6 questions that will change how you approach live online training

Many of us are old enough to be tempted to say, “If I had only known back then what I know now…,” and fewer of us were wise enough to get a mentor to help us avoid some bruises along the way.

What follows was inspired by a conversation I was having recently with a client about moving training online. The very first question in the list is one I’ve asked potential clients for years, but I realized there are more where that came from.

Should this session even be live?

To be honest, this is a question we should ask of a lot of training classes, online or off. The challenge is that more often than not learners would be better off doing some form of self-study than enduring a “talking at people” (lecture) session.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t value in live learning sessions. Discussion, application, and collaboration play big roles in learning, and they’re a big value in live, online learning, too.

Should the content be chunked into smaller segments?

Often we pile into an in-person class for 1/2-day and full-day (if not multi-day) sessions because we endured the trouble and expense of getting everybody together. Sometimes it’s just because that’s the way it’s always been done. But the spacing effect has been shown to be a useful tactic (you learn piano more easily, for instance, when practicing 15 minutes a day over several days than cramming for 3 hours).

Live, online training removes many barriers to chunking. It’s easy to for a learner to grab multiple shorter sessions because there is no additional travel involved.

Should this class be “flipped” or blended?

“Flipping” the classroom has become popularly used in the learning lexicon, and it’s essentially a blended-learning model. In this case, “flipping” means moving the lecture portion of the class to a recording, and using the live, real-time session for the uniquely live elements of learning (e.g., discussion).

This always brings up other touchpoints of the learning experience…what (if anything) goes in a participant guide, should social media or a chat forum be used, etc. Asking the question up front forces you to think about the strengths of each medium as part of the learning experience.

What can I do better in the virtual class than in my in-person class? What can I only do in the virtual class that I simply can NOT do in my in-person class.

Anyone who changes the medium through which the communication happens first notices (and usually laments) what is lost. Book writers bemoan what got chopped to make the movie. And trainers bemoan the diminished (or eliminated) eye-contact and body language.

I ask this question to nudge people down the path to maturity in a new medium. There are things you can do better in the new medium. If you stop to think about it, you quickly evolve from “the new medium is a second-rate alternative” to “there isn’t a right or wrong so much as these are different.”

Of course some things are better in an in-person class. Duh! But some things are better in a virtual class. Oh!

By the way, check out this (lengthy) interview for a great case study that uses ideas from the previous two questions.

How should I approach my PowerPoint slides differently?

The psychosocial experience a learner is having in an online class is, in part, more akin to what the experience in other screen-based media like television. This is less true, obviously, the more interactive you make the class.

However, to the degree that this is true (which it likely is for at least part of your class), that experience should probably take a lesson from Hollywood (who has learned a thing or two about attention…and it doesn’t include using lots of text or bullet points).

If you have to use text, consider these design and deliver tips.

If you have room to argue the issue in your organization, consider this post. 

What exercises do I need to rewrite?

It goes without saying that some in-class exercises need to be adjusted for the new medium, but I like to push students one step further. When in-person, I’ll have them do some crazy exercise that involves walking around the room, lining themselves up by something like birthday or physical height, etc, and then challenge them to figure out how they’re going to do it online.

What inevitably happens is that some teams contort themselves figuring out how to actually do something like that online, and others decide it’d be easier to come up with a different exercise to teach the same learning objective. Which is ultimately the point that I am making…either one works, but the point is the objective, not the exercise.

The bottom line

Every one of us has at some point been guilty of just doing voice-over-slideuments, but the good news is that doing better training online isn’t hard, it’s just different. Stop to ask yourself a few penetrating questions before you get going and your learners will be thanking you for months and years to come.

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