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Remote-friendly organizational learning

Around this time last year, “88% of organizations encouraged or required employees to work from home.” As work went remote, so did organizational learning. Trainers were equipped with ‘remote toolkits’, and training programs were re-wired for online content delivery. 

In our experience of remote training over the last year, we noticed that the abrupt shift to online models impacted the effectiveness of both internal and external training:
  • Human interaction was sorely missed
  • Video conferencing caused screen fatigue
  • Facilitators found it difficult to ensure focus or engagement
In spite of these factors, we now know that remote work is here to stay. In fact, by 2028, 73% of all departments will have remote workers. And, organizations are going to have to train, coach and upskill all these remote workers using new methods. 

In this article, we draw from our learnings of the past year to share recommendations that can help trainers and Learning & Development leaders deliver effective and impactful virtual training programs. 

remote learning with a laptop and a virtual session with many participants
Source: Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Adapt your facilitation methods for online delivery

Trainers and facilitators are often good public speakers. But, virtual interaction is a whole new ballgame — without the ‘human touch.’ Facilitators have to rely on cues coming through low resolution video and computer audio to retain interest. 

We recommend the following adjustments that could improve your effectiveness as a trainer:

Share appealing content 
Your audience focuses their entire attention on your shared-screen. Be sure it is visually appealing content. Remove background distractions before sharing screen. 

When giving instructions, don’t add distractions 
Facilitators often share documents with links to videos or an online board while issuing instructions to participants. Naturally, people will explore the links and miss out on the collaboration or training. Share a link/document only when you want the participants to act on them.

Give the most important instruction first
While facilitating recent training sessions, we learned that 50% of the participants dropped off early — because, for instance a verbal instruction first stated that it was lunch time before issuing the instruction on what to do next. 

Here’s how we rearranged the instruction to be fully heard:
“Dear participants, this is the time to work within your groups, we will still be around on the main conference call for the next 2 hours. ----- alternatively, please feel free to open your own conference calls and self-organize to collaborate. Alright?”

While giving instructions, carefully focus on the sequence.

Regularly visit breakout rooms
No matter how diverse your groups, there will always be a few people who are apprehensive about asking questions or engaging with others. Visit all breakout rooms at regular intervals to ensure everyone’s participation.

Redesign your learning infrastructure

Pack training sessions with activities, games and exercises. While delivering training sessions remotely, simulate hands-on experiences.

Here’s our guidance on designing your training to:
  • Optimize trainer-to-participant, participant-to-trainer and participant-to-participant interactions
  • Include collaborative interaction tools like Miro, Mural etc.
  • Open up remote learning labs — perhaps, on the cloud — where all setup resources are easily accessible for participants

Adjust your content to a virtual attention span 

Participants’ attention spans will be limited; distractions aplenty. The video conference adds to their cognitive load with a disproportionate reliance on visual information. Your content and timeframe needs to adapt to this.

We saw less-than-90-minute-sessions perform better than exhausting day-long Zoom training. 

When we balanced synchronous classroom sessions with asynchronous learning through resources and projects, the training was effective. Additionally, activities were customized for remote content delivery.

Care for participants’ time zones

Teams that work together should ideally learn together too. But, if they’re spread across different time zones, the trainer has to ensure the training schedule is comfortable for everyone to attend and play active roles in. 

Such situations benefit from asynchronous learning being paired with real-time interaction for high-value activities.  

Partner up when you can

Delivering content, managing time, watching for Q&A, etc. can be excessive multitasking for one trainer. To say nothing of any logistical issues or internet disruptions. We’ve learned that training sessions are smoother with at least a pair of trainers. 

One trainer can facilitate the content while the other helps with logistics, Q&A, visiting breakout sessions, setting up learning aids etc. Trainers can also act as backup or switch responsibilities for subsequent sessions.

Build long-term remote training capabilities

A common remote framework will enable a pool of trainers to provide consistent learning experiences, reducing dependencies on any individual’s facilitation skills. This also requires training the trainer in making the best use of available tools and frameworks. 

Adopt a remote learning mindset

  • Engagement is everything: Create an interactive experience for learners
  • Make learning practical: Invite participants to apply the learned knowledge and solve real-world problems
  • Continuously assess learning outcomes: Create frequent feedback loops
  • Measure what matters: Focus on ‘outcome’ metrics (how candidates can apply the knowledge) instead of ‘output’ metrics (number of courses completed, certifications earned)
  • Learning is the first step: Actively support your employees with mentoring, coaching etc.
We expect most training to be conducted virtually, at least until the end of the year. And, while in-person interactions are hard to replicate online, we do believe a remote-friendly approach to training will help organizations train better and adapt quicker. And, as the pandemic passes, organizations that are comfortably able to engage and upskill their distributed workforce will enjoy a significant competitive advantage. 

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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