6 Tips for Better Online Training During the COVID-19 Pandemic (or anytime)

As I write this, my wife, who works for the local university, is across the kitchen table from me listening to a webinar on how to better use Zoom for her conference calls. As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic emergency unfolds, this scene is playing out in millions of households: New remote workers are learning necessary new skills and practices to fulfill their roles in business continuity. We can learn volumes from Google searches and YouTube demos, but sometimes the job calls for a formal training session. Use these 5 tips to create and deliver more effective online

COVID-19: An opportunity to improve your online training

Remote working is old hat for some of us (myself included), but we may need to learn new skills or tools as more and more people work from home. In addition, tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom are rolling out new features to enable better workforce productivity.

And this is going to be increasingly important even after the COVID-19 crisis subsides  (see Elisabeth Marsh’s compendium of digital skills and Dom Nicastro’s piece on digital employee skills).

StitchDX is a digital experience agency; we partner with software providers like Akumina to help organizations create better digital experiences for both customers and employees. As a former classroom teacher and lifelong educator, I often lead or help create the training sessions we offer to our customers. Drawing on that experience, I can share a few of my guiding lights for better online training.

Keep these 5 tips in mind to make your online training better

Virtual training tipsPerhaps the single most important piece of advice an educator gave me was that your students are gifting you with their attention. Treat it with respect. Know why they are tuning in and what they are hoping to gain from spending the time with you online.

Teach the Fringe Scenarios.

This may seem absolutely counterintuitive, but here is what I mean: The simple, straightforward tasks demonstrated in the vast majority of online trainings I’ve witnessed (or been hired to do) can be best demonstrated with short, quick 5-minute videos, or, even better, quick tips on the platform itself. As an instructor, I feel I am most useful when explaining and walking through what to do when the use cases are slightly different than the “norm.” I’ve spent much of my most productive training time walking users through the “what if I want to…” scenarios.

Focus on Tasks.
Too many online trainings are given by software experts who understandably want to pass on their knowledge of (and perhaps passion for) the software. The problem is that most training is an overview of the main features of a software—but that is not how people work. Do some research, find out the tasks that your audience faces every day, show them how to do those. For instance, “How do I invite people to a meeting?” “How do I access and edit a shared file and then share with others?”

Explain Once, Show Twice.
When I am doing an online training, I try to keep my explanations as simple and straightforward as possible, I’ll explain that I am going to do X, then Y, and then Z and then walk through it slowly until the final step. I ask if there are questions and then often walk through it one more time quickly.

StitchDX offers COVID-19 coronavirus Digital Workplace Rapid Response programs for remote working optimization andbusiness continuity.

Keep it Short and Focused
I’ve found that 20 to 40 minutes is about the right length for an online training. Any longer than that, and the majority of what they learn can’t be put to use immediately. In addition, while folks are dialing in from home, there are more distractions to contend with. Building off Tip #1, prepare your students with quick videos that demonstrate how the system works in the best case scenario. This will cut down on the time you need to demonstrate the basic things and allow you to focus on those “what if” scenarios.

Record and Write.
Arguably the most important task in any sort of training is hitting the “record button.” As Asif Rhemani reminds us in CMSwire, “People forget most of what they learn within 24 hours after training. They find the learning curve too disruptive to their work.” Having that recording to go back to is invaluable. Another tactic I like is to make sure to have written directions to send right after the training. The best case is topic-specific user manual covering what you taught during the session, but even links to more resources is super helpful.

Take Questions.

Virtual training tips­I am a former classroom teacher, so I am very comfortable having my audience raise questions—in fact, I prefer it. Decide early how you want to handle questions—blurted out during the presentation, at specific junctures, held for the end, written in the chat window—decide what works for you and the situation. As Rhemani notes, “People will definitely have questions following a training session, so make sure you follow every live training session with a live Q&A session. The event gives everyone a chance to learn from their peers.”

Start with the end in mind

Know why you are asking for people’s time and attention and what you are giving them in return. Be very clear about what you want them to understand and, if appropriate, be able to do. This is actually an important distinction. While it is far better for them to understand the logic behind a system, so they can figure out how to use the system more easily, you need to strike the balance between the theoretical and the practical.

Lastly, have some fun with it.

Learning can be messy and online training perhaps even more so. Keep your sense of humor and assume best intent.

Tools for the new reality

This crisis has dramatically changed the demands of our workforce. Business and nonprofit leaders have to think of both the short-term needs and the long-term strategy to best weather the crisis. Whether you need to survive the next week or plan for the recovery, we can help. Check out our Remote Workplace Optimization and Customer Communications programs. Or just shoot me a line.