The past year has seen the face of training change dramatically. While there has always been an affinity for instructor-led training (ILT), and its effectiveness has been proven, the pandemic had a profound impact on the training landscape. As companies shifted to working from home, or adopted social-distancing policies that made in-person training challenging, the shift to online or virtual-instructor-led training (VILT) accelerated.
This is reflected in a recent LinkedIn survey of L&D professionals, which showed that in early 2020, 38 percent expected spending on ILT to decrease and 57 percent expected spending on VILT to increase.[i] By March 2021, those numbers had risen to 73 percent and 79 percent, respectively. It’s also worth noting that even before the pandemic, many companies were changing their approach.
In many respects, of course, VILT is similar to in-person training. There’s a similar learner-instructor ratio, and the concept of breaking out into groups and discussing specific topics works for virtual as well as in person. Almost all of the platforms handle break-out groups well. But to be successful, the transition to virtual training must involve more than simply delivering existing courses over Zoom.
Biggest Problems When Adopting VILT
As companies rushed to convert their instructional programs from ILT to VILT, the biggest problems we’ve seen have been when courses weren’t restructured. You can’t take a one-day, in-person course and put it online. The courses need to have shorter touchpoints, with the learning broken up into two or three 90-minute sessions. They need additional interactivity. There’s a lot of research happening right now about how many interactions are ideal when delivering virtual training. But there’s no doubt that it has to be significantly higher to maintain the same levels of engagement.
What Has to Change with VILT?
What’s been the biggest change? The instructor can’t do it on their own anymore. Companies that have handled the transition to VILT particularly well have added a new role, a virtual session producer who provides administrative support or acts as a facilitator. When the instructor isn’t worrying about the technology or getting participants organized into break-out groups, they’re better able to focus on delivering great content and building connections with the learners.
What Else Can Help Deliver VILT Success?
- Assign some preliminary online learning before a VILT session. This gets learners started thinking about the course, and gives them a preview of the topics covered so that conversations – which can often be hard to start online – happen more naturally.
- Build interactive tools such as polling questions and chats into the course content. These help learners engage with the material and spark opportunities for discussion.
- Include immersive learning in your VILT course. With virtual reality technology, learners can immerse themselves in an artificial environment, giving them a chance to interact with virtual objects, devices, or characters. Another option is augmented reality, which places virtual objects in real-world space, again giving learners a chance to explore objects and devices. And finally, video learning places learners at the heart of a 360° video, which they can control using their mouse, touchpad or finger.
- Use experiential learning approaches so that learners have an opportunity to practice and apply what they’ve learned. Small groups of learners might practice interviewing techniques, for example, or they might try different sales approaches in a safe learning environment.
- Create a library of recorded supporting materials or exercises and use these alongside live sessions, so that learners can revisit and review specific topics as needed.
- Develop an online community for learners, where they can share insights and give feedback.
- Encourage peer-to-peer learning, where students can become teachers.
Is Virtual Training Here to Stay?
In spite of all the recent changes, there’s still a desire for in-person training, and as restrictions ease, some organizations are going to gravitate back, at least partially, to in-person training. There are always going to be certain topics that just don’t lend themselves well to virtual training. It seems clear, however, that virtual training is here to stay, especially since many organizations are continuing to work remotely, or are offering employees the flexibility to work from home if they choose. These approaches will ensure your virtual training is successful and delivers the results your employees – and your company – are looking for.