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Virtual Training: Top 10 Questions From Program Managers and Directors

The way we think of learning has changed forever. Workshops, presentations, and courses have been through a major shift in the last year. Now almost everyone is involved in some kind of virtual training. That trend is likely to continue.

This trend has caused many managers to reach out for advice. Most often, they start asking how to best deliver training to their healthcare teams who are learning from home—or at least not in a conference room anymore.

Below is a list of answers to the top 10 most common questions we’ve gotten from program managers, directors, HR representatives, and other administrators in the past year.

If you’re one of the many who looks at delivering online training materials successfully as an essential skill, this list is for you. You might also like to read about some common acronyms connected with online learning in this article. Read on for tools and resources to keep your team engaged. You’ll also learn how to plan and run a successful virtual training program.

10 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Virtual Training

  1. What is virtual training?
  2. How do you keep people engaged during online learning?
  3. What equipment do I need for virtual training?
  4. What are the most common ways to access virtual training content?
  5. Who can facilitate virtual training?
  6. Is virtual training effective for professionals?
  7. What are the benefits of virtual training?
  8. How do you organize a virtual training program?
  9. How do you guarantee success in a virtual training program?
  10. Where to start when planning a virtual training program?

1. What is virtual training?

Simply put, it is training conducted online when the instructor and the learners are in two different places. It’s also known as remote learning, e-learning, computer-based training, or instructor-led training.

There are two modalities:

Asynchronous learning: In this style, instructors and learners aren’t online at the same time. The instructor shares a resource and the student uses it at their own pace. This style works best for its flexibility and the fact that anyone can access the resources as needed.

Examples of asynchronous learning:

  • College courses
  • Self-paced courses
  • Instructor-led classrooms
  • Bulletin boards or discussion forums
  • Communities of practice

Synchronous learning: The students and instructor connect live on their preferred platform (which can be as simple as a video call service) and interact in real time. This style is best for collaboration and engagement as it allows real-time feedback and conversation.

Examples of synchronous learning:

  • Webinar
  • Live discussions or chats
  • Live online classrooms
  • Meetings
  • Presentations

Many virtual training programs include a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning. They use set “live” hours every week with extra materials for students to review in their own time. This makes the live sessions more effective. Everyone understands the topics that will be covered ahead of time.

2. How do you keep people engaged during online learning?

Keeping a virtual team engaged is important so they maximize the skill-building you’re giving them. You can read a list of proven ways to motivate distance learners in professional development. Start by practicing these tips to connect with your team remotely:

  • Nurture communication: One challenge of online learning is the lack of interaction. Create a sense of connection by encouraging your team to communicate and share thoughts about their training and other aspects of their lives. Here are some ways to improve communication.
  • Encourage a team effort: The physical distance in your team also makes it hard for impromptu collaboration to happen. Not everything needs to be a group project, but you can increase collaboration with encouraging exchanges, questions, and even brainstorming sessions. This helps your team work together.
  • Create ways to connect: Thanks to tools like Slack and other instant messaging platforms, it’s easier than ever to remain connected virtually. Many teams use these channels to imitate casual in-person exchanges. For example, a “Water cooler chat” room is an easy way to open space for casual conversation online.

3. What equipment is needed for remote learning?

Anyone with access to technology can attend virtual training. Most people also have in their pockets or on their desk the right kind of equipment to do an online course. Most courses require:

  • A computer or laptop, or even a mobile phone if that’s what you’ve got
  • An internet connection
  • Audio equipment, such as speakers or earbuds
  • A way of viewing documents, such as PDFs or other documents

4. What are the most common ways of accessing virtual training content?

There are multiple ways to access virtual training content:

  • Self-guided training: A lesson that each learner goes through independently.
  • Instructor-led online training: A semi-self-directed course but with a facilitator or instructor.
  • Recorded lessons: The instructor records a video to share with students.
  • Live streaming lessons: Using conference or video call tools (Skype, Zoom, Join.me, and many more), the instructor and learners meet to discuss a topic live.
  • Downloads: The instructor prepares PDFs, documents, and other files to easily share content for students to work.

Read about creating an annual training plan for your program.

Who can facilitate virtual training?

Often professors, professional instructors, peers, and subject matter experts facilitate virtual training.

But also people who are good at communicating with teams and guiding conversations can be good facilitators. They should know the material well, however.

Just like for in-person training, you should always look for a qualified individual, a strongly developed curriculum, and the legal credentials to back up the program. Read more about hiring skilled facilitators vs. training existing staff.

6. Is virtual training effective for professionals?

Yes, it is effective—if it’s done right. Some agencies define “virtual training” as emailing a PDF document to participants. That doesn’t have the same instructional value as an online course built with learning objectives, interactive elements, and assessments.

Many people earn full university degrees—from associates’ to doctorates purely online. They’re well-educated people who have the same dedication and knowledge as their counterparts who sat through classroom lectures.

Remote learning is especially important in some circumstances, such as in rural areas or during global pandemics.

7. What are the benefits of virtual training?

One of the main benefits of virtual training is the flexibility it offers to participants. Online learning programs make it easy for anyone to attend and complete their education. They can do it around their other responsibilities, including jobs and family life.

Another benefit of remote training programs is that costs are often lower than in-person training, especially in the long run. Factor in reduced commute times, books, out-of-home meals, and changes in your work schedule, and it’s easy to see why virtual training is successful.

Virtual training programs have become a go-to for professionals and are here to stay.

8. Where do I start when planning a virtual training program?

The first step in creating an online training initiative is performing a training needs assessment of your public health workforce. This is essential for creating professional development opportunities that will improve the knowledge, competence, and effectiveness of your staff.

Before you do anything to train your staff, find out what your stakeholders need from a program and what your employees need to learn. This will help you create a program that has a greater chance of success.

Then you can begin looking at curriculum, vendors, and the best technology for your needs.

9. How long should a virtual training session last?

The average person can stay focused and engaged for 45 to 60 minutes before they need a break. Think about the meetings you’ve attended, and how long you’ve been able to sit in your seat without your mind wandering or needing to stretch your legs. 

The most effective online lessons are broken into chunks to make it easy to work through them. Building modules of 30 minutes to 45 minutes are a good guideline.

10. How do you guarantee success in a virtual training program?

The key to a successful virtual training program is keeping your learners engaged. Without that engagement, they won’t learn. Plus the return on investment won’t be good.

Some ways to boost engagement in remote learning are:

  1. Create check-ins to get participant feedback.
  2. Partner new learners with more experienced workers.
  3. Include stakeholders in planning and goal-setting.
  4. Create a team for your program, so you’re not the only one responsible.

Curious about remote learning?

Submit a question to a learning professional now. You can also ask questions on the Talance page on LinkedIn.

Moving Your Modules: Should You Use SCORM, xAPI, or AICC for Your Courses?

Portability should be one of your biggest concerns when you’re building a custom course. Being able to move your course from one learning platform to another is just as important as it is for your phone number when you switch from one carrier to another. You’re probably one of the agencies that has shifted at least some part of your in-person training or meeting to online. So even though this seems like a topic meant for the IT department, it’s something you should understand at least in its basic form.

There are a few technologies that make this possible in varying degrees of availability and ease. Here’s a quick breakdown of these acronyms so you can be informed when you make a decision about how your next custom course is built. You’ll probably be using these terms when you’re evaluating your existing or new platform during a needs assessment.

Important Distance Learning Acronyms

  • LMS
  • SCORM
  • AICC
  • xAPI

What is an LMS?

The first acronym to decode before diving in is LMS, or learning management system. An LMS is the software platform that lets you run a course, lets your learners take courses, and provides tracking, reporting, registering, and other functions.

LMSs are important for online training the way that cars are important for driving. They let you do all the managing–or learning—right from your computer. Without them, you’re just sending file attachments.

Think of the LMS as the container for one or more online courses. This way you’ll have some context for thinking about how courses work on these platforms. Some of the most common standards for creating online courses for delivery on an LMS follow.

SCORM

Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is a technical standard for building online learning objects. These objects are usually online courses, but they don’t have to be.

If a course is built to be SCORM-compliant, it means that it should work smoothly with any LMS that supports that standard. Any SCORM-compliant course can be plugged into any SCORM-compliant LMS. So you can have one custom course that was built to be SCORM compliant, zip it up, and then unzip it on any other SCORM-compliant platform.

SCORM is for programmers—not for curriculum developers. It’s purely technical.

SCORM is the industry standard and is widely used. It’s a useful acronym to learn, because it tells you that your course can be moved around with the most ease.

AICC

Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC) is a different standard for developing computer-based courses.

AICC is much older than SCORM and was widely used. It was more often used for other forms of computer-based training, such as CD-ROMs. It wasn’t developed for online courses and doesn’t have all the tracking capabilities that SCORM has. AICC isn’t used as often because of its age and limitations, and it’s starting to age out.

xAPI

XAPI is the third of the most commonly used standards for developing courses. It’s not as broadly used as SCORM.

One reason is that xAPI is new. It was developed in 2013 and is still moving around the market. It’s promising, because it supports tracking outside the LMS, such as offline learning. This feeds into better participation and communication. Eventually, it will be a useful way to make courses.

Which standard should you choose?

Choose SCORM if you’re looking for a new course to be developed. The industry is still mostly using SCORM, which makes it the most flexible and reliable option. Things will change in the future, but for now, this is the safest bet for new courses or conversions.

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7 Ways to Build Participation in Remote Training

Everyone is better at delivering training online than a year ago. But given the amount of instructor-led training (ILT) that’s moved to virtual training, many learners aren’t as engaged as they should be. Add to that disruptions while working from home, and it can be a good time investment to think about ways to keep participants engaged in remote learning.

Engagement varies widely, depending on the course and who’s taking it. And there’s no one way to make sure that your participants are actively involved. However, there are a few guidelines and communication strategies you can follow that will help make your training stick.

1. Ask early and often for feedback in multiple ways.

Asking for feedback is a proven strategy for increasing engagement. The best part is that you can ask for feedback no matter what format your training is in: if you have virtual instructor-led training (VILT) with a facilitator or if you have purely self-paced lessons. It’s simply a matter of checking in.

You can use many different methods—simple or complex–to get feedback from participants, including:

  • A forum designed for general thoughts
  • A survey at the end of the course
  • Polls throughout the training. For example, ask how relevant they think information is or how long it took them to complete a module.
  • Asking for thumbs-up or thumbs-down emojis on your team chat channel
  • Direct questions about how the material relates to their work
what did you like best about this course

2. Make sure supervisors participate too.

Participants’ supervisors are critically important to the success of any learner’s training. Supervisors need to be included from the beginning. At the very least, supervisors set expectations for training, answer questions and make sure employees participate. This goes for stakeholders too, who want to make sure their training investment pays off.

They can also take a more hands-on approach to training by answering specific questions that arise in the course. They can make time in the employee’s schedule for learning. With many healthcare professions, supervisors also need to demonstrate procedures or supplement training with information about internal policies.

Consider enlisting superiors as coaches for the best results. Create a related course that supervisors are also required to follow.

3. Enlist peers for training.

Peer training is one of the best ways to drive home skill building. Top-down instruction is fine, but sometimes employees listen to their coworkers more closely.

This is partly because coworkers can relate to each other in a unique way. They have a good idea of how their job works within the organization, what their clients or patients might need, and other critical knowledge that might not be included in the core content. And peers can be less intimidating than bosses.

Peer-to-peer training is especially helpful in new hire situations or when you’re trying to build rapport among team members.

4. Set training and development benchmarks.

If your course is skills-based, first take measurements of where staff skills are. Tell your employees why their skills are being measured. Then upon completion, measure progress against your benchmark.

One idea is to assess ability with one task during performance appraisals. Employees will also equate the course with an overall job requirement. These benchmarks can be coupled with performance reviews and job goals. They may also be part of larger initiatives, such as quality improvement projects.

5. Offer rewards.

There’s a reason so many coffee shops offer punch cards: rewards work. Think about what incentives for completing training will motivate your participants to finish. Make sure to focus on rewards rather than penalties.

Successful rewards we’ve seen are completion certificates or industry certification. Even simple public commendations for completion, such as on the company Slack channel, are surprisingly motivating.

Some other ideas are:

  • Friendly competition, including badges and leaderboards
  • Promising new equipment for use on the job
  • Additional training opportunities
  • End-of-course lunches for successful participants
offer rewards

6. Make it relevant.

Participation will drop like a stone if a course doesn’t make sense to the people taking it. Unfortunately, many courses are too general or not addressed to the right group. Make sure training initiatives are aligned with organizational goals and mission first of all.

If you can, develop courses from scratch and after carefully surveying your audience. This will give you the best chance of creating something that is truly tied to your agency’s needs. Staff members also usually appreciate being asked for their feedback and seeing the results being spread to the company. Off-the-shelf courses can also be customized on screen, or they can also be complimented by instruction in the field.

7. Give help and support to those who need it.

Technology scares some people. Be prepared to make it easy to succeed in an online course.

Set up a demonstration before the course begins. Appoint coaches in the workplace who can offer assistance. Give a computer-literacy assessment before the course begins so you have a better idea of who will need additional help.

Originally published October 16, 2014, updated March 15, 2021.

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How To Make Your Online Training Less Intimidating

 
 

New training technology can be exciting and engaging for health agency employees—really!

If you’re changing the way you do training to a new method that’s different for your team—probably in a conference room with a speaker at the front—your staff might feel intimidated. Change can be scary for some people, but it doesn’t have to be.

Adopting new training technology, such as online courses, means a different mindset for your agency staff. By doing some planning and strategy, you can roll out your new online learning project smoothly and get people trained as quickly as possible.

Here are 9 steps you can follow for the successful implementation of your new elearning program.

1. Cultivate a positive attitude.

Start off by setting the tone for your training program. Convey some excitement and build some anticipation. The right frame of mind helps people adopt new technology and other job changes. Nix any negative attitudes right away. Remind your team that they are capable of learning new things and can succeed.

Think of your new course launch like the premiere of a Hollywood movie, so your employees are enthusiastic to begin.

2. Remind new learners of their existing experience.

Taking a class online is much less challenging than most people realize. Most people take for granted the kind of work they do on a computer, including checking their e-mail, posting to their social media accounts, or typing a document on a computer. With that kind of ability, they won’t have any trouble with an online course. Remind them of that.

Next, address their fear of the unknown by letting them try out the tools and see they’re not so tricky. You could:

  • Use some screen recording software or a tutorial from your vendor to show how to get started.
  • Arrange a presentation to introduce them to the learning system.
  • Let them try it for themselves with a few simple tasks, such as logging in or changing their password.

Once they see the tasks aren’t very different from what they normally do on a computer, their fear factor will reduce considerably.

It’s still a good idea to ask an administrator to be available to new technology users to answer simple questions. You can also offer a computer-readiness quiz at the beginning of class to help pinpoint those who need extra help.

3. Show how the training relates to their job.

Some online trainings are vague and not well targeted. If your staff has had experience with these courses in the past, they might legitimately worry that they’ll have to sit through a course that doesn’t have anything to do with their job duties.

Solve this by relating any new training initiative with clear learning goals that are based on professional development. Then, when you do introduce a new program, it will immediately be relevant.

Be clear when you notify staff about the course that it will help them with X skill–provide real-life examples when possible. For example, tell them, “This new course on health literacy includes worksheets you can download and use to assess clients’ literacy levels.”

4. Put a friendly face to the training.

For some people, the idea of not being able to sit in the same room with an instructor is a big turn-off. The reality is that time away from work in a training room is difficult and expensive, and “remote” learning doesn’t have to feel far away.

If you have a course facilitator, encourage them to introduce themself to your staff and ask them to share information with one another. If it’s an administrator, have them post their picture next to a quick introduction. If there’s no one facilitating, include a picture of a person learning and enjoying it.

This will help build a personal rapport. It can also be helpful to build periodic conference calls into a course, or create virtual office hours, so participants can interact with the instructor. A mentoring structure can help too, if you can pair learners with experienced health workers.

The Office of Healthy Communities at the Washington State Department of Health solves this by presenting their community health workers with a blended learning model: an in-person session followed by an online program. Read more about how their program works.

5. Give your team time to train.

Some learners are happy about the prospect of learning new skills. Others look at training as one more thing they have to add to their to-do list.

You can ease this anxiety by setting aside time for your team to work on their courses.

Also remind them that an online course is far more flexible than an in-person training. Participants can do a bit of work when they have the time, break away to work with a client, and then come back to finish up. If 10 p.m. is a better time to work, they can work at 10 p.m. There’s no travel time.

6. Provide the right equipment.

Health staff are not technology staff, so they naturally don’t have access to the whole range of equipment someone who works in an office all day would. However, the list of equipment most people need for taking an online course is pretty short, and most people either possess or can find access to what they’ll need. The list includes:

  • A computer or smartphone
  • Speakers or headphones
  • A printer if they want to print anything out

Most people can go into an office to access a computer, if necessary, or they can visit their local library. You can make sure participants have their supplies by providing a “things you’ll need to begin” list and then telling them where they can find public access, if necessary.

7. Provide language options.

Many people who don’t speak English as a first language or fluently worry they won’t be able to keep up with a course. In feedback from our courses, we’ve found just the opposite. Because learners can reread text many times, listen to audio or experience the material in different ways, it makes it easier to spend the time necessary to process and understand the course.

If you have a critical mass of workers who need access in one language, you might consider having the course translated or offered in another language.

8. Set some goals.

Setting and reaching goals is important to your staff, who needs to see how their work fits in with the larger objectives of your agency. This is part of the research you should have uncovered in your training needs assessment.

Once you set them, then look at what might make them more difficult to reach. In many cases, there could be a training gap. The gap might be:

  1. Individual. If one person lacks the skills to complete a task, they have an individual training gap. For example your new hire needs to do community outreach for your agency, but they don’t have any outreach skills.
  2. Team. Your whole team might lack skills to carry out an initiative, so they have a team learning gap. An example almost everyone can relate to is setting up new protocols for Covid-19.
  3. Organizational. Entire agencies sometimes have a gap in an area and have an organizational learning gap. Many organizations recognize they have gaps in cultural competency and have needed to supplement training in that area.

Learning goals might even reach into the future, and they can dovetail nicely with personal goals of your team. You can ask your employees what they’d like to learn in the next month, quarter, or year, and then provide them with training opportunities to get there.

9. Support peer learning.

Some employees are afraid they’ll feel isolated by working on a computer and won’t be able to meet the other people in the course. In feedback we’ve received in our courses, we’ve found just the opposite.

One woman, for instance, said she met many more people than she does when she’s in a live training. In a conference room, she talks only to the people sitting on either side of her, but online, she had lengthy and meaningful discourse with everyone in the course.

Online courses are also easily adapted, so you can offer support materials that do relate well to the community. You can ask participants to share personal stories with the group and provide lists of local resources and agencies that they will find useful. The best courses are the ones that reflect the people taking them.

The path to learner engagement.

The best way to address any fear is to acknowledge it, so your staff knows you’re taking them seriously, and then provide examples and evidence to make them feel more at ease. After the first week, most participants will wonder why they were ever worried in the first place.

Originally published June 6, 2014, updated March 08, 2021.

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