Is your organization prepared to make the leap to virtual training? This article highlights the warning signs that can indicate your virtual training is headed for less than successful outcomes. Know what to look for so you can get your virtual learning back on track!


Be On the Lookout for These Warning Signs

When sharing our learning experiences, we often turn to our success stories. It can be highly gratifying to describe events during which the stars aligned, everything progressed smoothly, and the end result was a positive outcome. But if you work in learning and development for any length of time, you learn fairly quickly that the stories that have the most impact are often those that describe what NOT to do. Irrespective of industry, for some reason lessons about failure really stick. Whether describing an avoidable chemical plant disaster (The monitoring device malfunctioned – what if that had been on my watch?), a highly inappropriate job interview (How could they possibly ask such a question?), or a poorly loaded delivery truck (Of course the merchandise was damaged upon arrival!), these types of examples remain firmly anchored in learners’ memories. Applying that strategy here, we’re going to examine the warning signs that point toward an organization underprepared to make the leap to virtual training. Left unaddressed, these warning signs exponentially increase the probability of failure for a virtual learning initiative.

Sign #1 - You Haven't Performed a Thorough Analysis of Available Technology

Warning Sign #1: You Haven’t Performed a Thorough Analysis of Available Technology

You’ve hired a talented learning and development vendor to design your bright and shiny new virtual training program. They’ve developed a highly interactive, visually arresting, engaging blended learning program, but…did anyone check to see if all employees have company-issued computers? If not, can they access the training from their personal devices if it’s housed behind the company’s firewall? Do all employees have internet connections? Are their internet connections sufficient to accommodate the whiz-bang videos and slick graphics included in the program? If questions such as these were not raised before the program’s design, you’re likely to encounter a world of trouble once it deploys. Needs and capabilities analysis should always be the first step when designing any learning program, but for virtual training having a firm grasp of the technology piece is particularly crucial.

Deeper Dive: 7 Essentials of a Successful Mobile Learning Strategy

Sign #2 - Your Employees Aren't Prepared for the Virtual Shift

Warning Sign #2: Your Employees Aren’t Prepared for the Virtual Shift

If your organization has always relied on instructor-led training, preparing employees to learn virtually is going to require some effort. Making erroneous assumptions about employee preparedness (“Everybody’s on their phones/computers these days, virtual training will be a breeze!”) can only end in tears—yours due to the wasted investment on training that no one will be interested in taking, and your employees’ due to the frustration of what they will probably perceive to be a waste of time.

Communication is key to preventing this situation. Keep it simple, provide helpful guidelines for success, and be clear about expectations.

Above all, explain the benefits to employees. Why is this new procedure important? How will it help make their work easier? How does it help the organization as a whole? If the advantages are clearly communicated and employee buy-in is assured, you’ve won half the battle.

Sign #3: Your Facilitators Don't Know How to Deliver Training Virtually

Warning Sign #3: Your Facilitators Don’t Know How to Deliver Training Virtually

Gifted facilitators have a heightened sensibility to learner progress, and rely on this to pivot as necessary during training sessions. It’s much harder to put that skill to use during virtual training. Depending on how the training is conducted, it’s going to be challenging for facilitators to intercept the audio cues (“ummmm”) and visual hints (blank looks) that signal uncertainty. It’s going to be essential for your facilitators to get up to speed, and quickly.

If you’re in a larger organization, it’s likely that someone in-house has experience with virtual training. Get that person or persons to spearhead “train the trainer” sessions that include tips on how to maintain learner engagement and information on the tools available for training delivery in your organization. If possible and as resources permit, pair facilitators with virtual “producers” who can handle the pesky technological aspects (breakout rooms, conducting polls, etc.) so facilitators can focus on the training itself and, more importantly, on the learners.

For facilitators in smaller organizations who might not have a network of colleagues to exchange with, keep in mind that the adult learning principles you’ve relied on to successfully conduct in-person training remain applicable, but simply need to be adapted for this new training environment. Small, digestible chunks of information, a variety of delivery methods, reinforcement over time—such strategic choices will have a positive impact no matter how the training is conducted.

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Sign #5: Your Training Isn't Learner-Focused

Warning Sign #5: Your Training Isn’t Learner-Focused

Subject matter experts can sometimes be blinded by their own specific knowledge of a subject, task, procedure, or process. They know so much about a particular topic that they have a hard time paring the information down to what the learner really needs to know in order to do their job. Training can get bogged down with a lot of non-essential theoretical knowledge that might be interesting and helpful, but more often is overwhelming or distracting.

If you’re already combatting the perception of virtual training as being impersonal, a lot of extraneous information adds to the impression that “this wasn’t designed with me in mind.” The more you can strip down the training and focus on those elements that are absolutely necessary, the easier your job will be in terms of change management. It’s a lot easier to convince people that something has value when they can immediately see its impact on their day to day tasks.

Deeper Dive: See how Obsidian Learning applies the IDEA Model to design training with the “whole learner” in mind.

Virtual training, as with all types of learning, should be designed thoughtfully and with intention. During this time of uncertainty, it’s crucial for organizations to reflect upon how they can best integrate new employees as well as maintain and improve existing employee skill levels, all remotely. Keeping a wary eye out for the pitfalls listed here will help ensure the success of your virtual learning program.

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