The COVID-19 new normal has created challenges for training and development teams that must keep staff engaged while providing the same experience of training and learning across the board, irrespective of the learner’s location.
In this post, Lyndon Lovell, GRC Solutions’ Senior Consultant, considers the best approach and offers some useful suggestions. Lyndon qualified with a Masters of Learning Science and Technology from the University of Sydney, focusing on e-learning and mobile devices, and has over 15 years’ experience in Governance, Risk and Compliance projects.
Let us consider the best approach to take in view of this situation.
Online training, or e-learning, is the first and most obvious thought. It does not have to be perfunctory and rote, and shouldn’t be underestimated. It allows learners to complete their training at their own time and pace; provides relevant scenarios and up-to-date, real-life examples; and caters to individual job levels, roles and responsibilities. It can also be adaptive, enabling staff to skip topics that they can demonstrate proficiency in so that they can focus instead on what they don’t yet know.
By utilising e-learning with synchronous (engaging simultaneously) and asynchronous (offline) activities, we can continue to encourage creativity and foster meaningful connections between staff, peers and management.
The following five tips can help to ensure that remote workers are not disadvantaged by being offsite. It considers a blended learning approach combining e-learning, webinars or other online meetings, and offline activities, in lieu of face-to-face training sessions.
Tip 1. Add other training methods to your existing e-learning
Existing e-learning courses (longer modular-based courses or short-burst microlearning topics) should be combined with other training methods.
A blended training strategy can include these approaches:
- Infographics (or similar handouts)
Provide staff a simple yet effective visual representation of a concept or idea.
Provide in-depth information on a specific topic. Webinars, which are usually hosted by a subject matter expert, may be conducted using Zoom or another video conferencing service.
- Online group forums
Provide a less formal training forum for staff to synchronously participate in discussion and activities. As with webinars, online group forums may be conducted using several online videoconferencing services.
- Offline activities
Provide asynchronous activities which can be completed individually or collaboratively.
Determine the efficacy of the training.
Different elements could be rolled out periodically to ensure learning is reinforced over time, and to reduce any cognitive overload.
Don’t forget that all types of training participation and results should be captured in a Learning Management System (LMS).
Tip 2. Use alternative facilitation aids
When facilitating an online webinar or forum with a virtual wall full of faces, it can be easy to miss cues that participants do not comprehend the content, or are bored or affected by work or home-related distractions.
While you cannot use traditional physical facilitation skills online as you would in person, online environments give you other tools and accessories to play with, for instance:
- Synchronous chat
In the case of a webinar, the chat feature can be used as a repository of questions to be answered at the end of the session. This will help to avoid distractions for the facilitator. If it is a less formal online training forum where active participation is required between the facilitator and participants, multiple chat rooms could be created.
Other chat services outside of a webinar environment, for instance “Teams”, should also be utilised, as they provide staff with a way of connecting, asking questions and receiving instant feedback.
- Visual aids (Do not just rely on your face)
When facilitating an online forum, share your screen and discuss graphics, statistics, videos, and scenarios (see Tip 4).
Tip 3. Cater to the needs of different learning styles
Adults learn differently. Some are visual learners, others auditory. Some prefer hands-on activities, while others appreciate the dynamics of collaborative teamwork.
In an online forum, images and videos may be used to increase understanding for learners with a visual preference. Infographics are a great way to communicate information in an easily understandable way and are the perfect solution for visual learners. These could be distributed prior to an online forum for an initial introduction to a topic and/or prior to undertaking an e-learning course.
Auditory learners may like to digest information through presentations. TED Talks are a great example of this format. Having a subject matter expert present a short discussion on a topic can help communicate information to auditory learners. These presentations can be in the form of a webinar and may contribute to the earning of CPD points.
Tip 4. Cater to the needs of different personality types
In addition to learning preferences, we need to accommodate different personality types, such as shy or introverted people to extroverts.
Synchronous and asynchronous activities (especially collaborative ones) can contribute to increasing engagement between peers, staff and the facilitator or manager. A mixture of online and offline activities will help to cater to both extroverts and introverts. To ensure learning “sticks”, base activities on real-life scenarios that are relevant to the learner’s job role.
A shy or introverted person may hide in the background during an online training session. To cater to these people, use asynchronised activities so that they can participate in their own time while not having to be singled out in a large online forum.
Extroverts thrive on attention and engagement. While extroverted participation can be incredibly rewarding and useful in order to help animate discussion, it can also be frustrating if one person dominates discussion when you are trying to obtain a broad range of questions from the audience. Boundaries can be set at the start of the session in relation to speaking (don’t forget that you control the mute button!); conversing with other participants (collaboration and candid disagreement are good — fighting is not); how and when to ask questions (they may be regulated to the chat function to be answered at the end or after the session); and how and when to allow general discussion.
Scenario-based role play activities (synchronous or asynchronous) are relevant to both introverts and extroverts.
Prepare a scenario-based role-play activity based on a real-world case or situation. For instance, a scenario could be created around anti-money laundering where team members act as inspectors to track down criminals. In an online forum, this could be achieved by creating “break-out rooms” where a small group can collaborate to solve a puzzle or to answer scenario-based questions or puzzles. Their findings can then be presented back in the online forum to all participants. These group activities could also be taken offline and presented back to the larger group at a follow-up online session.
Tip 5. Always have a backup
We’ve all experienced technical failures at some time, either as a participant or as a facilitator of an online forum, during a webinar or mid-way through an e-learning course.
Keep a pdf, or other offline packaged version of the training handy in case there are internet connection issues during a webinar or online meeting. If this happens mid-way through an online training session, email the participants a copy (this could be done from your smartphone if needs be).
Maybe the student is having home distractions in the form of noisy pets, rowdy children or unwanted construction nearby. If that is the case, something tangible may suffice if the training cannot be rescheduled.
Make sure that online activities are available in both desktop and mobile environments. This will help to ensure that technical problems which may be due to hardware or network issues, are able to be solved by reverting to an alternate platform or Wi-Fi connection.
Other examples of backup material include infographics, e-learning “quick fact sheets” or recordings or transcripts from previous online sessions or webinars.
Adapting to the new normal
Staff working from home is increasingly becoming a fact of life for organisations, and learning and development teams need to factor this into their future training programs.
When COVID-19 hit, companies were forced to act quickly, and a large part of the workforce suddenly found themselves working from home. Employers and employees promptly adapted to this new way of working. Likewise, modifying an existing training program by incorporating e-learning to suit remote learners can also be achieved quickly. Following these five simple steps can help to make your training program effective, connecting staff with peers and management, cultivating regulatory and policy compliance as well as individual creativity, and catering to different learning styles and personalities.