When we started the year, who knew things would change so radically. It’s funny to think that in March, one day I was at a customer site running some Excel training, the next I was indefinitely working from home.

Initially when I talked to customers about converting to virtual learning, they were skeptical and said they preferred to wait till things were back to normal. A few weeks in, people realised that this ‘new normal’ was going to be with us for a lot longer than everyone anticipated, and people started to be more open to the virtual learning world.

Some people were still really busy but others had some down time where they could benefit from some upskilling so it seemed an ideal opportunity. To help everyone adjust to the new form of learning, we offered some free one-hour virtual learning taster sessions and people really liked them. Then with a number of customers we ran some trial courses and again the feedback was really positive, with several people saying things like:

“It even worked REALLY well as a virtual course”

“Great sessions enhanced for me, believe it or not, by being virtual.”

“I like virtual training, I think it works well and allows everyone to join in without feeling embarrassed.”

“I would recommend a virtual session, I prefer to classroom.”

“I would recommend a virtual training session, trainee can still gather as much knowledge from this virtual course as they would in a personal group.”

I really think people surprised themselves at how much they enjoyed the sessions and found them useful. One thing I feel contributed to this was how we approached converting classroom-based courses to virtual, we do not just run the same thing but have considered the learner on the other end of a virtual session.

people on video call

How We’ve Supported the Transition to Virtual Learning

Converting face to face training to virtual sessions has been a transition for everyone – trainers and learners alike. Having worked in training for most of my career, I’m happy to admit that face to face was the standard for me, and moving to another format has been a very interesting time. Even now, I’m still amazed at how even a few simple adjustments to learning formats has made the process so much easier for everyone involved.

Delivering Bite-sized-learning

The first thing we did was to break the full days courses into smaller chunks. Personally, I would not want to sit on a virtual course all day, so I didn’t think others would either. Yes, it means more logistics and scheduling on our part, but at the end of the day we deliver courses so that people can get the most out of them and this approach works so well for many of the people we work with. People love the shorter sessions and the fact that they can fit them into busy schedules and not to have to take a whole day out. It also means that they can put what they learn into practice immediately; people often come on a second day telling me what they have used the previous afternoon after their training. Getting to see the impact of the sessions is so rewarding for me as a trainer, and obviously extremely beneficial for the people who come to learn.

“Worked well doing it online and split over a number of days, probably easier to take it all in than if it was one session”

“I really enjoyed the training virtually. Very convenient, minimum impact on the working day. Literally working right up to switch over for the course, then straight back to work. so convenient.”

“I wasn’t sure how well Excel would work via Skype but it worked perfectly. We were able to do everything we could have in the classroom, and I actually preferred having the shorter bitesize sessions.”

Focusing on Engagement in Learning

We’ve also made sure to keep the sessions interactive. Just because it’s virtual training does not mean we are just going to present and have people watch a slideshow. We want to ensure that the sessions are still interactive and that people have a chance to participate and ask questions. We actively encourage people to turn on their videos if they can so we can all ‘meet’ each other. I know we are all self-conscious about how we look on video but once everyone is used to it and if everyone joins in you soon forget.

However, we definitely do not force people to use video if they are uncomfortable. Where people prefer not to use video, we find other ways to build engagement and connections. There is the chat function in most tools which can be a useful option, although we do encourage people to talk and ask questions as if we were in a face to face environment, as it is so much more personal and helps to build rapport. Chat can be good if people are having audio issues and cannot hear or be heard and can then get my attention so I can help them sort out problem. There are still exercises for everyone to participate in to get hands on practice and the share screen function that most tools have is a great way to help and troubleshoot where people have questions and problems. We also use survey tools and questionnaires in some of our sessions, such as the Mental Toughness programme, as this is a great way for people to get involved and share their ideas,

“Great session very informative and I liked the interactive part of doing some exercises”

“I have appreciated very much the way this interactive training has been conducted”

“I would recommend it, good mix of lead examples and information along with actual exercises to try and support when needed”

“Trainer was very knowledgeable and couldn’t do enough to help. The content and time span of each session was just right. I also found the additional exercises very useful as it gives the trainee a better grasp of the material when trying to implement the content covered each day“

Being Flexible

With everyone being forced into this new virtual world overnight, we all face different challenges around working from home so we try to be as flexible as possible with technology, timings, and scheduling. We use different learning platforms, including Teams, Skype, WebEx and Zoom so we can match different organisation’s standards and technology needs. We understand that although we cannot always see people there are distractions from family and home that can impair learning. I myself, share my home office with a Cockatiel – Boomer. He can be quite chirpy at times so rather than ignoring it I introduce him to my delegates and sometimes even include him in my training, it makes it fun and it is the reality of the world of home working we now live in. He even got a mention on one of our feedback questionnaires when someone put Trainer: Susan and Boomer. I have seen so many cats, dogs and children making faces behind the videos but so what, we are all human and laughing is good and helps keep us all healthy. Learning should be informative and fun, we take things in better that way and it is so much more enjoyable.

“Excellent course and trainer, I would definitely recommend it. The course was detailed and very informative. Susan is very engaging. When you think you know everything there is to know about a certain function, Susan teaches you another nifty shortcut!  The session worked well over Teams.”

“I would definitely recommend the course to others as I learnt how to use many of the previously ‘hidden’ PowerPoint functions which are very useful! I thought both sessions went well via Skype.”

“I’ve done a lot of systems training, often the content and granularity can make it difficult to keep focused after several hours!….Susan’s training style was passionate and really engaging, I was always interested to learn more.”

Going International

One of the best outcomes of the digital learning world is that it has given us the opportunity for international training without the travel. This has been a great boon, we have been running courses with people from Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, UK and Ireland all in one session. No one has to travel, and everyone can take part then get back on with their day job. It has proved interesting scheduling sessions with different time zones to account for, but certainly not impossible. Overall it has saved the organisations we work for, the delegates we train, and us as trainers so much time and logistical hassle, and personally, it’s been wonderful meeting such a diverse set of delegates over the last few months.

“The virtual session was easy to join. Simple to navigate. Easier to fit in around day-to-day work as you do not have to allow for travel times. I didn’t feel any aspect of the course was compromised by it being virtual.”

“I would recommend a virtual session, no travelling involved, but that participation and learning was the same.”

“I would recommend virtual training, no need to travel to a training session, was good not to be away from my laptop/ away from desk all day. Felt I was able to concentrate and participate just as well on the remote sessions.”

So, in summary if you had asked me in January how I would feel about converting solely to virtual training I would have been dubious. However now, I really enjoy the variety, love meeting so many new people from around the world and truly believe that people are getting a lot from the short, focused sessions we are running. I think a lot of people have surprised themselves and found the sessions useful, despite initially doubting whether they would work. We live in an ever-changing world where we have to constantly adapt, and this year has proved that even more. Even once lockdown eases, and people are able to return to the office, there might be a return to some face to face training, and that’s great. However, things will probably never go back to exactly how they were, but is that a bad thing? We have shown that learning can still be fun and valuable and it can fit more snuggly into our working days, meaning less need for lots of travel time and expense, which certainly sounds like a good thing to me.

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