As the landscape of technology continues to change, so do the opportunities available for training delivery methods. Learning and Development (L&D) professionals must learn how to present the same ideas in new, effective ways for the changing demographics and expectations of employees, both domestic and abroad.
Transitioning from what worked for years into new methods to encourage participation and learning may be challenging. What are companies and organizations doing to meet this challenge head on and succeed?
Out with the Old?
The World Bank, a United Nations international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programs, tends to focus most of its efforts on classroom-based training.
Learning Officer Sam Taylor estimates that 70 percent of the company’s internal training is traditional and instructor led. He credits this percentage to the value the organization puts on the ability to share ideas, network, teach on the fly, and tabletop experiences.
Although he hopes to move the company more in the direction of virtual training, he acknowledges that it is hard to recreate those elements in a webinar. “In the future,” he says, “The World Bank will target online training for resource-constrained issues.”
Recently, an online program was successful in training 2,500 people in six months that would have taken two years and multiple millions of dollars to accomplish in a classroom.
Taylor’s goal is to move the organization’s eLearning efforts to the next level of sophistication. He would like employees to have access to case studies, provide tools for addressing needs, and get exercise in simulated environments.
“We are past simple PowerPoint presentations and have achieved some level of interaction,” he shares. “But I’m a big proponent of experiential learning.” With any significant change, there is always resistance. One concession to maintaining a classroom-based training model is to examine the benefits of the Flipped Classroom. In this model, the standard learning style is switched around.
According to TrainingPros Relationship Manager Leigh Anne Lankford, the “homework” is assigned before the student attends class in whatever form of media the instructor prefers. Then the learners come together in the classroom setting to work on the assignment and receive guidance from the instructor. “In the Flipped model,” Lankford explains, “facilitator time is primarily used for application, synthesis, evaluation, and analysis.”
The Many Options of eLearning
Atlanta-based Crawford and Company, the world's largest independent claims management company, transitioned from the traditional stand-up trainer with four to five weeks of instruction into the virtual world about 20 years ago, even before most employees had desktop computers.
“We had to send them an early, vintage laptop with a CD or they had to take a computer home. It’s all about evolving,” states Bruce Stauf, director of training, Crawford Educational Services, the company’s training arm.
Rick Charles, training specialist, Crawford Educational Services, has noticed an evolution, in not only how training sessions are provided, but also the content of the lessons.
Almost 20 years ago, training at Crawford and Company was based on how to use the new forms of technology. “Students, especially this new generation, are so intuitive when it comes to the technology,” Charles says. “As more technology came into the industry, we found the content of our classes was beginning to change.”
In order to encourage engagement, Charles provides pre-study questions before the virtual class that he asks to be returned to him. “Involvement in the discussion ensures involvement in the instruction,” he says. Charles prefers an open-discussion format based on real-world scenarios.
Working with qualified subject matter experts and other professionals and using sources of information and technology such as YouTube can each bring different elements of creativity and discussion that foster very good results in a virtual learning setting. “Working with outside people can also bring an unexpected benefit,” Charles offers. “This format is usually new to them as well, so it’s interesting to gauge their satisfaction with it once they’ve gone through it.”
Another benefit of transitioning to virtual training for Crawford and Company is cost. “The driving factor for us was budgetary,” Stauf says. “The cost saving is tremendous.”
Although they still offer some traditional classes, Crawford and Company has seen a huge benefit with virtual training simply by almost eliminating their largest budget item: travel expenses.
“You can spend a half a million dollars for a one- time training, pulling people offline, reserving space, getting instructors, etc.,” says Stauf. But virtual training allows employees, including senior-level executives, to log into the session from anywhere in the world.
Scott Schade, learning consultant at Equifax, Inc., prefers to use webinars for the company’s internal training needs. A company solves this problem by either remote voice or remote visual. “A webinar is an engagement with people about content in real- time,” Schade says. “If it is recorded, it becomes a different thing.”
To encourage engagement, Schade focuses on the participants, the technology, and the content. “If you don’t know your content, you will get derailed because you will lose your place,” he states. “You have to know your participants. What if you have people from different cultures or time zones? Not recognizing this will disengage your participants.”
Finally, instructors hosting webinars need to ensure that all of the technology needs are met from both the perspective of the presenter and the participant. Schade recommends having someone in your space who can view your webinar from a participant view and call attention to any technical difficulties.
Making the Transition
With two decades of experience in virtual training, Charles and Stauf insist that one of the most important elements of transitioning from the traditional, instructor-led training to virtual training is learning how to look for feedback.
“You need to ensure that the group is ‘with you,’ even if they aren’t physically with you,” Stauf offers. It is critical that your audience is able to see you. “Being able to see your group is essential for valuable interaction,” Charles reiterates.
For companies looking to make the shift from traditional, lecture-style training to virtual, Stauf recommends doing a lot of research. “Don’t be afraid to ask other companies,” he says. “And don’t try to just take your traditional classroom material, put it on slides, and then lecture to people for eight hours.”
But both Stauf and Charles insist that they do not advocate for virtual learning to replace classroom instruction completely. “Classroom training can be well supplemented by online, virtual training elements,” Stauf states. He suggests utilizing practice databases or computer systems in a version that resembles the live format.
Maurice Rondeau, learning and development leader at Textron, agrees. Textron, a network of businesses with approximately 33,000 employees in 25 countries, utilizes both instructor-led and eLearning platforms, many of which are self- directed. The company has been using eLearning for more than 10 years, but Rondeau states “just because eLearning is available doesn’t mean it will be used. You must have patience with the process.”
Strong internal champions of the technology and platform are critical for ensuring that the format is easy for the learner to use. When identifying outside resources to help achieve Textron’s L&D goals, Rondeau considers the level of engagement and interactivity along with how well the topic and facilitator are aligned with the specific audiences. He also looks for the ability to measure success.
In cases where webinars are utilized and visual interaction is impossible, Schade encourages presenters to pay attention to how they are delivering content and the pace of the session. Although he believes that the skills of a classroom- based instructor and a webinar presenter are very similar, he reminds presenters that they will lose the visual cues that they are accustomed to in the classroom setting.
“I don’t have the beauty of being in the room with the participants. I don’t see confused looks or hands going up,” Schade states. He recommends getting participants comfortable with using the technology by asking questions and expecting interaction at least every four to five minutes.
With any form of training, participants expect to be engaged. “If they aren’t engaged,” Schade says, “90 percent of the time it is the presenter’s fault.” Every four or five slides in a webinar should have a different focal point and engage the participant in the content in some form. “If they didn’t want to engage, they wouldn’t have signed up,” Schade states.
Taylor believes that the biggest challenges to this transition at The World Bank are budget and people. “We need subject matter experts,” he says. “And each business unit may only have a small budget. We need to find more low-cost options.”
Despite these obstacles, Taylor affirms that The World Bank “wants to make sure that staff is bright, capable, and knowledgeable” and that is evident in the company’s push toward more informal learning in the future.
A New Set of Challenges
One of the primary challenges with virtual learning at Crawford and Company is distraction. With training provided to employees all over the United States, some working in branches while others work from home, Stauf always recommends that branches provide employees with a special cubicle or office available for training. This space will help cut down on distractions such as ringing phones or pinging email inboxes.
Taylor also cautions organizations looking to shift to eLearning or virtual training to consider bandwidth constraints. With a global presence, Taylor has to be aware of any challenges to access to the Internet. “Bandwidth has always been a barrier,” he states, “and download times must be paid attention to when developing eLearning.” He has simulation software that allows him to see what low-bandwidth parts of the world would experience in an online event.
Schade reminds webinar presenters that it is critical not to get caught off guard by technology. Making sure that presenters are accustomed to the technology they are using is vital in maintaining participant engagement. Be prepared and practice. Have a back-up computer or phone. “Good practice is to get good in-depth knowledge out of whatever tool you’re using,” Schade says. “Not knowing the tool is just as bad as not knowing the content.”
Rick Charles, Training Specialist, Crawford and Company
- Interviewed on Learning Insights Radio by Business RadioX
Leigh Anne Lankford, Relationship Manager, TrainingPros
Maurice Rondeau, Learning & Development Leader, Textron
- Interviewed by Dan Collier, former Relationship Manager, TrainingPros
Scott Schade, Learning Consultant, Equifax, Inc.
- Interviewed on Learning Insights Radio by Business RadioX
Bruce Stauf, Director of Training, Crawford and Company
- Interviewed on Learning Insights Radio by Business RadioX
Sam Taylor, Learning Officer, The World Bank
- Interviewed by Eugene de Ribeaux, former Relationship Manager, TrainingPros
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