Serious About Virtual

As far back as 2010/2011, I was tasked by my client with exploring the possibilities of delivering in-dealer coaching and training via a virtual platform. The company had recognised a great way to deliver effective professional learning and development support directly into larger dealer networks, whilst reducing the cost both in terms of financial and time taken out of the business.


The challenge at that time was quite a difficult one as there was no real precedent. There were some video based virtual applications but nothing that really dealt with the pedagogical needs of a training or coaching intervention.


Needless to say, our first few delivery attempts were pretty poor, almost embarrassing as we simply tried to deliver classroom-based training to a virtual audience.


This led me to what would become a 10-year mission in trying to find, develop and adapt the most effective way to design, develop and deliver robust and effective virtual learning. We are still on that mission today, exploring new platforms, software, approaches and models to increase the engagement, knowledge transfer and behavioural change required in today’s semi-virtual world.


The pandemic offered us something we had strived for for a number of years, a wholesale awareness and need for virtual learning. This has brought about some negatives as well. We now had a worldwide audience with a need for virtual learning, but we also had a business environment full of ‘virtual experts’.  Indeed, at the start of the pandemic I offered support and advice to trainers and coaches around how to adapt to a virtual learning platform as everyone now needed some form of virtual solution, otherwise they’d have no work or income at all. What was surprising was the number of ‘professional people’ who then immediately changed their public profiles to ‘Virtual Expert’?!


Anyway, what have we discovered after all these years? Well, quite a bit actually!


Firstly, you have to be serious about virtual. If you approach it in any other way then it usually ends up as a ‘video’ presentation, often delivered over Zoom, Teams or Skype, that results in the audience watching the presenter read a slide or two then pull up a ‘poll’ before repeating the process.


In a discussion with a previous employer of mine I explained that there are a number of challenges to delivering engaging virtual learning. Firstly, you must prepare. To give you some indication, we were traditionally given 6-12 days to write a classroom-based course for our clients. In this time we would produce a set of defined learning outcomes, a detailed running order, a PowerPoint presentation, a workbook or manual and any task handouts that were required. When creating a virtual intervention we take 3-4 times as long to create the materials and collateral simply because we have to prepare all of the answers to the ‘what if’ conversations that go on in a classroom based environment.


I explained it once like this; “up until now we have been delivering training like a game of football. We have a pitch, two goals, two teams a ball and an objective. In the virtual world we have the same requirements only this time we are in a swimming pool, we can still play a game with two teams, two goals a defined are, a ball and an objective but we simply have to approach it in a different manner and understanding the environment we are in.”


Which brings me to the second point, the environment.  Again, we need to be serious about our training environment. A laptop, ring light and kitchen table does not make a great learning environment for the trainer or the trainees. Our environment has developed over the years to a small home-based studio, sit-stand desk, 3M backdrop (we won’t use virtual backgrounds until they are much more stable), suitable microphone / camera / lighting / software and the expertise to operate at a high level, without technical issues consistently and professionally. The ability to stand up whilst delivering creates more energy and flow, confidence in the equipment provide better stability and options.


Thirdly, you need to be serious about your technical expertise. Invest time in understanding the software you are using to a degree that not only can you build, maintain and run your virtual classroom professionally, but so that you can also communicate with delegates who are having issues, provide technical support and guide them through any setting up or technical issue process.


So, in short, we have developed a current approach that includes:
  1. Be serious about your learning content. Pedagogical, comprehensive, shareable, multimedia, engaging and useful. Built to defined learning outcomes and following proven learning models such as Kolb’s learning styles theory, Kirkpatrick’s ROI model, etc.
  2. Be serious about your environment, free from distraction, fit for purpose, conducive to learning
  3. Be serious about your knowledge, technical expertise, confidence and the ability to manage your room


The final piece, in our experience, in delivering enjoyable and engaging virtual learning is simply to enjoy it! It is in fact a fantastic way to deliver to a larger audience at a lower cost and become more productive in a professional and effective way.


Thank you for reading

– Alan

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