How to design an engaging virtual training
If there is anything this pandemic has taught us this past year (besides how to properly wash our hands!) it’s that virtual learning will likely be becoming the norm in organizations.
Now, you may have mixed feelings about it, because it’s notoriously difficult to keep the learners focused for longer periods of time, especially when they’re sitting in front of a monitor!
But challenging as it may be, virtual learning definitely has its benefits, and with the handful of tips we’ve gathered in this article, it will hopefully become second nature to you.
Tip # 1. Design with the learner in mind
When you first start working on designing a training session, it’s tempting to just open a blank PowerPoint presentation and start typing.
To make training really impactful (be it virtual or classroom), you need to take a step back and first build its foundations. Much like building a house, you don’t start with the windows; you don’t even start with the walls! - you start with a blueprint for how the whole thing should look in the end.
Some questions to help you outline your training objectives and training outcomes:
Who are you designing for? (New joiners, managers, a specific department, learners with special needs, etc.)
What is the overarching goal for the session?
What are you trying to accomplish?
What should the learners know/be able to do by the end of this session?
How will you know the training has accomplished the set goal?
Tip # 2. Set the stage
Once you know what the goals and learning objectives are, you can start thinking about how the whole session would play out. Will it be a 1-hour or 4-hour session? Will it take place over a period of a few days or will it be completed in one sitting? Will it be purely virtual, or are you including other elements like pre-session reading, quizzes, eLearning, etc. Clarify what the learners can expect from the session and make sure you spend a few minutes at the beginning of it to explain the whole journey, as well as lay out some ground rules.
Some things to make sure you clarify from the start:
Will participant cameras be on or off?
Will the chat be enabled?
Will participants be muted?
Will you host any break-out rooms for working in pairs/groups?
Tip # 3. Keep tools simple, but engaging
To be quite frank, we haven’t really found the Holy Graal of virtual training (but if you have, you should definitely let us know in the comments!) We tend to use Zoom and Skype, in addition to tools and apps like Miro (for live whiteboarding exercises) and Kahoot! (For real-time quizzes and leaderboards). Whatever your software of choice, make sure you don’t overwhelm your learners. Switching between apps can become tedious and there’s the risk of running into more tech issues than if you just stick to one or two tried-and-tested ones.
Tip # 4. Engage learners pre-session
Blended learning is a fantastic approach to help knowledge really stick. It will also have learners curious and excited for the actual session. Think of ways to blend different learning methods and create opportunities for the participants to learn on their own. You can design a piece of pre-learning to prime the learners for the session. What that would look like all depends on what you want to achieve: if testing their existing knowledge is the goal - then giving them a quiz or exercise sheet is the way to go; if instead, you’d like them to learn something in advance - then a short eLearning course or mini eBook would do the job.
Tip # 5. Invest in good audio
In a virtual training session, having crystal-clear audio is simply essential. It’s difficult as it is for learners to stay focused for a longer period of time; when you add to that poor audio, where they have to strain to hear you, you will most likely lose them within the first 5 minutes. You don’t need to invest in super high-tech equipment (unless your side gig is podcasting!) but having a decent microphone and sitting in a quiet, non-echoey room will ensure your voice will be heard loud and clear.
Tip # 6. Use a backdrop
Spare yourself the embarrassment of a family member randomly appearing in the background or a forgotten pile of laundry making a cameo from behind. Apps like Skype offer the option of blurring your background or even adding a backdrop. Alternatively, move your camera to face the wall, so that you can avoid any mishaps.
Tip # 7. Do a dry-run before the actual session
Having a practice run will help relieve some of the tension you might be experiencing. Plus, you’ll get a chance to practice how the activities would go. You’ll also be able to test out all pieces of technical equipment (camera, microphone, earphones) and all apps you’re going to be using.
Tip # 8. Go live 15 min before
In the same way, you would be in the live classroom well before the learners, make sure you log in to the virtual classroom at least 15 minutes before. You can put up a nice visual or share the cover slide of the presentation deck if you’re using one. Maybe even play some casual background music.