Virtual instructor-led training has been growing long before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to ATD’s 2018 State of the Industry report, a little more than half of the training hours provided to employees were delivered in a classroom setting, while 13% were delivered by an instructor virtually through webinars, conference calls, etc. Though growing, this mix of classroom vs. virtual delivery has been fairly stable over the past several years.
Clearly COVID has changed this and accelerated the trend of virtual training. The challenge for organizations faced with delivering training almost entirely in a virtual mode is now how to maintain the impact and effectiveness of training, especially building people skills without face-to-face classroom training.
Given the challenges of COVID-19, we at Global Partners Training knew that our clients would not be able to continue with face-to-face workshops. We had to convert our training to be all virtual, but our design also had to preserve the same high level of quality and business impact as in our classroom-based training.
Our Total Customer Focus™ (TCF™) training program was already a blended learning solution of face-to-face workshops, webinars and microlearning. Several clients who were already midway through a rollout agreed to shift the remainder of their rollouts to Instructor Led Webinars (ILWs), integrated with online eLearning and microlearning.
Having completed the first of these rollouts, we have discovered a number of insights (we call these Aha! Moments) that have made us realize that virtual training can, in some ways, be even more effective than the traditional classroom approach.
Here are five of our most interesting Aha! Moments:
1. Training people virtually, using Zoom-supported instructor led webinars, with smaller groups can be more engaging and effective than in a typical face-to-face classroom of 12-15 students.
Our approach has been to engage 4-6 people in a highly interactive, 90-minute Instructor-Led Webinar (ILW). Each ILW combines plenary discussions, exercises and breakout rooms in which 2-3 people are sent to a separate ‘virtual room’ to analyze a case study, discuss an exercise, and even conduct a role play. Students can share screens and use their web cams in the breakout rooms, closely simulating the experience they would have in a classroom. Similarly, the facilitator can visit each breakout room to check in on and coach the groups as needed. As a result, we have found that students are more engaged than they would be in a typical classroom. In addition, by having a much higher teacher-to-student ratio, the relationship with individual participants becomes significantly closer.
2. Frequent, short and specific training and application cadence has resulted in very high levels of retention and application of new skills and behaviors.
Our virtual training approach is to break down the learning modules that would have been covered in full-day workshops into multiple (12-15) 90-minute webinars, supported by eLearning and microlearning. This microlearning is the self-learning part and we keep it under 20 minutes. In between each webinar, students use the microlearning and eLearning to learn new concepts and consider how they would apply them to their own work.
3. Networking among learners, both during the sessions and afterwards, is better than in a traditional classroom training.
When we started, we heard from participants that they felt that they would miss the networking and cross-organizational sharing that usually happens with in-person workshops. What we found, however is that because they came together more frequently (typically 2-5 times more often with the virtual approach), this sustained approach meant that students were networking more often and establishing closer relationships with their colleagues. This was no doubt caused by the smaller, more intimate groups in the live webinars.
4. Learners are more likely to complete eLearning and microlearning when they realize that it is an integral part of the virtual training.
A major challenge for the effectiveness of eLearning is to actually get the learner to do the eLearning. We have found that by integrating eLearning as the preparation for the Instructor-Led Webinars (ILWs), people quickly realize that they need to do the eLearning in order to fully participate and gain the full benefit in the webinars. We redesigned all of our eLearning so that it focuses on content and the webinars can focus more on practice and case studies. We also used a “case study” approach that runs throughout the program. Each module uses examples of how the topics covered in that module could be applied to the specific case situation. Think of it as a television series in which a new episode is revealed in every webinar. And the case studies were customized to reflect the real world of the participants.
5. With the steady modular pacing, learners have found it easier to connect their new toolkit with immediate impacts on their own customer projects as well as company goals.
In our new design, students clearly take two journeys: a learning journey and a project journey. At the end of the program, they are required to present a project report. This report summarizes how the students applied their new skills and behaviors to address a difficult customer (or internal) challenge. The final report also includes a description of the impact of applying TCF™ on business results, such as revenue, cost and productivity.
In our virtual approach, learners create their project challenge and goal early in the program. After the weekly webinars, they then update their project plan based on their learnings and practice from the webinar. As a result, students continuously make the connection between what they were learning, how they were applying the learning and the impact on their project and goals.
Overall the response from clients who have converted to the all-virtual approach has been positive with those who have completed their initial rollouts planning to implement future rollouts using this approach. Nevertheless, we are continuing to refine and improve our virtual programs based on the insight gained from these initial successes. Like so many changes brought about by COVID-19, we believe the shift to more training delivery being done virtually will continue long after the virus has left us.
We have been providing hands-on, experiential customer relationship training to global field service teams for over 15 years. Contact us today to exchange ideas about how our customized programs can help you create new value for both your company and your customers.