Virtual Learning Programs That Survive and Thrive

September 26, 2017 13:33 by Dana Peters
Adaptability is the name of the game when it comes to the long-term survival of the virtual instructor-led training (vILT) programs you design, develop, and deploy. Continuous change is the environment most organizations are operating in, which means we need to move with change as Learning and Development professionals. And certainly we want to do more than just “weather the storm”. We want to thrive as we forge ahead to meet the business needs of the ever changing organizations we serve.Are you prepared to respond quickly when: Leadership changes are made? A merger or acquisition is announced? The vision, mission, and/or goals of the company shift? A swing in your market place occurs, positive or negative? You, your colleagues, and your vILT programs must be nimble and flexible enough to adapt to these changes. But how? We suggest a proactive approach that includes the following five actions. Develop Rough Action Plans. Take time to think about realistic scenarios that you could face in the near future. Develop a rough action plan to give you a leg up if the scenario were to actually occur. Invest Time in Continuous Improvement Processes. Once you’ve designed and implemented your vILT programs, it’s important to maintain lines of communication to make sure your programs continue to align with the company mission and leadership’s goals. Reviewing your vILT courses on a regular basis allows you to refresh portions of the content as changes and updates are needed. Without a continuous review, your course can quickly become obsolete, and without the occasional minor update, you may experience the need for a complete overhaul of your course design. Or it may be seen as bringing no value and be eliminated altogether. Ask for Feedback From Your Learners. In line with continuously reviewing your vILT programs, it’s important to gather feedback from your learners on a regular basis. The collection of learners’ needs over time helps you to understand how job functions are changing and what skill development opportunities would bring the most value to the business. This intel should help you bring the right learning opportunities, to the right people, at the right time. Educate and Inform Leadership. As Learning and Development professionals you probably know your programs inside and out. Your leadership team may not. In order to showcase the value of your programs it’s important to involve leadership in the process. Make sure they are aware of how the vILT programs are performing. Specifically, how they are meeting the needs of the business. For more information on how best to track the value of your vILT program, check out our post: Designing Virtual Learning That Pays Off: Measuring Success Back on the Job. Communicate Value and Results. Along the lines of educating your leadership team, vILT programs should be championed at all levels of the company. If the value of your programs have been communicated effectively; when changes occur, you’ll have the advantage of advocates on many fronts. If updates to your programs do need to be made, multiple perspectives can diversify the conversation on how best to do that. These proactive efforts will help to secure your vILT programs long-term success, and the consistent, high quality learning opportunities your learning population needs to be successful on the job. What other actions have you taken to be sure your virtual learning programs can survive and thrive through the changes that may lie ahead?

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?

Designing Virtual Learning That Pays Off (Part 1)

August 16, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
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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?        

Top Five Strategies to Engage Learners in the Virtual Classroom

June 20, 2017 07:17 by Dana Peters
Learner engagement is key to a successful virtual instructor-led training (vILT) session. Promoting active involvement from your participants can be a difficult task in any instructor-led course, but it can be particularly challenging in the virtual classroom environment. Your learners are remote, sometimes scattered all across the globe, and you’re often competing with busy work schedules, emails, phone calls, and other meetings. So how does a good facilitator connect with learners in the moment, despite these challenges? Keep Class Size SmallSince active participation is important to the success of your virtual learning session, it’s best to keep your class sizes smaller. Think back to your school days. It was much easier to disappear in a lecture hall filled with 200 plus people than it was in a small face-to-face classroom with 15 to 20 other students. A smaller class size allows you (and anyone helping you with the delivery) to keep track of who’s participating and who’s not. It also allows more tentative learners a chance to participate without the pressure of their ideas and answers being shared in front of a sizeable classroom full of people. Of course, it’s not always possible to keep class sizes small. In instances where it isn’t, consider small group breakout activities.Personalize ItThis can be interpreted in a few ways. First, learn as much as you can about the learners that will be in your class. Prior to the session, and during. This might mean a short survey that is part of their pre-work or an introductions activity as the participants gather before class starts. That introduction might include a question related to the course content. Second, utilize what you know about your unique group of participants to connect the content of your course to their specific needs and the work that they do back on the job. Doing so, will provide learners with relatable experiences they can build upon and share. Check out our previous post on facilitation techniques for more detailed information.Use the ToolsThe tools in the virtual classroom are specifically designed for promoting engagement, idea sharing, and conversation. Use them! Utilize breakout rooms, whiteboards, polls, or chat activities to spark small and large group discussion, and leave the phone lines open (as long as there’s not too much noise or distraction) to encourage verbal conversation as well. Asking participants for simple contributions in chat or on the whiteboard can fuel a rich discussion.  For example, you present a group a list of alternatives on a whiteboard and ask them to circle which alternative would work best for their situation. Then to dive deeper, you could call on one or two individuals to elaborate for the group the reason for their selection.Examine How You Ask QuestionsThe types of questions you ask and more specifically, how you ask them, are crucial. It goes beyond asking open-ended questions, you have to extend the conversation and offer opportunities for more participants to get involved. Check out our previous post on the types of questions you can use to facilitate productive conversation. Set and Maintain Learner ExpectationsWe have talked in the past about the importance of setting learner expectations in your virtual classroom.  If a learner doesn’t know why they are taking the class, what value it has to them personally, and what they need to do to be successful before, during, and after class, they are unlikely to be engaged. Good communication is required in order to set and maintain those expectations throughout the course, and we’ve outlined a few strategies for setting expectations in a previous post. Of course there are many more ways to engage learners in the virtual classroom, but these five strategies are a good start. We hope they add value to your virtual instructor-led training sessions. What about you? What have you done to promote engagement in your vILT programs? We’d love to hear.

Creating Learning Videos Using VideoScribe

May 24, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
We’ve all probably participated in a virtual instructor-led training (vILT) session where video clips were utilized. Either in a class-time activity, part of a pre-work assignment, or even embedded into marketing materials to promote the learning event. You might think those videos cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to create and require a team of career videographers to produce. In some cases, you are right, but today, I’d like to share with you a unique and inexpensive tool we’ve used to create whiteboard-style animation videos on a few instructional design projects. The tool is called VideoScribe. VideoScribe provides anybody, from experienced videographers to complete novices, the ability to create high-quality, whiteboard-style animation videos. Our designers have used the product to create learning videos for vILT courses but, for us, this tool has turned into what I call a “two for one”. Not only are we using it on instructional design projects, but we are also using it for our own marketing purposes as a creative way to communicate who we are and what we do. You can learn more about VideoScribe and how it is being used to communicate concepts, share ideas, and create awareness on their website. The client work we have done with the tool is confidential, but you can check out one of the promotional videos we developed to support our own company marketing efforts: The creative possibilities seem endless. What ways do you think you could utilize VideoScribe in your learning programs?  

Three Questions to Size-Up Learning Objectives for the Virtual Classroom

May 10, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
There are so many options when it comes to training delivery methods for your employee learning programs. How do you know when virtual instructor-led training (vILT) is the right fit?To help decide, you need to determine if vILT will meet some of your learning objectives. Notice I said some, not all. This is because usually one delivery method will not get the entire job done. It makes sense that you want your chosen delivery method to meet a healthy portion of your learning objectives, but a blended learning approach is probably going to be the most effective. A strategy that combines a blend of learning opportunities that work together to comprehensively meet all the learning objectives is often the recipe for success.But let’s get back to the question…how do you know if virtual instructor-led training is the right fit for some of your learning objectives?When working on learning design solutions for clients, we ask ourselves the following three questions to confirm whether or not vILT will meet each of the learning objectives. Do the learners need each other for learning to happen? Do the learners need to be in the same place, at the same time, to learn from each other? Will learners be able to demonstrate achievement of the stated learning objective in the virtual classroom? Let’s look at an easy example of these questions in action.Goal StatementBicycles are a popular mode of transportation in our community. The purpose of this course is to reduce accidents involving bikes by promoting the practice of bicycle safety amongst our bike riders.Learning ObjectivesBy the end of this course, participants should be able to: Explain the rules of the road Identify common bicycling hazards Determine ways to reduce the risk of crash, injury, or death Recommend appropriate safety gear Ride a bike safely Now let’s evaluate each of these objectives against our three questions. As you can see by our example: We answered “yes” to 8 out of the 15 questions (more than 50%). Only one of the learning objectives would be completely addressed exclusively through vILT. (#3 - Determine ways to reduce risk of crash, injury, or death.) Considering the learning goal statement, it is an important one. The response to “Will learners be able to demonstrate achievement of the stated learning objective in the virtual classroom?” is a “yes” on four out of the five learning objectives. Two out of the five learning objectives require learners to be in the same place, at the same time. All and all, this is a prime example of the need for a blended learning approach. vILT would be a viable option in combination with other pre-session and post session exercises, readings, knowledge checks, assignments, and partner work on the road. Hopefully, these three questions serve as yet another tool to help you evaluate the role the vILT plays in meeting your organization’s learning needs.

Perfect Timing; Not by Accident, by Design.

April 4, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
Time is one of our most precious commodities. Everybody values it, and most people want more of it. That’s why, within your instructional design deliverables, we recommend you develop a Timing Outline for the Virtual Facilitator(s) and Virtual Producer to use as they prepare for and deliver the virtual instructor led-training (vILT) courses you design for them. In previous posts, we’ve talked about the four components of a successful vILT program, but even the most well planned sessions can quickly get off track if facilitators and producers don’t keep an eye on time. When designing our professional development workshops for clients, we always create and use a Timing Outline. This helps our delivery team identify, at a glance, the planned timing allocation for each content segment within the session. This tool is not only helpful during the preparation process but is a critical resource in the moment during a live session. We’ve included a sample of the timing outline below. As you can see, not only do we map out the time for each content segment, but we’ve also built in cushions for a late start, the session kick-off, questions, and the wrap up. These additional time allocations are often overlooked, but it’s important to account for them. If you don’t build in time for a late start or session kick-off, your delivery team may start the session already behind. As they near the end of the session, valuable material or exercises may need to be modified or cut in order to end the session on time. While we certainly do not want our facilitators to cut content, we do recommend ending the session on time. Participants are busy, we want them to be engaged in this learning experience, not worry about how rushed or late they will be because the session ran long. From our experience, if the facilitator attempts to continue past the session end time, participants will tune out or log off anyway. The timing outline will provide everyone involved in the delivery process a clear idea of where everyone should be within the course content at any point in time, and how much time is remaining in the overall course. Setting up the outline, and having it utilized during dress rehearsals and practice sessions will enable you, as the designer, to confirm whether or not your design can effectively be delivered in the time frame of the session or if additional tweaks are needed.In addition, a timing outline is an excellent training tool for facilitators and producers that are new to the content. We’ve created this template that will allow you to fill in the session duration and work backwards filling in each exercise, assignment, or section. Feel free to customize it for your particular program. Our hope is it helps you with a successful vILT delivery. What about you? What have you developed to help your delivery team keep track of time during their sessions?

Setting Learner Expectations for the Virtual Classroom: Why, When, and How.

February 28, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
In addition to dynamite content, setting expectations for your virtual instructor-led training (vILT) courses are an important ingredient to the recipe for success.But how do you make sure your learners are ready and prepared for success in your virtual class?There are many layers to that onion, but today, I’d like to discuss learner expectation setting in regard to why, when, and how. The Why Once your course is ready to go live, it’s important to inform your learners about the class, but it goes far beyond just sending out the class link inviting people to attend. The whole point of your virtual class is to meet the learning goal and stated learning objectives. If the learner doesn’t know why they are taking the class, what value it has to them personally, and what they need to do to be successful before, during, and after class, it is very unlikely that the class will be a success. Simply stated, setting learner expectations for your vILT classes is key to your success and theirs. The When When does setting expectations for our virtual classroom learner happen? To successfully set learner expectations it needs to be communicated (and reinforced) at every communication touchpoint. That means… When they read the course description When they register for the course When they received their course confirmation When they look at the meeting appointment on their calendar When they receive or access their pre-work When they receive their reminders leading up to class When they open their participant guide When they first log into the classroom And it needs to continue through the duration and completion of the course as well. The How The “how” centers on good communication. The message about what you are expecting from your virtual learner at every possible opportunity needs to be clear, concise, and consistent. Define your expectations about: Pre-work requirements Testing links and equipment ahead of time Their environment in which they will be joining class from What’s in it for them Their arrival time Attendance Participation during the session Post session work or next steps back on the job Part of setting expectations is repetition. Your learners are busy people with lots of demands competing for their attention. This is why your communication about expectations needs to be concise, consistent, and frequent…at every touch point. The other part is a bit of a sales and marketing job. Your message should clearly answer the following question: What is the value to the learner of meeting the expectations you have set forth? What are your ideas around setting learner expectations in the virtual classroom?