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Make the Transition to Virtual Training: 3 Keys to Success

blog author
Written by Erica Schultz
Chief Marketing Officer, RAIN Group

Since the global pandemic of 2020 began, virtual training has become imperative. But designing and delivering effective virtual training is the exception more than the norm.

Virtual training failure is all too common. We’ve seen and heard it all:

  • Boring, static, dull
  • Repurposed haphazardly from standalone eLearning or in-person training
  • Bad slides
  • Bad facilitation
  • Technical issues

It’s easy to say, “There are many pitfalls to avoid,” for any kind of training, but virtual instructor-led training (VILT) initiatives take the cake. The decks are stacked against success!

But success is there for those who want it. Those who succeed not only succeed where others fail, but also take advantage of the unique benefits that VILT has to offer over other delivery modalities.

For you to build and deliver the most impactful and effective virtual training—and, yes, so you don’t flop where so many others do—you must attend to the following 3 keys, which are the topic of our report, 9 Principles of Virtual Learning Success:

  1. Choose the right platform to support your training goals
  2. Design engaging and impactful training
  3. Prepare facilitators for successful delivery in a digital world

Choose the Right Platform

Not all platforms are created equal, and not all serve every objective. Different platforms excel at different things. You must choose wisely. 

Think first about what you want to accomplish with your training:

  • Is it knowledge share with a large group? A webinar platform may suffice.
  • One-on-one or small-group coaching? A meeting platform with video is best.
  • In-depth instructor-led training similar to a physical classroom? A purpose-built virtual classroom platform is best.

Think about the tools you’ll need to deliver the experience you want learners to have. Do you require break-out rooms? Virtual whiteboards? Chat? Polls? Participants being able to share audio and video? All of these are considerations in your platform selection.

Our advice here:

  1. Architect what you're trying to accomplish
  2. Make a plan for how you'll accomplish it
  3. Pick your platform(s) to bring it to life

A big mistake we see organizations make is building the training for the platform they already have. This thinking is backward. Could it work? Maybe. But it requires a close look at your training needs versus current capabilities.

Design Engaging Training

A big mistake companies make is carelessly turning their live, classroom training into VILT. They attempt to take what works in a 3D environment and use it in 2D. It simply doesn’t work.

VILT isn’t the web version of your live, instructor-led training delivered through an online meeting platform. Keep the following three principles in mind:

  1. Design specifically for VILT: Materials, facilitation, and exercises need to be purpose-built for virtual. So much is different: session kickoffs, content flow, discussion management, visual flow, visual and slide timing, ability to read the room, ability to interact, types of interaction, physical distance, distractions, technology, breaks, breakouts, exercises and activities, etc.

    To design training for VILT that'll stand on its own, attend to the key learning design concepts of learn, feel, do:
    1. Learn: What do the participants need to know? What are the learning objectives?
    2. Feel: What do you want participants to feel? Emotion drives change. If you want training to drive change (and you do!), you have to elicit emotion.
    3. Do: What do you want participants to apply or what change in behavior are you looking for? Change requires action. Make sure your training clearly drives the action you want participants to take.

    Then think about how you'll achieve these in a 2D online environment. Critical design elements include session flow, virtual sequencing, and engagement.

  2. Keep capturing participant attention: In VILT it’s much easier to lose the room and harder to get it back. If your instructional design and classroom management don’t tackle distraction head-on, upfront, and forcefully, your chances of failure increase exponentially. 

    The secret? Don’t think about capturing learner attention. Think about capturing it over and over and over again. In VILT, learners need to be doing something, seeing something new, challenged to think about what they’re seeing, or contributing frequently to maintain attention. If not, assume their attention will keep drifting away.
  3. Maximize engagement with interaction: For training to have the greatest impact, you must engage participants—make sure they’re present, focused, and fully involved. While engagement goes hand-in-hand with attention, we’ve singled it out because it’s so critical to successful VILT.

    The key to driving engagement—assuming the training is important to the participant’s role and success—is interaction, activities, and application. This is another reason why platform choice is so important: it governs your interaction options. When you design for VILT, you want to design frequent and diverse interactions.

Prepare for Delivery Success

What makes for a great facilitator in the physical world does not automatically mean great facilitation in the virtual one.

Facilitators need to learn how to deliver and engage participants differently. As you think about the delivery of your virtual training, be sure to:

  1. Select the right facilitators: Facilitation in a virtual environment takes a significant amount of mental energy, preparation, and collaboration. Some facilitators are simply not built for a virtual environment. Facilitators need to understand the differences in delivering online versus in-person and work to hone their "digital senses."
  2. Partner facilitators with hosts: We can’t overstate the critical importance of having a host for each VILT session. There’s almost always something that requires serious attention behind the scenes. You need a host who can fix it all, allowing the facilitator to focus on participant experience and learning. Follow our advice on this one: don’t go it alone.
  3. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: Preparation for any training matters. In the virtual classroom, it’s even more critical. It’s not just about being great versus being good. If you don’t prepare, you’re much more likely to fail. Three roles need preparation: the facilitator, the host (see the two points above), and the participant.

    Participants should know ahead of time what’s expected of them. Will they be on video? Expected to participate on audio? Is there pre-work to complete? What technology do they need to download and install ahead of time? Participant preparation is an often overlooked (yet critical) part of virtual training success.

Many organizations struggle to build virtual training or convert their in-person training to virtual. Virtual training that works is still in its infancy. With rampant technical, facilitator, and learning design-issues, virtual learning too often doesn’t go well.

When the entire experience is designed with the virtual learning environment in mind, you can create impactful and engaging training that achieves business results.

Download: 9 Principles of Virtual Learning Success

Topics: Virtual Selling