Everything You Need to Know About Virtual Training

Everything You Need to Know About Virtual Training

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written on June 2022 by Weronika

Virtual training – what’s that?

The concept of virtual training is not a breakthrough idea but it has surely thrived and developed over the last months. But let’s start from the very beginning. What is virtual training and how is it different from elearning?

Virtual training is a form of education that (obviously) happens in a virtual environment and it takes place in a real time, with everyone participating at the same time, whereas online and eLearning are mostly self-paced forms of gaining knowledge. The main difference between these two is the level of interaction and engagement. Although the fundaments of virtual training are in the traditional face-to-face learning that used to take place onsite, we shouldn’t forget that performing virtual training requires different approach and methods, rather than just trying to transition and replicate the offline experience into the virtual world. The pandemic was a push for many companies to move their offices into the online world and at the same time it was a reason for the whole virtual training area to flourish.

To make virtual training the most effective it is vital to consider three stages of it: before the training session, during the session, and after the session. Each of them bring different challenges and require meticulous planning ahead of time. We asked Remote-how Experts for their extensive experience and insights, and here’s everything you need to know about virtual training to bring it to the next level!

Before the training session

How to run a detailed analysis of the employee’s learning needs by Radina Nedyalkova

This can be a complicated area depending on the size of the organization and the type of training. On the other hand, simply asking “What are your needs” is just not enough. Nevertheless, there are some key principles that can help a non-L&D specialist to better understand what are the current needs and objectives of the employees.

  1. Start with WHY (quoting Simon Sinek here:) – what is the purpose of the training, e.g. developing a soft or hard skill that would be beneficial for both the person and the company, or spreading awareness for example. Is this session going to contribute to a strategic goal, or is it related to an ongoing operational initiative. Introduce the WHY in the communication strategy of the actual training, in order to get the buy-in from the leaders, cascade the details top-to-bottom and in a timely manner, in order to show transparency and bring the people on board. One of the biggest mistakes a lot of training teams do is to impose “mandatory” training sessions to the employees and send rather vague calendar invites. Explain why now, why this team/individuals, what are the expected outcomes and changes, welcome feedback or ideas as a response to this initiative.
  2. Less is more” – time is the most valuable currency. In a lot of cases, people don’t have the luxury to invest more than 1% (a scary statistics) of their working time to self development and learning, most of it happens on the go. When you build a questionnaire to track the learning needs, you should take into consideration the fact that if something takes more than 10 minutes to fill, it would be probably considered as a load. And we all tend to procrastinate on the load. Less questions but with a high value can do the job – the same is valid with the post-training surveys. My recommendation is to introduce qualitative questions such as “What is one thing that can help you be a better professional right here and now?” or “What challenges can a training help you solve?”. Yes, analysing them can be timely, however, you do want to track tendencies and preferences of different groups and audiences.
  3. It’s not about You, it’s about Me – as an employee, I would ask the question “What is in for me?”. Be crystal clear about the benefits of this particular training and explore what are the missing components between good and great (know-how exchange for instance). A good practice would be to provide a stage to previous learners who can share their experience or even become trainers for a day.  
  4. We all learn in a different way – so ask how your crowd prefers the training: a live Q&A, Lunch & Learn, watching recordings (probably the least effective option), 30-min deep dive, or 60-min interactive quest. The format should be dictated by what works best, and then, perhaps mix and match the approach to see what gets the most popularity. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Culture and HR by Chris DyerRemote Work Expert, Bestselling Author & Consultant

A robust culture is essential in virtual and hybrid models, and training is a great opportunity to reinforce culture. In my book The Power of Company Culture (Dyer, 2018), I outline seven key pillars of culture. Here I’ll share briefly how to incorporate each pillar into your training program. I encourage you to be deliberate about designing and nurturing your culture, so it can flourish and bear fruit; left untended, culture can grow thorns and weeds.

  • This first pillar is transparency about sharing goals, challenges, successes and shortfalls. The isolation in a remote or hybrid model requires managers to be proactive about transparency. It’s important to ensure that your employees understand how the training will help them not only be more effective, but also more fulfilled.
  • The second pillar is positivity, or focusing and building on what works rather than focusing on negative problems. Your training should emphasize the importance of ongoing positive change and growth.
  • Measurement, the third pillar, is important to ensure that your training is effective. Follow up six months (or so) after the training and measure the change in performance at both an individual and team or company-wide level. In the absence of face-to-face interaction, measurement also enables you to gauge employee engagement and well-being.
  • Pillar number four, acknowledgement, is essential to promoting individual self-esteem, and is highly desired by employees. In addition to acknowledging those employees who perform well in training, consider recognizing those who show strong improvement over the previous training session. Recognition should take place in virtual meetings for all to share.
  • Uniqueness is pillar number five and refers to the fact that people want to be part of something that is different than the rest. Try to make your training offerings as unique as your culture. Whether your culture is focused and driven or creative and playful – or somewhere in between – look for  training that matches well.
  • The sixth pillar, listening, is as important to training as it is to culture. Effective listening, as you know, is a two-way street. Everyone may engage in the training from their home office but consider having a video meeting following the training. Touch on the highlights of the training and let people provide feedback and share ideas with one another.
  • Mistakes, the seventh pillar, tells us that things can go south despite people’s best intentions and judgment. Your company should share and celebrate mistakes (including those made by leaders) as much as successes, as mistakes often provide us with opportunities to learn. And, since training frequently provides opportunities to make mistakes, you can turn those into additional learning opportunities when you share them.

Looking at all the pillars, you can see that no single one functions on its own, in a vacuum — there is a good deal of overlap. The more pillars you can incorporate into your virtual training, the stronger your results will be.

How to pick a good facilitator/trainer by Stephan Dohrn

With Covid-19 and physical distancing, we have all seen an unprecedented move towards remote work and online tools.

One of the challenges that many workshop and event organizers have been grappling with is to create a space and an atmosphere in their events that promote social connection, interaction, and engagement in their meetings.

Bringing your people closer together, creating more cohesion, and ultimately enhancing trust, does not only reduce frustration with online events but also greatly increases the quality of results you get.

How do you get there? You can learn how to create great online formats, or you can hire a professional online facilitator.

But what to pay attention to when searching for an online facilitator?

Here is a list of competencies and qualities to look for:

  • A good online facilitator has extensive experience working online, with a variety of digital tools. Someone with only offline facilitation experience will have trouble working with group dynamics online, especially in dealing with the pitfalls of technology.
  • Yet, a good online facilitator will also have offline facilitation experience. Knowing how to sense a group is not learned in one and the same setting. It takes experience in different formats and settings to know when and how to intervene to help the group out of an impasse.
  • It is good practice to always facilitate online meetings with a partner (at the very least a producer who helps with the tech side). One reason is technical problems which can always occur, but it is also important for energy and attention management of the participants. This is especially true for bigger groups (20+ participants) because online meetings tend to be much more draining for people who are not used to them.
  • A good online facilitator will know what tools to recommend, but will also be flexible enough to use other tools in case their preferred ones are not permitted in your organization.
  • A good online facilitator will be able to use a bunch of tools in the processes they design but will know how much complexity the participants can deal with. I personally prefer to stay as simple as possible with regard to tools and processes.
  • A good online facilitator will probably challenge your current agenda (if you already have one). It is still the case that most online meetings are designed by adapting the in-person agenda to a virtual setting and not designing the meeting to get the most out of the virtual environment.
  • Many draft agendas I see these days are fully packed with content items to maximize the time together. What is often forgotten is that social interaction and connecting with one another takes time. Explaining the tools also takes time. A good online facilitator will ensure that you leave space (and time!) for both.
  • Lots of online meetings still keep everyone together in the same online space for the whole duration of the meeting or workshop. When you sit almost all the time in the same “room” on the same “chair”, it is very tough to keep engagement and attention high (especially if the group tends to be dominated by a few people). Different settings can include breakout groups (for networking and deeper discussions), activity/exercise breaks to get people out of their heads, or activities that require all participants to contribute (e.g. responding to a question in the chat). Finding the right balance for the group you are working with is an art: some might need a change of pace or setting every 20 minutes, for some this might be way too fast. (see the point about experience above).
  • Many online meetings also include a lot of time for updates and presentations. You might have good reasons for those, but a good online facilitator will challenge you on this. They will want to explore to what extent you can maximize the time you are together in real-time for deeper interaction between participants. Presentations can always be pre-recorded and updates could be done on a shared document prior to or after the meeting.
  • A good online facilitator will work with you, the organizer, and anyone who has a special role in the meeting or workshop to ensure that the technology and process work smoothly and to make sure that you know what to do to activate your participants. It is not the facilitator alone, who creates the right atmosphere of a meeting. They do that by coaching the organizers and VIPs (those who are hierarchically or culturally dominant) to create an atmosphere, a space, in which all participants feel safe enough to challenge even the “higher-ups” constructively. After all, you want your group to come up with the best ideas and solutions, right?

During the training session

5 tips to boost engagement during virtual learning sessions by Lavinia Iosub

1.      Start by using engagement tools like Slideswith, Mentimeter, Remote Icebreakers

2.      Don’t go longer than 5, max. 10 minutes without an interactive moment or a small ask, activity that gets the participants to think, engage, interact. Examples are: typing something in the chat box, a reaction, a small reflection moment, breakout room activities, polls.

3.      Demo exercises and worksheets live and ask people to type their own comments/inputs in the chatbox; use whiteboards like Miro and Jamboard

4.      Don’t finish with Q&A – have small Q&A moments spread out throughout the session

5.      Ask for learnings at the end and type them up on a slide live (spaced repetition)

3 tips for the Virtual Stage – approaching virtual events like a performance by Lavinia Iosub

1.      Rehearse. You may have prepped good slides but you’ll only know how it goes once you actually do a dry-run of your “performance” at least once. 🙂

2.      Always employ a “co-pilot” who lets people in, helps with questions, can problem-solve. So you can focus on performing

3.      Strict timing. Announce the agenda and stick to timeslots so you make sure you get to cover everything. Always have a few slides/activities you can include or skip depending on how you’re doing on time.

How to give and ask for asynchronous (and honest) feedback? by Adam Ambrozy

Feedback is information clients, teams or partners give you on performance, process or behaviour. It is a gift – it helps us reflect and improve. Ask for and give feedback continuously. It works like a muscle – the more you train it, the stronger it becomes. 

Whenever you give virtual training, collecting feedback is the key to growth. This could be enhancing the audience’s satisfaction (net promoter score, NPS) next time, helping you understand what you can improve, and ultimately making your service more desirable in the market. Apart from participants, you might also want to collect feedback from your customers (e.g. HR people) and your co-trainers. Consider all relevant sources.

There are several easy ways you can collect feedback on your training session:

1. During the session

  • At the end of the session, invite participants to give feedback
    • You can use dedicated space on a visual collaboration board (Miro or MURAL), a page in a shared google doc or slide, or ask for written feedback in the chat. Getting feedback at this moment will enable you to manage satisfaction while everybody is still engaged and focused on the session, without other distractions.
    • Helpful approaches/questions to start with: 
      • ‘On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this training to a friend/colleague (10 means ‘strongly recommend’)’, 
      • ‘Name one thing you liked, and one thing you’d change’  
      • ‘Name a rose (something you liked), thorn (something you didn’t), bud (something that has potential)’

If you have enough time, first ask for overall satisfaction (1-10), then for specific feedback like the ‘rose, thorn, bud’. You can use the latter for feedback from co-trainers as well as your customers.

After the training session

2. After the session

  • Send a questionnaire with 3-4 questions. If you go too much into detail, it’s likely that people will open and close the form immediately, so keep it simple. You can use google forms, survey monkey or typeform. 
    • Start with ‘On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this training to a colleague? (10 means ‘strongly recommend’)’
    • What did you like most? 
    • What can be improved? 
    • Let their name be optional (anonymous answers will encourage people to give honest feedback)
  • 1:1 interviews (we recommend 10-15 minutes in the form of  a friendly catch-up) after the training. How long after depends on the specifics of the training and how much time one needs to see results.

Whichever method(s) you choose, communicate them upfront. Collecting feedback immediately after a session is the easiest way, providing that you have time for it, and it does not require any special attention/energy from participants. The longer after the session you wait, the smaller your chances are to remain relevant and receive answers. For such post-training surveys, typically only  10-20% of participants respond. 

To increase the response rate, make it explicit to participants you will ask for feedback, clarify when they can expect a message, and express (with emotion if you still have the energy) how much you appreciate getting their feedback as it enables you to grow and improve your program in the future. 

How to empower employees to put knowledge into practice and unleash their potential by Maggie Sarfo, CEO of Meres Consult

“Potential Manifests When You Know What to Do with It” – this is one of the favourite phrases that I’m normally quoted on.

As someone with a passion for enabling others to tap into their highest and truest potential, I find that one of the greatest opportunities that we can offer our employees is the ownership of this potential.

Here are 3 Tips that we can use to empower employees to put knowledge in practice so that they can unleash their fullest potential.

TIP 1 – Encourage Knowledge Integration Sessions

Having had the opportunity to advice and facilitate various learning and knowledge programmes at group and individual levels, I think this is a crucial step.

A knowledge integration session is a follow up session after the main session e.g., the main session can be a training programme. This usually happens around two weeks after the main session.

The aim is to enable participants of the training programme to recall the knowledge or learnings that were previously captured. More importantly, a discussion of what has surfaced for them on reflection, practise and integration over the last couple of weeks or so.

This provides a very rich tapestry and blueprint for all to discuss, learn from and apply in future.

TIP 2 – Build in Role Plays

Role plays are such a powerful method and tool that allows employees to remember and apply knowledge and learnings in an impactful way! 

Explaining the purpose of role plays in particular scenarios are very crucial. It allows employees to understand why they need to participate in it. It allows both introvert and extrovert forms of individual expressions to participate and own their roles in the collective vision of the business, team or organisation. 

This is an example of how giving employees their self-power creates much greater ownership of practical application of knowledge, enhancing their highest potential too. A win-win for all!

TIP 3 – Practical and Creative Story Sharing

Storytelling is no stranger to the knowledge learning and application world. Its effectiveness cannot be underestimated; from folklore to marketing in the business world.

Incorporating practical and creative stories in the content used for learning and knowledge sharing has a bigger potential to stick with employees at a deeper subconscious level. 

This then translates into memories that come back when a practical opportunity presents itself for them to apply.

So, whether you are a learner or a knowledge facilitator, I hope these 3 tips shared above has given so some food for thought or even the excitement to try something new next time.

It’s about all of us reaching our highest potential after all.

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