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Top tips for transitioning to online training

07 Apr 2020
Mark Smith, International Expert Trainer and Curriculum Writer, People 1st International

The world faces new and unique challenges due to COVID-19. We have been forced to review and readdress our current work practices and shift focus away from the familiar towards newly emerging needs.

Businesses are looking for ways to offer learning packages for furloughed employees. HR leaders are looking for shorter training interventions to meet the changing requirements of their consumers, who want protection and confidence. And organisations want to find ways to continue to connect with and upskill employees. Investing in people and in talent development has never felt more imperative.

But with the pandemic forcing a shift from face-to-face to online learning, how easy is it to make the switch to training remotely?

Whether you’re an experienced trainer or not, running training sessions using web based platforms is a completely different experience to classroom delivery and requires a good amount of preparation and practice. We share our hints and tips on how to run effective online training.

Set expectations
When you run an online session you don’t have the same visual clues as you do in a classroom or meeting environment. Without being watched, people may be tempted to check their messages or conduct other tasks. Set your boundaries before the session so people know what to expect, this should include; minimising distractions, levels of participation and any expectations they should meet before or during the training. You should also advise the attendees of any planned breaks at the start of the session.

Practice makes perfect
Be prepared. You’ll want to feel confident in the video conferencing software you have chosen to use so do a few trial runs and get to grips with all of its basic features. In advance of each session, ensure your devices and software are all working – it’s definitely worth investing in a decent microphone and webcam. And consider what your delegate sees, your working environment should be tidy with no embarrassing or offensive items in shot.

There are two layers of technology involved in delivering online training, as well as the video conferencing software there is your slideware too. You’ll want to be familiar with both in advance of delivery. It is a good idea to rehearse the content using your chosen software and to have a printout of both your session plan and the slides to hand, plus any notes you have made. And it goes without saying, know your programme content too!

Avoid distractions
Turn off your phone, or at the very least put it on silent and out of sight, block any external noise and switch off notifications and popups so you are not disturbed by the content. Basically, close down anything unnecessary to minimise the chance of being distracted or sharing something unrelated to the training.

The chances are you’ll be sat at your desktop or laptop to deliver the content but it’s still worth using a remote control to free up the need to keep looking at your keyboard in order to move to the next slide. A remote control means you can focus on the screen for a greater period of time.

Timing is everything
You should be the first person to arrive online in order to welcome your participants and support with any technological issues. Each of your attendees will be using a different device and will have different levels of technological competence. This could impact the start time or the speed at which the session progresses. Be prepared for at least one participant to experience some form of technological issue.

Most attendees will have planned their diary around the session so it’s important to start on time – their schedule should not be impacted on by those who are not punctual. However, be mindful others may join after you have started. You can welcome any latecomers at an appropriate impasse in proceedings.

And have a clock in line of sight to ensure you manage your time effectively. It is not always easy to see your desktop or laptop clock when you have a presentation open.

Manage your audience
A large number of people using webcams can sometimes cause connectivity issues due to insufficient bandwidth. Audio sessions may not feel as personal but they are less likely to cause technical problems so it is advisable to turn off participant webcams.

One of the most awkward things to manage is many voices speaking at once. To minimise this discussions need to be facilitated in a question and answer style, either by asking specific people to speak or by using the ‘raise hand’ function when participants wish to contribute or ask a question.

Asking the group to place themselves on mute (or if the platform allows placing everyone on mute youself) will help to minimise excess noise and feedback.

Maintain engagement
Pace yourself. Don’t rush through the content, you are likely to lose the audience’s attention if you do. Avoid speaking in a monosyllabic voice and reading large volumes of text from a slide. You need to speak concisely and with enthusiasm and lead the session at a pace that suits the attendees.

Long dramatic pauses don’t work well on this medium. They can give the impression there is a sound issue. Instead, use micro-pauses in your delivery by chunking information and delivering it in short bursts of words with silence in between.

You may require periods of silence during the session while participants digest some information or do a quick task. But remember, your attendees will not have the same visual clues they have in a classroom so you should give an instruction that indicates you will not be talking for a short period.

Finally, utilise any natural opportunities to encourage participation from attendees to help make them feel like they are involved. Include stories and anecdotes relevant to the content and add value to the learning experience.

Some final technical considerations
If possible, have a colleague support you with some of the technical aspects. For example, this could be to field questions and relay them as they come in – it is very hard to deliver, present and monitor what the audience is saying or asking on your own. Additionally, another person can see if anything has gone wrong from an attendee’s perspective.

If you feel confident enough, you can record the webinar and send it to attendees after the session or make it accessible by uploading to a shared drive or video hosting site . But do make people aware that this is your intention at the start of the session.

Finally, you need a plan B. What if the PowerPoint hasn’t downloaded, your laptop battery dies or the internet goes down? Make sure that you have a contingency in place!

By following these practices, you will form a solid foundation for online training as well as equipping the participants with the knowledge and resources to enhance their own skill sets. But don’t be complacent, there’s always room for improvement especially in the early days of using this online platform. Ask your attendees for feedback, not only on the content of the programme, but also on delivery. These top tips are great foundation for your classes but they are not exhaustive. Listen, learn and adapt.

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