for creating and facilitating VILT.
  • How can virtual training help organizations succeed, particularly in times of economic uncertainty.

Listen now:

Additional Resources:

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The transcript of this episode follows: 

Speaker:

Welcome to The Business of Learning, the learning leader’s podcast from Training Industry.

Taryn Oesch:

Hi and thanks for listening to The Business of Learning. I’m Taryn Oesch, managing editor of digital content at Training Industry, here with my co-host, associate editor, Sarah Gallo.

Sarah Gallo:

Hi.

Taryn Oesch:

This episode is sponsored by Allego. Are you a manager with a remote team, struggling to stay on track when you can’t meet face to face? Take control with Allego. Allego is the leading workforce learning and readiness platform built for today’s distributed teams. Download your Allego virtual training kit to learn how to keep your team running at full speed. Go to allego.com/virtual to download your kit today. Don’t let remote work stall productivity. Check out Allego today.

Sarah Gallo:

As we record this episode in April 2020, many, if not most, organizations have already implemented remote work policies in light of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, many training managers are working to convert their in-person courses and programs into virtual training.

Taryn Oesch:

To help organizations with these immediate needs as well as to create a better strategy going forward, today we’re speaking with two experts on how to convert in-person instructor-led training, or ILT, into virtual instructor-led training, or VILT. We have two guests with us today, Cindy Huggett is a consultant and facilitator who helps organizations and training professionals move to the virtual classroom and has written several books on virtual training, and Heather Schultes, the director of Global Training at TransPerfect and a certified professional in training management (CPTM). Heather and Cindy, welcome to The Business of Learning.

Heather Schultes:

Hi, it’s nice to be here. Thank you for having me.

Cindy Huggett:

This is Cindy. I’m so excited to be here today.

Sarah Gallo:

To kick us off, let’s talk about the benefits of instructor-led training. Why not just move everything to self-paced eLearning?

Cindy Huggett:

[There’s] so many benefits to having instructor-led training move to a virtual classroom instead of just [using] all self-paced [eLearning]. Because when you meet together at the same time, you can communicate, discuss [and have] dialogue, especially for topics that are perhaps emotional or interpersonal or topics that just warrants a conversation. The live online classroom allows you to have those live conversations, either in a large group or small group settings. And so, there’s so many benefits because of that.

Heather Schultes:

Exactly. I agree. Having [instructor-led] online training, when you have the virtual classrooms, it allows you to have the opportunity to interact with other people, not just between the instructor and the students, but also between the students themselves. It gives them the opportunity to learn from one another and also helps them build those personal relationships that you don’t really have, that aren’t available, when you’re doing just [self-paced] eLearning training in a learning management system (LMS).

Sarah Gallo:

Definitely. Obviously, with the pandemic going on right now, there’s an immediate need to transition to a virtual classroom. But beyond this current crisis, what reasons do organizations have for converting in-person training to virtual training? Cindy, do you want to start this off?

Cindy Huggett:

I think that’s an interesting question. Because for many organizations, virtual learning is new, but really it’s been around [for awhile]. My first virtual class was almost 20 years ago. In an environment where I needed to reduce my budget, I needed to reach a global audience and I discovered the world of online learning. Right now, especially when we’re seeing the move to everything going online, but beyond that, [VILT has the] benefit of reaching more learners. Think about a typical organization that might have offices in different cities, but then have one location that only has a handful of people. You [have to] make that business decision [of], “Are we going to put on an in-person class there, or should we just offer a program remotely?” So, [VILT] increases the reach. It often creates a learning experience where you might not have had that opportunity before. And then, one more [benefit], because we do virtual learning often in shorter chunks, we’re more efficient. We’re more efficient with our time [and] our productivity. When a participant is learning something in context, maybe they learn how to respond to a customer complaint that morning and that afternoon in the workplace, [and] they’re actually doing it as opposed to a traditional class where they might’ve spent a day or two in the classroom. It’s not until some point later in time that they’re actually using that skill.

Sarah Gallo:

Definitely. Heather, do you have anything to add?

Heather Schultes:

Yeah. Thinking of it from the business perspective, there’s so many financial benefits. If you are not flying someone around the world to give in-person trainings, you’re saving all of that cost and time that can be converted to doing other work. It also can help get those trainings out there more quickly, like Cindy had said. Maybe time is of the essence, like it is right now, where there are certain trainings that need to be done on a massive level and it’s easy to get all of these trainings out and to facilitate that more quickly.

Taryn Oesch:

Thanks. Now, [that] we’ve established the why, let’s tackle the how. First of all, when looking at a large portfolio of courses, how can training managers identify which ones to convert? Heather, do you want to start this off this time?

Heather Schultes:

Sure. When you’re looking at which courses to convert for [virtual] conversion, you want to look at what you currently have, assess it, and prioritize it based on the need. But most companies had [already] planned at the beginning of the year on January 1, [what to do] in terms of learning and development. What those goals were and what they were working on then are different from what they’re working on right now. There’s different topics that have come up and there are different things that are relevant, and some that are becoming irrelevant [due to the pandemic]. If you had planned on doing new hire orientation training and that was going to be your focus, right now many companies are actually going through layoffs. They are not looking at hiring people due to the economy and what’s coming. So, it would be better to actually convert that into a training for a group of people who are more senior, maybe a year plus, to show your commitment to them and to make sure they know that you’re invested in them.

Cindy Huggett:

I think those are all good points. What I would add is that I think you can do any type of training online. And so, when you’re looking at your course catalog or the offerings or what your employees need, really anything, if it’s designed well and if it’s something that you’ve got the technology [and] the tools to be able to do, then you can move that online.

Sarah Gallo:

Great. What are some specific best practices when it comes to virtual classroom training? How can training professionals actually leverage these best practices? Cindy, do you want to start us off?

Cindy Huggett:

I do. I think one of the biggest mistakes that we make as learning professionals, especially [for] somebody that’s new [to the field], is that they take this really interactive in-person program that’s designed for 15 or 20 people, a typical class, and then they move it online and turn it into a lecture. They decide, “We’re going to invite the entire company,” and there’s several hundred people who come. We’re just not going to get the same outcomes [by doing that]. What we know about successful learning is true, both in person as well as online, that smaller groups are able to have discussions, that they can get feedback from a trained or expert facilitator, that you can be just as interactive online, maybe even more so than an in-person class. So, the best practices are remembering what we know about really good, really interactive online adult learning.

Heather Schultes:

I agree. I think also, in terms of best practices, before we are even having those classroom trainings, you want to start by practicing. We practice when we are going to give a speech. We practice when we have live in-person classroom trainings. You also want to make sure that you are running test sessions with yourself if you are the facilitator [for a virtual training course]. Do it with other members of your team [and] make sure that the technology that you’re using is actually working. For example, I thought I had Zoom working correctly on all of my platforms. I went to go have a virtual meeting on my phone last week and it would not download. I had no idea why that happened. So, you want to make sure that you have everything prepared for. You [should] shave a facilitator ready to troubleshoot, and you [should] have wanted to make sure that you addressed any potential issues that would arise during that training. Just by practicing, you can hit every aspect of that.

Taryn Oesch:

That’s a great point. I think we’re all seeing these days the importance of making sure your technology is working and then even going with the flow when something unexpected happen. In today’s business environment, what does successful virtual training look like when it’s all going smoothly? Cindy, do you want to start us off with this one?

Cindy Huggett:

Sure. I think that there are three components to any successful virtual training program. The first one is that you have an interactive design, that it’s been designed for a social interactive discussion. There is certainly a place for somebody giving a presentation, somebody just sharing their story or sharing product information. But, if we’re talking about learning and training and getting results, then we want to have that interaction. So [the] number one [thing is having enough] interaction. Number two [is that you have] a facilitator who can engage. Heather talked a minute ago about practice and the importance of making sure that you’ve got everything together. It’s that facilitator’s responsibility to do that, so a facilitator or a trainer who can interact and engage with a remote audience, who’s going to have excitement and enthusiasm in their voice, who’s comfortable using the technology and creating that comfortable environment [are key for successful virtual training]. The third piece, which is the one we often forget about, [is having] prepared participants. The participants know that this isn’t just an online meeting. It’s just not another session that they’re going to that’s on their calendar. But [rather], there’s a learning objective. [There’s a] skill that they’re going to be practicing. [It should be clear] that we’re not bringing them in and telling them you can mute [yourself] and multitask, but instead that they’ve come and they’re ready to learn, and they have that mindset of learning. I find that’s often a challenge. You overcome that by setting expectations, by taking the time in advance of the session to prepare your participants just as much as you’re preparing your facilitators.

Heather Schultes:

Yeah. To build on what Cindy said, we can also use something in terms of blended learning, so giving [learners] activities to do in advance of the training [to prepare them]. Like she had mentioned, getting them ready for the session and then making sure that you are building upon every session that you have [is key]. If there’s multiple sessions, give them activities to work on in-between. [It doesn’t] need to be long, drawn-out presentations that they’re going to put together and present, but something that helps them continue to build upon what they learned [and] that they then can use for perhaps the next training session that they have.

Sarah Gallo:

Those are some great tips. What challenges do you think training professionals face when shifting to virtual delivery, and how can we overcome those challenges?

Cindy Huggett:

I think Heather just mentioned one. Yeah, talking about the asking participants to do things on their own and [having learners] thinking it’s optional. I would recommend you never call it pre-work, or you never say, “Hey, here’s something if you want to do.” If you’re going to create the blend, [so that] you are building the components on top of each other, [you have to make it mandatory]. I think that’s the first one. And then, one other one that comes to mind is the assumption that all online events or meetings are the same. They’re not. They’re distinguished between a meeting and a presentation and a training. Let’s just get clear and set those expectations in advance. Heather, what do you think?

Heather Schultes:

I think there are so many challenges along with that. The number one challenge that I have faced with virtual trainings, and what most of my trainers actually encounter, is the learner engagement. It’s very difficult to cross cultures, depending on where we’re coming from, to get everyone to actually shut off their phone, turn off their email and be an active participant in a training session. A lot of that does fall on us to make sure that our sessions are interactive enough and that we are doing everything we can to break the ice and get some of our learners out of their shell and participating. There’s some things that we can do [to keep learners engaged], like starting with an icebreaker, going around the room, around the screen, introducing everyone, asking everyone, if they do have a camera, to use it. That helps you see who it is that you’re talking to. You can see if they’re actually looking at you or if they’re looking at a screen to the right or left. That really helps bring everyone a little bit closer together, having everyone introduce each other. And then, just in terms of the learner engagement, there’s a few [things we can do]. I’m sure you know all of these as well, but there’s a few tips like making sure that your presentations, if you’re using them, that they’re visually stimulating with graphics or perhaps a short video, and making sure that you’re using animation just to keep the learner’s eye moving. Because if they get distracted, we’re naturally attuned to looking at something. We all say, “Oh, there’s a squirrel.” Well, if you have another line appear on the screen, every time you bring it up to discuss with the class, then you’ll be bringing their attention back to the classroom.

Cindy Huggett:

Something that, Heather, you just said that I want to pick up on was about webcams because we know that the engagement factor skyrockets when we’re on webcam, not just [for] the facilitator, but [for] everyone. There are people who are still, today, April of 2020, a little nervous about turning their webcam on. I’d like to see a day when it’s no longer an issue, right? We all have our, “Oh, no, I don’t like my hair today” or “I didn’t brush my teeth today” moments, or whatever it is. But, we’re now at a point where most people, not everyone but most people, their equipment has equipped with a camera that can be turned on. The ones who don’t, as we move forward into the future, that’s becoming standard issue on most laptops or devices. And so, a year or two years from now, that may no longer be an issue, but overcoming our fear of being on camera [is huge]. I like to share a couple of quick tips. Just little things like putting the camera at eye level are going to make it appear a whole lot more professional. [Another] simple little thing that somebody can do [is to] use what platform that allows you to blur your background or put a background [on] that isn’t your pile of laundry in the living room if you’re working from home. Right? There’s lots of tips that you can share like that with your participants to help them feel more comfortable. 10 years ago, I used to say, “Don’t turn on the webcams.” Today in 2020, let’s help our participants feel more comfortable and to be able to see each other face to face, even when they’re remotely or physically apart.

Heather Schultes:

Yeah. One thing you can actually do since most of us have something like… we all have a phone. We have a mobile phone that also might have a camera integrated into it. Most of the technologies that we use do have an app that you can install, be it an iPhone, iPad, a mobile [device or] a tablet of some sort. You can still do the interaction and see the presentation on your computer, but then you also can have that camera on your phone. That way, you can be able to see the other people, and that’s something that I’ve been recommending to quite a few people in my company in the past few days.

Cindy Huggett:

Yeah. Great.

Taryn Oesch:

Those are some great tips. I definitely relate to the discomfort of the webcam. But, I think another thing that I found is that the more I do it, the more comfortable I am with it. The first virtual classroom training I ever did was Training Industry’s Certified Professional in Training Management program. I was really nervous at first about being on the webcam, but by the end of the program, it was just, “Oh, this is great. We can all see each other.” And so, I think practice makes perfect. I guess in this case, practice makes comfort.

Heather Schultes:

Yeah. The more we do it, the more comfortable we [will] get. There’s things that different people have been doing in order just to increase their comfort levels [on virtual platforms]. Having those water cooler chats, teams are doing that these days, just to get more comfortable using the camera and becoming reaching out to people to talk to them when right now with COVID-19 we’re all self-isolating at the moment.

Taryn Oesch:

Yeah. It’s definitely a good point.

Sarah Gallo:

I guess, on a final note, there’s a lot of unknowns right now as we’re recording this episode, including questions about how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the economy. How can virtual training help businesses and their employees succeed, especially in a time of such economic uncertainty? Cindy, do you want to start this one off?

Cindy Huggett:

I think it’s a huge benefit that we have the technology available that we do in 2020, because we’ve never been better equipped to have a remote workforce who can still connect through technology to each other. In times of uncertainty, it’s relationships; it’s reaching out; it’s communication that help ground us. It’s checking in with each other. Virtual learning, when we come together in these live environments, allows for social connection. Even though the phrase socially distant is quite popular right now, it’s really not social distance … it’s physical distance. We’re physically staying apart. We shouldn’t be socially staying apart. And so, virtual learning allows us to stay connected to one another, to stay connected with the learning. One other thought about that. When we think about times where we’ve had downturns in the past, whether it’s been global or just for specific regions or specific industries, the organizations that come out of those downturns better equipped, better able to handle the future are the ones that took the opportunity to refresh, renew, recharge [and] revisit. They’ve maybe taken the time to offer training that they didn’t have time for in the past or to pour into their people, because we often are strapped for time or strapped for resources. Today with some businesses not being as busy as they were, what a perfect time to be pouring into your people. I often think about firefighters. What do they do when they’re not fighting fires? They’re back at the station, preparing, cleaning, training, doing all the things that will equip them the next time a fire comes. So, my encouragement to organizations is if you’re able to use this time for that, you’ll be better equipped and better prepared for the future.

Heather Schultes:

Wow, Cindy, I don’t know if I would even be able to add too much to that. Everything you said, you hit the nail on the head. We need to be sure that during these times, we’re still investing in our training. It shows our employees that we are invested in them. It gives them stability, which we are all craving right now. It really is preparing [them for the future]. Virtual training is preparing people not for the here and now and the jobs that they have, but for the future. It’s getting ready. If [we do that], once we’re done with this COVID-19 situation, everyone will be better able to have [effective] virtual trainings in the future around the world. You’re better prepared as a company overall. We’ll be able to hopefully avoid situations like this in the future, but we’ll be prepared for them.

Taryn Oesch:

Thanks, both of you. That really highlights the importance of learning at this time and really supporting our people. We appreciate that note from both of you. Well, that wraps up this episode. Heather and Cindy, thanks so much for joining us today on The Business of Learning.

Cindy Huggett:

Thanks for having us.

Heather Schultes:

Yeah, thank you so much.

Taryn Oesch:

Thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please rate and review us on your podcast platform of choice. These ratings can be used to help other learning leaders find us.

Sarah Gallo:

You can find out more information on virtual learning on our website. Visit trainingindustry.com/trainingindustrypodcast for more.

Taryn Oesch:

Thanks for listening.

Taryn Oesch:

If you have feedback about this episode or would like to suggest a topic for a future program, email us at info@trainingindustry.com or use the Contact Us page at trainingindustry.com. Thanks for listening to the Training Industry podcast.

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