Delivering training online; how hard can it be?
The recent pandemic has seen companies and schools take up online training in a big way. The concept is not new, the technology has been around for a few decades but there have been limiting factors such as hardware, bandwidth and availability. Some maintain those problems still exist.
I have seen many reports over the last 12 months or so about the pros and cons and don’t wish to repeat what has already been written many times over. Suffice to say none of us miss the commute but I bet we miss seeing our colleagues and actually meeting real people. Live connections are vital for us as human beings.
I have trained many people on how to deliver effective online training and I have also used all of the obvious platforms (as well as a few less obvious ones). I have observed some rather interesting phenomena in that experienced and very capable trainers who can do the job standing on their head (metaphor!) in the classroom, struggle online. Fear of technology is real and is driven by a lack of understanding of both the platform and infrastructure and also the misapprehension that technology is easy to use; It should be but make no mistake, it isn’t. As human professionals, we naturally want to do our best but there are some things that are beyond our control such as when the engineer decides to root around in the cabinet at the end of the street and inadvertently cut off the broadband. Or the local authority decides now is the perfect time to dig up the street and accidentally cut the cable.
The pandemic may well be receding and life starting to return to normal but online training is here to stay. There will always be a place for classroom sessions but we are now going to see much more of a mix so what can you do to help yourself and your students?
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:
- Make sure your computer and internet connection is capable of running the platform. In the early days of the lockdown, the system requirements for some of the well-known platforms were optimistic to say the least. They are more realistic now but you must know what they are and make sure you can meet them. Processor type and speed, RAM and connection upload and download are critical.
- Get to know the technology. It sounds obvious I know but spend time playing around with it to become familiar with the common features and functions. Find out what it can (and can’t) do. If you haven’t already used it, set up online sessions with friends or colleagues to help you understand and become familiar with things. Only learn what you need to know about it; I always operate on a “learn just in time” basis because otherwise, I will forget.
- Talking of tech don’t forget your desk and seat. The sofa might feel comfy but after a few hours delivering training you’ll find out why it’s not a good idea. A supportive seat and proper desk will help you feel professional and in control and also do your physical posture a favour. Don’t hunch over, sit straight and try to move around regularly.
- Be prepared for techtastophie. If you do the job long enough it will happen. If you can, get a spare laptop or alternative device so if the worst happens, you can join the session on another machine. Install the app for the platform you are using on your phone as a backup because if the council (other roadworkers are available) does cut the cable a 4G signal will get you online even if it’s just to apologise and rearrange the session.
- What are you teaching? Are you taking presentations, lesson plans used in the classroom and running them online? Think again. Those classroom sessions may not come across as well online. You need to be really creative and introduce more activities to involve your learners when training online. You talking to a PowerPoint for 2 hours will send them to dreamsville. Use quizzes, get the discussion going, show videos, get people drawing or writing; anything to break it up and give you rest. The big 2 platforms now have great breakout rooms. If you don’t know what they are do your research and start using them, they are brilliant.
- How many people can you effectively manage in a session? Double figures in a classroom no bother! Different matter online, all those tiny faces, hard to keep track and don’t even ask me who has just spoken. Consider numbers carefully. I have run lots of online sessions and 9 seems to be a comfortable number. Less work well but any more gets super busy. Eyes scanning constantly and it’s difficult to stay focussed.
- And while we are thinking about numbers what about breaks. VSE guidance recommends a 10 min break every hour from using a screen so you had better think about that for you and your students. How long do you want to keep them in their seats staring at a screen before they can get up and stretch their legs. “hah” I hear you say, “They are adults and can control themselves”. Of course, they can but in a classroom, it is easy to move around and even get up to go to the loo. Behaviour online is different; how many times have you sat down to spend 5 mins online then got up 3 days later and crawled to the bathroom with no concept of time or space? We get zoned out and forget to move. Be nice to your students and yourself!
- Setting the rules. What do you need to cover? Dress code? Some people may be joining from home and feel comfortable and relaxed, great! But you might want to remind them to actually get up out of bed and get dressed to join your session (you laugh but it’s happened). Timings, always important; start, finish and break. How to interact; stay on mute (or not), raise hand or wave or use platform function or text to get attention. You cannot have eyes everywhere. What else is important for your session?
- Communication is key. 70% of all communication is nonverbal, think about that for a moment. We are used to looking at people in real life, staring at them on screen is much harder. Make sure you display more than just your head. Position the camera so it’s at your eye level and away from you so students can see at least your head and shoulders. Put a sticky by the camera so you remember to look at it sometimes, not just the screen. If you are sat back from the screen you can use arm movements and gestures (don’t go mad though) to help with the nonverbal comms. Speak clearly and at a reasonable pace, consider headphones and mic to cut out background noise for you and them. Watch out for the large headphones though, you may end up rocking the Princess Leia look. Dress appropriately and make sure your background is neutral and not showing anything you don’t want the world to see. A light background is best. Don’t sit with the light behind you, no one can see you. Get light on your face instead. Some platforms offer background blurring or pictures, great but the effects can also distract so play around and see what it’s like before the session. The main platforms offer free sign up for limited use so play around before the big day and find out what works.
- Finally, enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to give it a go, it’s better to run a training online than not at all so get stuck in.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this and that it’s given you something to think about. I would love to know your thoughts, ideas, tips and experiences so get in touch and let me know.
One final thought; on line or online? What do you think?