For trainers and those working for training providers, taking your learning and development online is no longer a lengthy consideration, but an immediate requirement. Under normal circumstances, the decision to move to blended learning is a process that involves extensive research, weighing up the pros and cons between a learning management system (LMS) versus a learning experience platform (LXP), asking for recommendations and considering specific organisational requirements – all according to budget and scale.
However, little could have prepared us for the disruption of COVID-19. In response, organisations have had to adapt fast. For those training departments that have relied predominantly upon face-to-face training sessions or a blend of learning deliveries, there is now no option but to adapt and deliver their entire learning offering via virtual classroom. Relevant content must be available to remote employees with minimal disruption to learning progress or compromise on quality.
For training departments, the pressure is on and you may be feeling somewhat overwhelmed.
We’ve put together this practical guide to take the pain out of the process and break it down into some of the most important considerations and recommended solutions.
“How do I know which virtual tools to use for learning?”
When it comes to virtual tools, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to suit every training department out there. Just as your learners all have individual requirements and will prefer different solutions, so too will your organisational goals be unique.
The good news is that for each of your individual requirements, there is a tool you can leverage to achieve your goal.
It’s all about knowing which one to use and when.
The solution: software and communication tools
If you want to replicate a face-to-face dynamic that involves the use of visual slides and Q&A, webinars can provide an effective solution. For setting assignments and collecting detailed reports on learners and cohorts, your LMS will have all the reporting tools you need. For deeper discussions on topics, your go-to could be forums, discussion boards or video meetings. For more ‘in-the-moment’ conversation, messaging tools such as Slack provide a great way to facilitate group conversations, send files and communicate real-time updates.
“How can I adapt my training courses for online delivery?”
When it comes to adapting your course content for the digital world, it can be tempting to immediately start thinking of ways to utilise technology to shift your entire offering online.
However, you want your learners to find the relevant content easily – after all, now they are learning from home, they may be more prone to distraction.. Bear in mind that the attention spans of modern learners are far shorter based on their consumption of online content.
The solution: content curation and adaptation
Take a good look at the content you plan to make available. Then, cut it down with the philosophy in mind that less is indeed more when it comes to online course content.
What do learners really need to know in order to achieve the learning objectives? Does that lengthy article you plan to share really provide value or is it simply an unnecessary extra to bulk out your resources? Remove anything which is not immediately relevant.
Take into account that not all of your training material will suit delivery via live virtual classroom, in which case you will need to consider alternative options. These could include:
- Online learning modules
- Discussion forums
- Audio content
One key thing to consider is that you’ll want to ensure that learners are engaged and keep coming back to learn. They need high-quality, relevant content that’s easily accessible – present them with an unsorted mass of unrelated resources and the overwhelm will have them logging out faster than you can say ‘cognitive overload’.
“How do I create an engaging virtual classroom experience?”
Virtual classrooms can be exciting, collaborative, practical and, admittedly, daunting. If you’ve never facilitated an online classroom before, it can be difficult to know where to start.
How do you maintain that level of engagement when adapting the training room dynamic for online? What tools can you use in order to do this?
The solution: accessible, interactive sessions
Virtual classroom pro Jo Cook of Lightbulb Moment has some excellent resources available for taking the first steps into virtual classrooms, from how many people you should host, to free-to-download blank session plans that you may find useful when planning your online sessions.
How many people you include in a virtual classroom is up to you, but you need to consider factors such as the lesson content (will there be group activities, for example?). Bear in mind that in order to make your sessions as inclusive as possible, you need to consider those with poor internet connections whose experience may be compromised if the sessions become too large and the bandwidth cannot cope.
Some of the most popular tools for hosting webinars include Adobe Connect and Webex Training Centre, both of which are fairly similar in terms of interaction tools. These include annotations, slide shows, video, breakout rooms, chat and Q&A panels. One exciting feature of Thinqi is our new Virtual Classroom, which allows you to host a virtual classroom experience within your LMS. It includes all the tools you need to create an engaging experience, including:
- Digital whiteboard
- Downloadable notes
- YouTube video sharing
- Live session recording
- Virtual breakout rooms
- Screen sharing
“How can I encourage social learning and collaboration online?”
Physical isolation doesn’t have to mean learners must also become isolated from each other. As we mentioned above, breakout rooms are a great way to support group activities within the virtual classroom. However, there are further ways to support and encourage collaboration using the power of technology.
You may even find that going digital opens up more options to collaborate than ever before.
The solution: video and communication tools
Try to make use of video conferencing tools to stay connected to learners. Where you can, conduct virtual meetings or digital classroom activities with the camera on; just seeing a familiar face can really help to retain that ‘human’ element of face-to-face training. Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts are just some of the options you can choose from.
Make use of communication tools such as forums, comment threads and real-time chat facilities too. You should avoid one-way communication; at Adobe, for example, the rule of thumb is to make sure at least 50% of each online training session is interactive. To achieve this, trainers pose questions, run polls, moderate panel discussions and invite audience comments.
This is something that we bear in mind when creating features in Thinqi. Take our ‘Networks’ function, for example. This allows people to share and comment on resources, engage in discussions and share ‘Playlists’ – a feature that allows users to efficiently bring content together from different sources and combine them into a single piece of beautiful learning content.
“How can I keep track of informal learning online?”
You might have the online training all set up and ready to go, but how do you use technology to track and assess understanding of the course material? How can you take into account informal learning activities outside of summative assessment?
After all, whether it’s formal or informal, every bit of learning counts.
The solution: xAPI
Ask learners to submit an assignment or even a brief reflection in order to track understanding of individual topics and lessons. You can ask for a quick reflection via a simple email, messaging tool, or alternatively, you could set a quiz or assignment in your learning platform. More informal reflections can be worked into the end of live sessions, by asking simple questions such as:
- What was your main takeaway for today?
- What will you do differently after this session?
What about tracking informal learning activities? How can these be included as part of the bigger picture?
Informal learning has traditionally been difficult to track. With xAPI compliant learning platforms such as Thinqi, learning content and learning systems can ‘speak’ to each other in a way that records and tracks learning experiences. For you, this means you can track more than just progress and scores to consider the bigger picture – from learners’ initial thoughts about learning, through to the impact it has on their everyday life.
While Thinqi incorporates the key features of the LXP and its xAPI abilities, it does so without compromising on the formal delivery and tracking associated with the LMS. By integrating the two, the result is that you can successfully engage learners beyond mandatory compliance training, yet are still able to measure and manage formal learning activities linked to unique organisational goals.
What’s more, Thinqi gives you the ability to add a mixed economy of both marked and formative assessments and quizzes. While unmarked questions won’t contribute to a learner’s overall score, you might still find it useful to see the responses. Just knowing that these practice quizzes won’t affect their mark gives learners a little more confidence with their learning.
We hope you’re feeling a little bit clearer on how to create an optimal online training experience. Knowing which tools to use for your own specific needs can help you create a uniquely tailored solution – one that allows you to not only maintain the interactive dynamic of face to face training, but enhance it too.
Whether it’s video discussions, forums, virtual classrooms, quizzes, assignments or an aggregated source of the best curated resources, there’s something to meet the demands of every content-hungry learner.
Ready? Let’s get training.
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