A lot has changed over the last month. A survey about workplace learning just before the lockdown began found that 53% of learning and development professionals were moving everything online. (The impact of Covid-19 on learning, findcourses, March 2020).
Like us, many L&D departments and providers are recalibrating their course design and content. This shift is huge and understandably many are anxious about how they will be able to deliver their learning plans in the current environment. We would like to share what we have learnt.
Overcoming the psychological barriers
Timing is important, as before we can learn we need to be psychologically ready. This means having our physiological and safety and security needs met first.
In the first week of the lockdown our needs were basic. We stocked up at the supermarket and decided how our households would be comprised; checked on elderly parents; collected kids from university; negotiated our shared space with flat mates; worried about our jobs, businesses and how to home school.
At work we focused on continuity and agility: how to keep the wheels turning, what was business critical and could stop, at least for now. Business models changed, and demand disappeared, resurfacing elsewhere. For some workloads rocketed, while others faced the prospect of being furloughed. Everybody worried about what the future would hold.
Think about whether your employees are in the right psychological place to learn. Their circumstances will differ, and some will be more stressed by events than others, it is also likely that (in time) employees will have more time to learn, welcome the distraction and many will wish to up skill. In order to provide appropriate and timely interventions, the training function needs to be aligned to the business and people.
Getting the technology sorted
Companies vary hugely in their approach to technology. For some the transition has been seamless, whereas others are really struggling with it. While technology can make a huge difference, do not assume you need bells and whistles in order to train your people. Engaging and effective training can be executed simply with phones and a slide deck – we have done it.
If you are making decisions about a platform for online training be aware that not all platforms do the same thing. Utilise software that you may already have access to such as Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business and find out what your providers use. Think about: what people need to be able to do in the session? How many people will be trained? How easy is the platform for the trainer and participants to use? Is it reliable? Secure? What are the costs? Test it.
Try to know and understand the technology learners will be using and do not assume a level playing field, even in the same training session.
Design for online
Delivering online learning and making it work are not the same thing. We build our online to the same standards as our classroom training, covering the same subjects in as much depth. We have learnt that we need to design for the lowest common denominator so that we are prepared should the technology fail. Workarounds such as a video storyboard or another way to run a breakout room mean that all learners can participate, even when their connection might be compromised for sound or video.
Allow time in your design for learners to get comfortable using the technology, provide clear ground rules and explanations and repeat these.
Virtual classroom management is just as key and rapport, while taking longer to build, is essential for training to be effective. As a rule of thumb, we suggest involving learners every five to seven minutes to check people are still engaged by using polls and the chat functions that are available on most platforms as a way to build interest and participation. Some technology platforms offer annotation tools and breakout rooms for group exercises or you can use the chat function. Practice with an audience to check you have allowed enough time for all elements of your design and allow for flexibility.
Our courses are designed to run for 90 minutes (with a short break) – or over two 1-hour sessions. Prepare exercises that people can do during downtime like the break, or while waiting for the course to start. Think about how you can use digital assets like pre-course surveys or video to help embed the learning. Be aware that the more parts you build into a learning journey the more likely you are to have attrition, so you need a way to manage this.
Online training is demanding for both the trainer and learner. Use a co-trainer or producer to share the load, troubleshoot, monitor the chat box, and provide one-to-one assistance. You will be able to increase interaction providing a better experience for learners.
Learners are less conscious of their behaviour when they are online and more likely “to check out” than when physically present. Use a participant list and use names often, develop methods to remember who is comfortable contributing and who has yet to engage so that you can involve them.
Every training session should conclude on time with a powerful and memorable end, so stick to timings and make sure additional or supplementary elements of the course content can be picked up online at another time if required. You can offer the virtual equivalent of staying on after the course for questions by letting learners know that they are free to leave but you will stay online for another ten minutes should they wish to continue the conversation.
Scheduling and logistics
It is easy to assume that everyone is free for training at the moment. But many homeworkers already have diaries full of scheduled calls and meetings. So recognise that as with classroom training, you will need to build in lead in time. Consider scheduling a regular training slot or run programmes more than once to accommodate rapidly changing personal situations.
If you experience problems with Wi-Fi, try scheduling training sessions for the morning. UK bandwidth is affected by what is happening over the pond as the servers hosting the applications will be handling more and more traffic as each US time zone comes on stream, so by early afternoon they are overloaded. If you think you may have a problem with connectivity you could schedule another slot for people to reconvene as a contingency.
Ahead of any training, be sure to share login information and instructions and consider a test. Be mindful of building in additional time at the beginning of the sessions, so those needing assistance can be helped to adjust sound or picture quality.
After the event make sure to send out any follow up material and ask participants to provide their feedback on the training and technology
At BiteSize Learning we look for the positives in any given situation. The very challenging circumstances we face currently offer unprecedented opportunities for personal and professional growth as so many of us are pushed beyond our comfort levels. As a company we have learnt to embrace new ways of working and delivering training – we hope that you are learning the same.
While the phrase ‘pressing the reset button’ may be overused at the moment, 2020 will prove a significant moment in the world of work. We are hopeful that, companies will have learnt that, where roles permit, employees can work effectively from home. Remote working will be seen less as a ‘perk’ enabling more people to achieve a better work life balance which should lead to greater workplace diversity.
We hope you have found our thoughts useful and would love to know what you are doing to keep your workplace learning on track.