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Moving classroom to virtual training without sacrificing learning

The current global health crises, the COVID-19 outbreak, has brought with it a lot of major changes, one of them being a halt in classroom training as schools and businesses close across nations. With calls for quarantining, social distancing and corporate bans on travel prohibiting classroom training, there’s the immediate need to make training virtual instead.

Times like these highlight the importance of a flexible and adaptable training and development plan. The learning simply must go on. Here are some steps needed to move in the direction of virtual training:

1. Transform existing learning objectives and content

In adopting virtual training, some organizations might feel the pressure to abandon old learning objectives and define new ones. Some will be tempted to simply take the classroom course content and put it online. This will be a recipe for disaster if the learning content is not redesigned for the virtual class in mind. It’s important to keep in mind that making this transition from classroom training to virtual training is more about transformation than conversion.

For your learning strategy to be effective, innovative instructional design methodologies have to be employed. The most common misstep you will see made is increased focus on technology like Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, etc. Yes, these are great for creating your virtual classroom space but if there are no changes in the instructional design there is space for failure.

There has to be a lean away from the lecture format where an instructor stands in the classroom and has everyone’s attention and can take questions to catering to this new behind-the-screen medium where your learner can be easily distracted and where learning can be paused at any time.

2. Create a course outline to keep your learners motivated and on-track

The course outline or learning path offer benefits for everyone involved. The learner can use the learning path to stay on track during the virtual learning course, while the instructor and the learning course developer can rely upon the outline to ensure the learning course is progressing at the desired pace.

When creating your learning path and outline, be sure to include key pieces of information, such as the learning objectives, the required deliverable, and the deadlines that learners must meet to keep them on track.

3. Choose the right modality for your learning objective

How much of your learning will take place via live online training? What modalities will you employ in learning delivery? How much training will be based on self-paced learning activities? How much in eLearning? These are aspects of your virtual learning strategy you will have to determine in advance based on your learning objectives.

Opting for the virtual learning experience gives you the opportunity to choose among a plethora of online learning tools and delivery methods to present different modules and topics. Terms and concepts may be suitable for an e-learning program while topics like counselling in emergency situations is better done through virtual class through the use of role-plays in breakout rooms.  Reference material may be suitable for an interactive PDF or online interactive guide. Whatever modalities are chosen, the virtual class and e-learning components should be interactive and engaging. That goes without saying.

4. Integrate group collaboration activities virtually

Group collaboration is an extremely important component of any learning strategy and it does not have to go out of the window because of the need for social distancing. Social learning is positioned so learners gain the ability to share their knowledge with others and benefit from the skill sets of their peers. In fact, you can utilize a number of different online collaboration tools and applications when creating your virtual learning strategy.

For instance, you can ask the learning group to log on to a chat room, where they will discuss a particular problem or question that you pose, or they can share their opinions and thoughts via a social media platform. There’s a variety of effective social learning strategies to create meaningful interaction that helps learners acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. These are extremely important and become even more meaningful amidst the physical social isolation that’s happening.

5. Develop communication and feedback guidelines

Despite the inability to meet face to face, learners crave access to a facilitator or key expert. If there is a virtual facilitator, ensure learners know how they can communicate with the facilitator what do to if they have a question or concern, and when they can expect to receive a reply (i.e. the instructor will email them within 24 or 48 hours). This helps learners feel as though they have a solid support system in place, without tying the instructor to the virtual classroom round-the-clock.

Also, determine how you will gather feedback from your learners. For instance, will you be offering surveys at the end of each learning course, or will you be periodically conducting a live chat where they can voice their opinions and share their input? It’s important to keep track of and use this feedback to better the learning experience.

6. Train your instructors in virtual training

In making the transition from in-person to virtual training, your available team may be ill-equipped to jump ship to virtual training or eLearning immediately. For example, if your classroom instructors lack virtual classroom expertise, it’s time to bring them up to speed. Similarly, your eLearning course creators should be equipped in solid instructional design skills because it’s important that the courses created are effective and not simply thrown online. We still need to transform learning courses and not just convert lectures to eLearning. That’s why it would be misguided to expect their in-person training skills to translate to successful virtual classroom, eLearning and other digital training skills.

It’s up to you to consider time and resources and decide if you want to hire new instructors skilled in this area or take the time to upskill your current trainers in successful virtual instructor-led training delivery.

7. Compile a list of resources and references

If a good portion, if not all, of your learning strategy is online, you can easily offer invaluable resources and references to your learners. For example, you may include links to reference sites and articles that enable your learners to further delve into the topics and learn even more. This strategy is particularly helpful if you’re creating a learning solution on behalf of a subject matter expert that wants to include ancillary details but aren’t critical to the course. Or if you don’t already have additional resources to provide, you can include a list of relevant articles and news items that tie your learning path and bring timely relevance to the topic.

Compiling this list also gives learners the opportunity to access a wealth of information quickly and conveniently, without having to do their own research for informative resources and reference tools. In a situation like the current health crises, you can use the opportunity to also share relevant information on how the course learning applies to what we’re facing. For example, compliance training to the importance of abiding protocols or safety training to the importance of hygiene.

8. Create an effective assessment plan

No virtual learning strategy is complete without an assessment plan.

1. How will you check the progress of your learners?

2. Will you ask them to complete a quiz at the end of each module?

3. Will you have them summarize the content after they have completed a self-study course, or engage in a lively discussion with their peers via online forums?

Assessments can also give learners the chance to pinpoint personal areas of improvement and to utilize the knowledge and skills they have learned to boost retention. You may also want to provide a module recap at the end of each section, to draw their attention to the essential bits of information.

Having to undergo these transformations to navigate the current disruption should not be looked at as a bad thing. Yes, this lean on virtual training is in response to a crisis, but it’s offering up an opportunity to re-evaluate how we do our training. Whatever changes in training are brought on by these current climes may be the perspective and improvements we need even after everything settles. We’ll have made strides in virtual learning and when the time comes, combining it with in-person training will create a foolproof learning plan!

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