In-Person to Online: Delivering Training While Social Distancing

Author(s): Yomna Salem

Learning & Development (L&D) leaders are rushing to manage the disruption of the COVID-19 situation while worrying about the long-term consequences on their budgets and teams. Providing timely support to your stakeholders at this critical time, however, is a great opportunity for you, as an L&D professional, to demonstrate your value to the organization.

With the current social distancing measures, in-person training is off the table for most organizations. Fortunately, we now have more tools than ever to deliver training remotely. Before rescheduling all your Instructor-Led Training (ILT) for virtual delivery though, pause and take a more systematic approach.

Re-evaluate needs

Take a step back and ask what your stakeholders’ immediate needs are. Last week’s priorities might no longer matter today. Engage in conversation with your business leaders and keep in tune with their short-term and long-term needs. What changes is the organization making to adjust? What can you do to ease the transition? This is an unfamiliar situation for everyone, and your leadership might not be aware of what you have to offer. Be proactive and identify opportunities where you can add value. Park less-urgent projects. Right now, people would probably appreciate a basic one-page guide on running virtual meetings more than they would a fancy new Learning Experience (LX) platform. Focus your resources on providing the support they really need today, while keeping an eye on tomorrow’s needs.

Work with what you have

Once you have confirmed the projects you are focusing on are aligned with the organization’s priorities, delivering a simple and effective solution as quickly as possible should be your next objective. An amazing program given too late does not impress anyone.

How do you do that without running yourself and your team to the ground? Build on what you already have.

  • Make sure you are well-aware of your tech capabilities both as an L&D department and across the board in the organization.
  • Consult your IT team. There might be features in the platforms you already own that can be used and save you the hassle of bringing in a new vendor. Your LMS might have video conferencing features or chat tools, for example.
  • As much as possible, use up-and-running tools people are already using and familiar with. Everybody is having to adjust to a lot of new.

Similarly, take inventory of the content you have. Developing good content is a time-intensive exercise and you may not have the luxury of time right now. Before investing time and resources in developing brand new content, check if you can find a good starting point in the content you, or other teams in the organization, developed earlier. Also, look for outside content that can be easily adapted to fit your needs.

Learners do not care if the content is new, re-purposed, or curated, they care if it is relevant and helpful.

Start with the outcome in mind

Now let’s zoom in to a micro level and discuss what to do with the programs on your calendar right now. Since the classroom is no longer an option, a virtual classroom is the second-best thing … Or is it?

To answer that question, get back to the desired outcome. Why are you running this program to begin with? Is it still relevant in light of your new priorities? What business need is it addressing? Ideally, this should be reflected in the learning objectives, but it is worth double-checking.

Your end goal is not to deliver the content in a digital format; it is to achieve the learning objectives, regardless of the medium you use.

With that in mind, analyze the existing content. What are the most-critical components that drive the message home? What is nice to have but not necessary? If possible, ask SMEs for their insights and previous facilitators for their feedback.

Consider blended options

Think of your program as a set of building blocks. With a clear view of the objectives and the pieces of content that tie to them, you are in a better place to decide which blocks need to stay and which ones can go.

The next question would be: What is the best way to deliver this block? Do not limit yourself to thinking you have to convert everything to one format. A three-day ILT program might translate into one virtual (synchronous) training session, two short eLearning modules, and an assignment or links for further reading.

Breaking down the program and mixing up delivery can be a helpful approach for many reasons.

  • First, learning activities are effective when the tools are well-matched to the purpose. If you are doing an orientation program, a virtual classroom would be a good way to simulate a warm welcome and run some introductions. It is not the best platform for sharing company policies, for example. eLearning modules allow participants to learn at their own pace and save you the need for coordinating everyone’s schedules. They are not ideal for peer-to-peer learning or group discussions. Accordingly, you can supplement them with online breakout groups, discussion boards, or webcasts as necessary.
  • Another important reason to divide content into smaller chunks is that online learners are less likely to stick around for extended periods of time. It is hard enough to keep participants engaged in an immersive learning environment. Staring at the screen all day, with the distractions and stress most of us have now, people’s attention spans are already over-stretched.
  • In addition, diversifying the tools in your arsenal is extremely valuable for you as an L&D professional. As mentioned, speed of delivery is a priority at the moment. Being able to fragment your content and present it in different formats gives you more agility in responding to your stakeholders’ needs. Again, it can be both more effective and efficient to share an infographic today than a module ten days later.

Transition content

At this stage, it is time to think from a design perspective. What do you need to change when converting a classroom-based course to an online format? The answer will depend on the content and the format you use (virtual training, eLearning, videos, etc.), but it is helpful to review the following:

  • Length and duration

As discussed, virtual instruction does not lend itself well to lengthy content. Do not assume that you can replicate one day of classroom training into one day of virtual delivery. In addition to the building blocks and blended approach, consider breaking your virtual training into several sessions. A good rule of thumb is to target sixty to ninety minutes per session. A couple of sessions spread over a week are more likely to be effective than a longer one.

  • Learner engagement

The most common challenge with online learning is keeping your audience engaged. You will need to work harder for their attention by inserting more opportunities for interaction and frequently changing the rhythm. Review existing activities and explore if you can recreate them in the new format. Virtual conferencing platforms provide some options you can make use of like chat, breakout rooms, and online flip charts. Depending on the size of your audience, you might need to moderate interactions to make sure everyone is included. In case of a large audience, consider dividing them into more than one group or asking a co-facilitator to channel questions and comments to you.

  • Supporting visuals

Visuals are important regardless of the medium, but with virtual training, they can be the only thing learners get to see for the duration of the program. Staying with one slide for too long is risky; make sure every major point is presented on a separate slide. Focus on illustrations that support the messages you are trying to send and keep it simple. We are in the midst of a global emergency; do not keep people waiting till you come up with something cute. Prioritize.

Above all, keep your mindset in check. Do not view the current situation as a distraction from your pre-set goals. Your ultimate goal is to support your people and there is no better time to do it than now.

By Yomna Salem

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