Even prior to the COVID-19 disruption, many types of work were moving online. Now that more than half of Americans and millions of other individuals globally are working from home, our workplace environments will never be the same.

As workers, we are more and less connected than we have ever been. Remote work divides us geographically and creates a different kind of relationship than conference rooms, holiday parties and desk drop-bys tend to. However, technology has created an amazing group workspace that enables people to connect from all over the globe. One way to capitalize on this technology and encourage united work teams is through consistent training with engaging eLearning content.

Training managers now find themselves with the same dilemma facing all modern teachers: How can all of the information and training that we have carefully curated over the years be effectively moved to an online platform? The answer could be summarized in one simple concept: empathy.

At the beginning of an effective training program, the best instructors place themselves in the shoes of their learners and feel empathy for them. At the end of the course, the learners should feel some degree of empathy for the organization and what it’s trying to do.

How can a remote facilitator create that connection with someone they’ve never met? The answer might be different for everyone, but here are some strategies that make a difference:

Get to Know Your Learners

An online relationship is not the same as an in-person one, but it is still a relationship. Believe it or not, there are ways to learn about the people you hope to reach, even if you aren’t able to speak face to face. Here are just a few:

    • Where possible, reach out to users through audio or video conferencing, text message, or email. Personal conversations can open doors in ways that nothing else can. When speaking with learners, keep in mind that in this case, your job is to listen. Find out what they really want and need.
    • Surveys can be a useful tool for large groups. Not everyone will respond to you, but that’s OK. Developing a general idea of whom you’re training is better than having no information at all. You can tailor surveys to a few data points that you really need to make your presentations and courses relevant.
    • Talk to the people you have access to. Your peer network can provide insights into their own audience, helping you choose the ideas that work for yours. Remember that your friends and family members are all workers in some capacity, too. They may have opinions that apply to your target audience. As a bonus, they will be brutally honest with you about what’s working and what’s not.

As a last resort, you can always turn to the internet for help. The vast amount of information online is a treasure trove of statistics, ideas, feelings, identities and more. While this approach isn’t as personalized as the others, it’s a great launching point when you’re isolated from your user group.

Use Tools, Not Tricks

An eLearner can spot a gimmick a mile away. While you don’t want your training to be boring (far from it!), you also don’t want to waste anyone’s time. Keep the long-term goal of empathy in mind, and only use tactics that resonate with your target audience. You can create an online course that is educational and fun using proven tools that create engagement instead of distractions. Here are some of the best:

Surprise learners at the beginning of the presentation. Instead of stating the reason there in the course, followed by a cloud of statistics, try using a story, personalized video, illustrated object or another fun idea to catch interest.

Let learners make decisions within the training. Tools abound to include crowd surveys in live presentations. These tools help the facilitator find out what the audience already knows and what they’re interested in learning more about. If trainees are able to see and hear each other, ask direct questions, and have them use physical objects in their workspace to relate to your point or draw a picture to summarize what they just learned. When the presentation isn’t a live event, training can still integrate choices. The user may take a short quiz to start, choose the order in which slides appear, or even skip sections if he or she can demonstrate expertise on the subject. Make sure to allow feedback along the way, so that your next training can integrate learners’ ideas.

Always use graphics over text. Pictures are often better at explaining a concept than words, but when presentation slides are involved, we often throw that concept right out the window in favor of huge blocks of text. Visualizations, with accompanying audio or video, engage more senses and help learners retain information.

Have Clear Goals for the Course and for the Learners

It is difficult to teach something without knowing the end goal. Just as an in-person program would, eLearning courses need to have a destination in mind. Let the learners in on those goals upfront, and add markers along the way so they know what to expect and how they’re progressing. More importantly, give trainees actionable goals to take with them after the training. These goals should be simple and attainable and include a follow-up step to keep everyone accountable. Give real-world examples that apply to a variety of workplace roles, so each worker knows what he or she are expected to do outside of the training. It’s also important to find ways to express appreciation for completed goals.

As we all continue our transition to an online world, human connection should undoubtedly be part of it. By keeping the goal of empathy in mind, retaining the familiarity of in-person training is possible. Don’t stop communicating; learning about each other; finding the tools that work; and uniting in the shared goal of giving your best effort and progressing through time, career paths and individual lives.