Remote Training During COVID-19: Same, but different!

11-09-2020
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Remote Training During COVID-19: Same, but different!

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we have provided a great number of remote training courses across a wide range of topics. We therefore thought that now might be a good time to look at remote training from the instructor’s point of view. To this end we decided to interview one of our senior instructors, John, who has a great deal of experience delivering virtual online classes.

What have been the biggest benefits of remote training?

"There have been several significant benefits for delegates as well as for the course instructor. The first is the ability to tailor training course delivery around the commitments and availability of the delegates. I have lost count of the number of courses we have now given in half day blocks across 1, 2 or indeed 3 weeks. This means that not only does attendance on the course have less of an impact on the delegates day to day role, it also gives them time for reflection and consideration of what they are being taught. This means that at the start of each teaching block there are often more meaningful questions, often oriented around the delegates own experiences of trying out the concepts being presented in their workplace. This makes for a more engaged audience who have had the time to consider how the course relates to their everyday activities and applications.

There is of course the additional benefit of not having to travel to a training centre; thus avoiding the associated costs in terms of time and money. This means that the delegates can put more energy into the training, and this is reflected in their questions and the discussions following each topic.

Does the technology used for online / remote training enable any benefits for the trainer?

"Certainly, one feature that I know several of instructors use extensively is the ‘breakout room’ (or ‘breakout channel’ depending upon the actual technology being used). This allows us to pull one or more delegates out of the main training room and into a breakout room where they can share their screen, ask questions and explore issues without having to feel that they are being scrutinized by the rest of the group. Several delegates have indicated that this makes them feel more relaxed and able to open up.

Another aspect of the technology is that all of the delegates are in front of the instructor all of the time. It is therefore very easy to pick up on someone looking lost, confused or concerned about some concept or idea.

A further advantage is that delegates can post questions during the taught sessions that the instructor can pick up on at a suitable point in the presentation. This ensures that questions are not missed and also that the flow of the session is not interrupted.

This all sounds very positive, but have there been any negatives?

"Of course, there are differences between face-to-face training and remote training from the instructor’s perspective, although not as many as you might expect.

If the class size grows too big then it is very hard to keep track of everyone as typically, it becomes impossible to see all the delegates on the screen at the same time. It is also harder to get to know the delegates and what aspects of the course are particularly relevant or how the topics being presented relate to them. We have mitigated this issue by limiting the class size to around 10 delegates per online class.

Another difference is that the technology does not always best facilitate hands on practical sessions. For example, the act of pulling a delegate into a breakout room and analysing an issue or resolving a problem can take longer than learning over a computer and fixing it in person. However, this may be balanced against the benefit of pulling a group of delegates into a breakout room and addressing a common issue across the whole subgroup in one go.

The other big difference is the potential for informal chats with the instructor around the dedicated teaching times, such as at lunch or over coffee. This is partly due to the spontaneous nature of such discussions but also due to the more formal nature of the online environment. In my case I always provide a 1/2-hour window at the start of each day when any of the delegates can join me for a coffee, ask a question or just have a chat. I have found that this can be a useful way to alleviate the lack of other informal discussions and minimise some of the barriers caused by not meeting delegates in person.

What feedback have you had from course delegates about remote training?

"The feedback I have had has been very positive. The informal feedback comments I have received have included the benefits of not having to commute to classes, sitting in a nice environment (often their home), being able to ask questions in a 1:1 breakout room as well as being able to put questions into a chat session. For me the overall benefits are greater than any perceived negatives about remote training.

Overall what are your feelings about remote learning?

"It is not as different as some people make out. As with anything there some pros and cons but these basically cancel each other out. For me the biggest benefit has been the flexibility we have been able to offer our clients in terms of delivery times and durations. I also feel that in some ways online remote training can provide a more personal training with some of the benefits of 1 to 1 coaching.

So overall the move to online remote training delivery seems not to have been as traumatic as some might have predicted. From an instructor’s perspective there are some differences but there are at least as many positives as negatives and on balance the positives out way the negatives.

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