By Anna Sommer
Career Exploration Specialist, APUS
As businesses closed their physical doors to open virtual ones, employers have had to adapt training sessions for an online setting. But reproducing in-person training in the online world can be a challenge for employers. Conversely, as an employee, learning in a virtual world can be a shock to the system.
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Many organizations quickly migrated into Google Classroom or Zoom to keep operating during the lockdowns this year. These online platforms have many benefits, but effective training requires more than the right platform.
Taking time to consider the different elements of training and what makes a session effective will ensure that your virtual training sessions are successful. Whether you’re the presenter or the participant, everyone wants to engage in a successful virtual training session. The first step in getting there is deciding what “successful” means.
#1: Define Your Goals for Virtual Training Sessions
Creating a successful training session really boils down to understanding what you want people to know or do. Keep this goal as the focus so you stay on track while creating your training module, communicate the objectives clearly while giving the training and reflect on them after the session to determine if it was successful.
As a participant, you should have similar goals. After a training session, you should know, understand or be able to do something new. If not, consider whether your time spent in virtual training was worth it.
When you’re reviewing a training description, pinpoint what the goal is. What will you know or be able to do as a result of attending this training? If this is not clear, ask the presenter.
During the training session, determine if the training focused on the ultimate goal. If it did not, consider offering respectful feedback so changes can be made.
#2: Understand and Support Different Learning Styles
Participants may have individual learning styles and preferences. But not everyone understands how to present information in a way that suits different learning styles. There are seven main types of learning, and including two or more of them within a training session will ensure you include all participants.
Visual learners like to see what they are learning. Adding images, mind maps and videos during the lesson or asking participants to create a mind map as an activity will enhance their learning process.
Aural learners like to hear or speak about what they are learning. Employing oral presentations, creating opportunities to engage in group conversation and listening to music will benefit aural learners. If discussion is not possible, offer an opportunity for participants to discuss or ask questions after the session to help them digest your content.
Verbal learners like to read or listen to what they are learning. Include handouts or a copy of the presentation and verbally explain your content for these participants. Doing these activities in advance also helps these learners to process information early, so they can be more actively engaged during training.
Physical learners like to move while they are learning. However, this preference can be a challenge for virtual training.
So if you are the presenter, coming up with ways to incorporate movement will be key. Taking breaks to have guided stretching or yoga, having participants in virtual role-playing scenarios, or allowing participants to opt out of video so they can walk or move around during the session may be helpful.
Logical learners like structure; they prefer to understand the “why” behind a concept and to break down ideas into patterns or groups. Include charts, graphs and trends in your virtual training sessions to help these learners see the big picture of your message. Additionally, breaking down information into bullet points, lists, flow charts, a set of procedures or tables will be beneficial to these learners.
Social learners prefer to learn while interacting with people in teams or on group projects. Virtually presenting to social learners can be tricky, since in-person collaboration is not an option. Offering small group breakout sessions or post-training group exercises are great options when you’re teaching social learners.
Solitary learners prefer to learn alone and are very self-motivated and goal-oriented. Virtual learning might be ideal for these learners, especially if the training is pre-recorded and does not involve interaction with others.
As a presenter, consider allowing these learners to opt out of group exercises or speaking opportunities. You could also record and send them the training to complete on their own.
Understanding that people have different learning styles can give you great insight into how to structure your trainings. In addition, consider polling your employees and/or the people who will attend your training to identify the ways in which they learn best. This strategy can help you understand your audience and tailor your virtual trainings to meet their needs as much as possible.
#3: Research the Best Technology for Your Training Needs, Learner Needs and Budget
Virtual learning is a developing trend that began prior to the current pandemic, which means there are many options that can enhance your virtual training efforts. Take time to research different options, read reviews or even ask employees for suggestions to identify the options that will work best for you.
When you’re reviewing options, also consider your budget. Some platforms or products have a free version or packages at different price points. Utilizing a free option is a good way to test a product out and see if it meets your needs prior to making a long-term financial commitment.
Consider your employees’ learning styles and the most appropriate type of training to use. Determine if you will need products or platforms that support group discussions or collaborative workshops, allow trainings to be recorded, or permit visual elements like videos or graphics. Understanding the needs of your organization and your audience will help you determine the best products and platforms to meet those needs.
In your research, also take into consideration the time and effort it will take for training staff and learners to become familiar and comfortable with new technology. Is it user-friendly? Will you need to allow for support or training to be able to use a new product or platform so it can become an effective training tool?
#4: Foster a User-Friendly Virtual Learning Environment
During in-person training, the physical space sets the tone for the lesson. The same is true for a virtual training space.
When organizing a training session, be sure to think about the online learning environment in terms of what you and your participants will need. As the presenter, you should prepare in advance by following these steps:
- Give participants information about the logistics of the training, how they will log in, who to contact if there are technical issues, and what will be expected of them during the training.
- Ask participants in advance if they have any specific learning needs and prepare accordingly.
- Take time to design an inviting and inclusive online meeting room.
- Say hello to people and acknowledge them by name whenever possible as they enter the platform.
Participants should prepare as well. Follow these general guidelines to ensure you’re prepared for training sessions:
- Block off training sessions on your calendar.
- Make arrangements, when possible, for family members or pets to be out of your work area.
- Limit distractions, such as cell phones, work, email notifications, television, or music (unless you are an aural learner and music enhances your learning).
- Set up early so you can troubleshoot any technical issues that arise.
- Make requests for any learning considerations or materials you need in advance, so that presenters have time to make those accommodations.
- Lastly, come prepared. Read through any required material and the training requirements in advance so you are ready to meet the learning expectations.
Every organization, every training, and every learner is unique and has different needs. Each of these elements within a training session should be considered carefully as its own element and as part of the dynamics that make up a training session. This way, you can ensure that you will meet your training goals, support your learners, utilize the best technology for your needs and create a learning environment where everyone can thrive.
About the Author
Anna Sommer began her career at APUS in 2007. She has worked in the Academic Advising Department and Student Services Department, and now currently works as a Career Exploration Specialist in the Career Services Department. Anna thrives when working with students and alumni on career planning, researching industry trends, and developing career exploration resources. Anna holds a B.A. in English from Minnesota State University Moorhead, a M.S. in Adult Education from Kansas State University, and an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University.