Webinar training courses aren’t new – but they were for us.
On Saturday the 22nd of March 2020 the penny dropped. I manage training for Parallaxx, a construction, roading and infrastructure consultancy. My responsibilities include the delivery of over 300 face to face New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) classroom workshops and practical assessments each year. In the weeks leading up to the Level 4 lockdown we did everything humanly possible to maintain the safety of trainees and ensure continuity of our business. The NZTA, who oversee the workshops, had previously not allowed online delivery of training.
We had never delivered online training before because the workshops we deliver are NZTA workshops and online training was not mandated.
Here are the 6 key learnings that I would consider ‘essential knowledge’ if planning and delivering eLearning workshops.
1. Demand on Peoples Technological Ability
Much of the business world has been forced to use webinars and eLearning platforms they are not familiar with. In some cases, there is apprehension, resistance, and fear associated with this technology. Many of us have been using online communication software for a long time. It is essential that we be kind and patient and provide support for those who are taking a giant leap and trying something entirely new.
The common attitude is that if a computer does not do what you want it to do, or you do not know how to do something on the computer, then the computer must be stupid. People lose their patience quickly, and the last thing we want is people to write off a great way of learning before they even get started.
- Ensure you have a backup method of communication to contact people struggling to join the workshop.
- Have clear communication with straightforward joining instructions well in advance of the workshop so people have plenty of time to sort their computers out.
- Remove all other noise from communication so that people know exactly what they need to do – i.e. any unnecessary information in emails.
- Do not dismiss people’s technology problems, but also do not focus on them too much either. If you make a big deal out of one person’s issues it will delay the workshop. Have a second person on hand to help.
- Ensure your trainers are familiar with the software and know how to help those who have problems.
2. Adapt Interaction Techniques
Most learners expect to be able to interact and ask questions in a face-to-face workshop. People love the interaction, and the feedback loop is just as important for online learning. eLearning makes this much more challenging, so we have had to adapt our interaction techniques.
- Set the scene at the beginning of the workshop, go through the different methods of communication such as raising your hand, asking questions, turning microphone/video on or off.
- Ensure everyone has tested and experimented with the forms of communication you want to use before starting.
- Set the expectations you have of the learners at the beginning of the workshop. What level of interaction you expect and how you want them to approach it.
- Ensure you have a second trainer in the background to monitor and answer questions as they come through or bring to the attention of the trainer delivering the workshop.
- Slow down – I cannot stress this enough. What you think is slow, is not slow. If you are using a mouse or pointer on your screen, or scrolling through pages, your eyes have already pre-empted where the next point of interest will be. Everyone else is playing catch up.
3. Workshop and eLearning Development
Workshop development, choice of technology, and careful prioritisation is key to the success of online learning. Some courses or workshops will not work in an eLearning environment and others might need to be heavily adapted. Learners will have a different attention span compared to the face-to-face environment. It is unreasonable to expect people to stay focused and engaged while at their computer for two hours straight.
- The right choice of technology is key, it needs to be easy to use and fit for purpose. We have developed our workshops in Moodle, so all test questions, learning resources, and instructions are on one page.
- Learners follow a live PowerPoint presentation and then flick back to Moodle to answer test questions. They only ever need to swap between two windows, and the tests are marked automatically or immediately by the trainer and backup trainer to enable immediate feedback.
- Double check every single setting, and then double check again. There is nothing worse than forgetting to check one box and finding out halfway through the workshop that nobody can access the next section.
- Do not underestimate the time it takes to make a strong eLearning platform. We have found the rule of thumb is about 60 hours of development for 1 hour of delivery – if you take into account the systems for booking, billing, webinar software, integration of systems, eLearning software, loading content, adapting content, promoting and rehearsing. It is a huge undertaking.
Before delivering our first public workshop we made sure we did a dry run with our own internal staff. We expected to have a lot of teething issues, but we were blown away with the number of minor bugs, tweaks, improvements, and adaptions that were needed to have a polished final copy. The dry run also ensured that the trainer delivering the course was familiar with the technology and comfortable delivering the content in a new medium.
- Rehearse rehearse rehearse – you will find many ways to improve your delivery.
- Rehearse using the technology you have chosen. Practice efficient ways of swapping and changing what you want to project to the learners.
- Ensure you have a good setup for delivery – a good microphone and webcam make a huge difference and make your delivery professional.
- Ensure you have good lighting and contrast between yourself and your background. i.e. Do not have an open window directly behind you.
- Get as much feedback as you can from your internal staff on what worked for them and what did not and adapt your presentation accordingly.
We have needed to adapt much of our current material and add extra material for the eLearning environment. The process we followed was to go through every slide and ask ourselves the following:
“How would this work in an online environment?”,
“Would the normal questions I ask in this slide apply if the session isn’t face to face?”,
“What other tools can we use to get engagement in this section?”,
“What is the key learning or message we want our learners to take away from this?”
- What works face-to-face will not necessarily work online.
- Attention spans are shorter, so focus on what the key learning is and make that the focus
- Identify what the most important messages are and focus on adapting and improving content in those areas.
We did some research on attendance of eLearning workshops prior to delivering our own and found that between 25 and 50% of attendees will not show up on the day. There are numerous reasons for this such as:
- They did not receive the email to join, lost the email, used the wrong email address signing up, or a manager signed up on behalf of the learner and did not forward the email.
- They could not figure out how to use the technology to join.
- Technological issues, such as company IT policies not allowing people to download the required software.
- Less commitment as the workshop is not face-to-face and less perceived penalty to not showing up.
- Forgot about the workshop, the list goes on.
- We also noted that there was a big difference in the level of attendance for workshops that were free and those that were paid. People were much more likely to turn up if they had paid in advance and were thus more committed.
- Do not expect everyone to show up, and do not take it personally.
- Email reminders are essential. People are conditioned to expect to be reminded before a course starts. If you do not have an email reminder going out the day before and an hour before the course starts you will see a huge reduction in attendance.
- Ensure you have someone monitoring your help desk email and available to take phone calls for people who are having technological problems on the day.
- Call or contact each attendee the night before to ensure they have everything they need to join.
I hope this has been informative and if you want to see some of our free webinars you can view or re-watch them here: https://www.parallaxx.co.nz/training-schedule/