Success in the Virtual Classroom: Are Your Virtual Facilitators Ready?

October 5, 2017 10:08 by Dana Peters
On rare occasions you might have the opportunity to develop new virtual classroom facilitators one on one. But more commonly, new facilitators need to be brought on board in groups. Often the content they will be teaching is the common denominator, therefore a solid Train the Trainer program is the most efficient option for preparing a group of virtual facilitators. The following are some best practices we see to be common amongst successful Train the Trainer (TTT) programs. Facilitator Pre-workIntroduce facilitators to the course content before the first TTT session takes place. This can be done by asking the facilitators to review a recording of a previously delivered session, or silently observe a live session in real time being taught by an experienced facilitator. This review or observation will allow them to familiarize themselves with the content and how the course is delivered.  Encourage facilitators-in-training to take notes from this review, specifically what the experienced facilitator did well, and how they engaged their learners. The facilitators-in-training should also consider what they might do differently in their own delivery of the content. This review will also give them an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the technical capabilities and tools of the virtual classroom. Coaching on TechniqueDepending on the experience level of your facilitators, the TTT sessions are also an opportunity to further develop or fine tune facilitation techniques. When TTT sessions are entirely focused on content, timing, and logistics, they fall short of preparing facilitators to their full potential. Successful TTT programs dedicate time to facilitation skill development, specifically the use of different techniques, methods for building a safe learning environment, and encouraging learner participation. Link to Learning ObjectivesFront and center of all TTT programs should be the purpose of the learning programs the facilitators-in-training will be delivering. The well-defined learning goals and learning objectives of each course the facilitators will be delivering should serve as their compass. Their job will be to help their learners meet these learning objectives and walk away equipped to be more effective back on the job.  Facilitators make in the moment judgement calls during live sessions on a regular basis. A successful TTT program gives them a solid foundation of purpose in which they can base their “in the moment” decisions, large or small. Rehearsals Some TTT sessions are conducted as more of a content walk-through session. There certainly is a time and place for content walk-throughs. However, successful TTT programs also have a rehearsal component. This means the facilitators-in-training have the opportunity to practice delivering the content as if it were a live session. Their peers can serve as their learners as discussions are led and activities are conducted. Feedback and coaching from these rehearsals are usually reported to be the most valuable piece of the TTT experience for the facilitators involved.Live Session Observation and FeedbackDevelopment of new facilitators should move beyond the TTT program. It’s important to evaluate a new facilitator’s ability to deliver sessions once they are off and running with live class deliveries. Consider instituting a process of live evaluation and post session coaching that includes written feedback. What experiences have you had with your Train the Trainer programs? What worked for you? What didn’t? We’d love to hear your feedback.

Designing Virtual Learning That Pays Off (Part 2)

August 22, 2017 08:53 by Dana Peters
Measuring Success Back on the Job   In our last post, we discussed building the pathway to learning application to help learners apply what they have learned in the virtual classroom back on the job. This was the first of two items we believe need to be included in the design of virtual learning programs in order to make sure valuable resources (time and money) do not go to waste. As a reminder from the Part 1 post, those two things we need to include are A “post learning event path” that helps our learners apply what they have learned back on the job. A plan to measure results back on the job. This plan should address the following two statements:  We know we are successful when_________________.  We will measure that success by__________________. With number one under our belt, today we’re going to talk about the plan to specifically measure those results back on the job. When it comes to measuring and evaluating learning, I turn to my colleague who is an expert in this area, Ken Phillips, CEO of Phillips Associates. You are probably familiar with the Kirkpatrick Model with the four levels of learning evaluation. Ken outlines these levels in his article: “Learn the Secrets of Survey Design”. In summary those levels are:   Level 1: identifies learner reaction to your program. Level 2: measures whether or not your learners learned anything. Level 3: measures whether or not learners actually applied what they learned back on the job. Level 4: measures whether the business has improved as a result of the applied learning. For the purposes of this post we are going to focus in on Level 3 and Level 4. For a Level 3 survey to be effective, Ken provides several tips in regard to content, format, and measurement. As mentioned, more details can be found in Ken’s “Learn the Secrets of Survey Design” article. Unlike a survey issued to the learner immediately following your virtual learning program (Level 1), the Level 3 evaluation should also involve those interacting with the learner, often referred to as observers.  Observers (those that work with, for, or supervise the learner) are in the position to provide valuable feedback on observable behaviors they are experiencing in their interactions with the learner. Interviews, surveys, and 360-degree assessments are solid tools to support Level 3 evaluation. Level 4 evaluations, according to Ken, are the holy grail of evaluations. I agree. The c-level executives are looking for evidence of business results from their investment in learning and development. Ken suggests thinking about Level 4 evaluations in two phases: (1) Identifying business metrics that have a strong relationship with learning program content and (2) connecting the learning program to the business metrics. Check out Ken’s article: “The Holy Grail of Learning Evaluations: Level 4” for more details. How about you? How do you achieve Level 3 and 4?

Is Your Virtual Training Program On Target or Missing the Mark?

July 25, 2017 09:00 by Dana Peters
Is your virtual instructor-led training (vILT) program meeting the needs of your business, or is it falling short of expectations? If your program is not quite hitting the mark, perhaps there is work to be done in one of the following five key areas. PlanningPlanning is an important step early in the process to ensuring the success of your program. Proper planning is centered on the goals you have for each of your vILT classes. What are you trying to accomplish? Identify key learning objectives and design your class to meet those objectives. Identifying your needs will help you decide which platform, delivery method, and learning design will put you in the best position for success. For more information on planning your vILT course, check out a recent post on evaluating learning objectives for the virtual classroom. PreparationEveryone knows that preparation is important but it is often the part of the process that gets short changed. Many companies will spend thousands of dollars in resources designing their vILT programs, and not nearly as much time or energy making sure their facilitation team is fully prepared to deliver the sessions. We see this most when industry experts or professionals are looped into the process after the design phase of the program. While the content and subject matter might seem like an easy leap for many industry professionals, the environment, the technology, and the delivery method may be more of a stretch and requires skill development and preparation. We recommend the use of dress rehearsals as part of the preparation process. A dress rehearsal gives every key player involved in the session, a chance to work through the kinks, test equipment, and practice “hand-offs” planned during the session. For more tips on preparation check out our post on dress rehearsals.Delivery Effective delivery is where the rubber meets the road. Your virtual facilitators can make or break your virtual training simply on how they deliver the session. Do they have well developed facilitation skills? Are they enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the topic? Do they present with energy or do they sound as if they are reading from a script? We recommend the use of a content outline, and a detailed facilitator guide for the session. This will allow facilitators to deliver the course material in a manner that achieves the core objectives while also letting learners drive discussion. We’ve done several posts on facilitator delivery techniques and preparation. Check those out here and here.EngagementPart of delivery is engagement. If your learners aren’t engaged throughout the session, the learning objectives cannot be met. A good facilitator will engage with learners on a personal level. They will incorporate existing technology to ask questions, encourage dialogue, and drive discussions. As mentioned in the delivery section, facilitators should be able to meet the course objectives while letting learners drive the discussion in directions most applicable to them. Check out our post on facilitating versus teaching for more information on engaging your learners. Follow-up Feedback and follow-up is the most easily forgotten part of a successful vILT program. This is important for two reasons.First, for the continuity of your program. Gathering feedback from your learners will provide you with valuable information on what is working and what isn’t, what needs to be changed, adapted, or cut. Secondly, following up with your learners is the ultimate litmus on whether or not your vILT program is actually accomplishing your learning objectives. Are learners accomplishing what is intended, back on the job? Is it truly applicable to their careers? Whether or not your learning objectives are met determine the ultimate success of your vILT program from both a learner perspective and the business results perspective. Watch for our two part post on learner follow up coming next month.Avoiding any one of these key steps could be a mistake for your vILT training program. Take a look at your program; are you accomplishing each one of these? Are there others you would add to the list?

Are You a Facilitator or a Teacher?

July 12, 2017 11:38 by Dana Peters
  For those of you tasked with the responsibility of delivering courses in the virtual classroom for large corporations, I have a question. Would you label yourself as a facilitator or one of teacher? According to Merriam-Webster… A facilitator is defined as: “someone who helps to bring about an outcome (such as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision”. A teacher is: “one whose occupation is to instruct”. Let’s go back to high school. A teacher stands in front of a class of impressionable young minds. These minds are young, generally lack experience in the subject, and look to the teacher to do just that: teach. These young students go to school to be taught; math, science, chemistry, Spanish etc. Often it is the teacher delivering the information, and students listening and taking notes. Historically, though there are exceptions, it is a passive activity for the students. In corporate learning it’s different, or at least it should be. In the corporate world, your learners are often professionals, sometimes with 5, 10, or even 20 years of real-world experience available to tap into and expand upon. Most will be laser focused on how they spend their time. When attending a required training class they are going to be looking for the benefit to spending their time away from their work. If this is not quickly identified they will probably mentally check out.  The learning experience needs to be personalized, relevant to their work, and clearly advantageous to their success back on the job. The more control they have in the learning process the more committed they will be to the outcomes.  To be effective, we must facilitate learning.  Why is this distinction important? Facilitators encourage discussion and questions related to real-life situations and examples, allowing learners to consider different ways in which the content relates to their jobs.   In a facilitation situation, the learners drive the discussion, moving the conversation in directions that are meaningful to them and their careers. Skilled facilitators will allow this to happen, and guide the discussion to connect to the learning objectives. As a side note, strong facilitators are well prepared. Prepared facilitators know the content and the subject matter so well that conversation can flow freely, diverging several times, and still stay true to the ultimate objectives. Preparation allows the ability to be flexible, nimble, and respond to the needs of each individual. This means that each and every delivery of the content will be different, but accomplish the same objectives. As we said in a previous post, “Proper preparation, planning, and practice allow facilitators to focus on the moment, fully.” By allowing learners to drive discussion, your vILT program will be more applicable to the learners in the classroom at the moment. One class may drive the discussion one way, while another may drive it in the opposite direction. Still, each group of learners’ needs are met. I encourage you to think about your approach and your role in the virtual classroom. Are you a facilitator or a teacher?        

Spring Cleaning Isn’t Just for Your Closet; Virtual Programs Need Tidying Too.

March 21, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
Ahhh spring is in the air! The flowers are peeking out from under their blanket of dirt, and here in the Midwest we’ve already been able to enjoy some rather unseasonably warm weather. With warmer days and more daylight comes the annual spring cleaning sweep. While you’re in the process of digging out your summer wardrobe and purging the rest of your winter clutter, we think it’s a good time to examine your virtual instructor-led training (vILT) materials as well. After setting up a vILT program, it’s easy to get complacent, particularly when a program is running smoothly, and the feedback from your facilitators and learners is positive. When starting, you probably put in a lot of work. You hired a team of designers, put together strategic initiatives, and set out to meet the goals of your business. But it can’t stop there. In the spirit of continuous improvement, it’s important to regularly revisit your virtual courses to determine the following is still happening: The learning objectives are being met The examples and case studies are relevant and effective All slide content is accurate The exercises are on target The documentation for delivering the session is accurate (like the facilitator guide) The “on the job” impact is being realized If you’re not evaluating the ‘on the job’ application of your training, you should be. Tracking whether your learners are able to apply what they have learned back on the job, will not only ensure the longevity of your program, but the overall success of your business. In addition, we encourage you to comb through your material at least annually, if not bi-annually; take note of examples, time stamps, or other relevant material that may require a quick slide revision or update. But also, revisit the established learning objectives.  With your stakeholders, determine whether the objectives have remained the same or if they’ve grown or changed. Then determine whether or not your existing vILT program still meets those learning objectives. While some updates may require only a few slide additions and changes, some may require a complete session overhaul.  Either way, your learners, and ultimately your organization, will benefit from having fresh, relevant, and applicable training programs.  

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Learning | Training | Virtual Instructor-Led Training

Ditch the Bubbly: Water is What Matters.

May 19, 2015 09:23 by Dana Peters
Instructional designers and subject matter experts (SMEs) of virtual instructor-led training, this post is especially for you.I know I am preaching to the choir when I say, “time is precious.” This sentiment is magnified in the virtual training space. After all, your intention is to offer your participants learning opportunities that support their success back on the job and, of course, you need to do it with less time. If you struggle at what I refer to as the “pare-down process” when converting face-to-face classes to virtual classes, set the stage at your next design review meeting with this analogy. Champagne vs Water Think of all the information you have on your topic as either champagne or water. Champagne information is nice to have, an offshoot on the topic, or more of an FYI. Champagne information is not critical it’s a luxury. Learning objectives will be met without it. Conversely, water information is essential to topic at hand; absolutely necessary to the learner being successful at reaching the learning goals, and for results to be achieved back on the job. Without water it is not likely learning objectives will be met. I invite you to take a closer look. Often times, virtual learning sessions are repurposed from longer, more in-depth, face-to-face learning sessions. But how do you take a half-day in-person class and turn it into a 90 minute virtual learning session without losing its effectiveness? Now, SMEs, I know it’s not unusual for you to think every piece of content in your class is valuable. You are the experts and you’re passionate about your subjects. I respect that...a lot. Designers, this is where your SMEs need your guidance to stay on track.   With your well-crafted learning objectives front and center, comb through the material page-by-page or slide-by-slide; decide what absolutely needs to be included in order for your participants to meet the objectives.Do a reality check. Ask previous participants of the past face-to-face course to help you drill down to what they actually applied back on the job. Asking previous learners about the true value will help you identify your water content. So what about all that champagne? Don’t throw it down the drain just yet.Champagne content could be included elsewhere in a format that is more elective and self-directed. Think podcast, discussion boards, and internal blog posts. I realize some of your learners are hungry and want to absorb everything they can on a topic. Certainly serve that population, but separately and on demand.  How do you decide what content is water and what content is champagne?  What is your approach for making those kinds of decisions?