Training Reimagined and Lessons Learned Down the Virtual Road
During the COVID 19 pandemic, all face-to-face training came to a hard stop in March of 2020. As a training organization in the Oil and Gas Industry with a large offering of face-to-face training courses, we were faced with a significant challenge to quickly convert our course offerings to virtual delivery. Our success in the conversion of the materials to be appropriate for virtual delivery, as well as the training of our instructors to deliver this content virtually was key to our financial stability this past year.
As an organization serving the industry, we feel that it is important for us to share our lessons learned on this journey to help others currently working on the path of virtual training delivery options for their own companies. This Tip of the Month will discuss tips for tools, methods, materials, and structure that can be used to create successful virtual training options.
We found the following tools work well for engaging online learners:
► Webex Meetings
► Breakout Rooms to work virtual group exercises
► Tablet computers to allow the instructor to animate or write on the presentation
► Kahoot Quizzes to reinforce learning
► Utilizing short / focused online modules to cover the basic concepts of a topic to minimize the amount of virtual instructor lead lecture time required
► Utilizing an online learning platform, such as PetroAcademy, to organize the course content – including the required online modules, the soft copies of the materials (course textbooks, instructor presentations, problem statements and solutions).
► Dual monitors (three may be ideal) are required for the instructors for effective delivery
► Separate camera and use of sound cancelling headsets for the delivering instructor
► Formal training for the instructors on software, equipment, and virtual delivery techniques
► Use of technical software on a remote server, and software modifications to allow users to run on their computers without admin rights
► Use of Google docs to for the key learning points notes for each session
We found that the following methods work well for online delivery:
► Create an appropriate environment for the instructor to deliver virtually. Consider lighting, professional background in the room, dark colored clothing help with the video for the instructors to stand out, no background noise.
► Provide producers for each virtual session for delegate and instructor technical support on the Webex platform
► Producers can also aid the instructor in managing the chat / questions that are submitted during the virtual instructor lead sessions
► Personal pre-course introductions from the instructor to the delegates that includes an introduction to themselves, discusses the course content and layout, and to provide them the course program guide with any recommendations on what pre-work to complete prior to the start date.
► Individual 15 – 20-minute introductory calls between the instructors and the delegates to get to know them, their job role and what they are looking to get out of the course for 5 – 15-day short course sessions
► Keep the virtual lecture / problem workshops to less than 4 hours per day
► Modify problems / exercises to be less complex that what can be delivered in a face-to-face session.
► Detailed problem / exercise debriefs and round table experience discussions with delegates the day following completing an exercise work well for learning retention
► Videos to break up the lecture time / or assigning videos to view asynchronously on their own time
► Feedback from delegates – 4 hours per day, 3 days per week is likely ideal
► Pre-course introductions from the instructor and Virtual Course Program Guides as a resource to delegates working through the content
► Flexibility to use different instructors and add special topic sessions with instructors that are true subject matter experts in that field
Structure and Delivery…
In addition, the structure and delivery of the virtual course is important to its success. We have found that short, focused online modules work well to cover the basic or core competencies of a subject. We started building online content in 2017, so when we needed to quickly convert our face-to-face courses in 2020 to a virtual format, we had quite a bit of online content that we could utilize. Our virtual courses that utilize these online modules are organized such that the online content needs to be completed prior to the virtual instructor lead lecture. The online modules essentially set the foundation for the discussion to be had.
We completed a significant effort to upgrade our virtual content and to condense the topics into small, bite-size pieces. The typical mini-module covers one to two learning objectives and will take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to complete. We have implemented pre-assessments so that delegates and test-out of having to take a module, and we also have post-assessments to ensure that the learning objectives were achieved. By restructuring the online modules, we have been able to reduce the time required by the delegates to work through them, yet still achieve the same learning outcomes as before.
Breaking the course content down into topics that can be delivered in say 2 to 4 hours is ideal. For a 4-hour virtual lecture, it is best to have a few 10-minute breaks, say every 45 min. Effective questioning from the instructors is critical to the success of virtual training. It is very easy for delegates to turn off their camera’s and disengage. The use of effective questioning can reinforce learning and confirms to the instructor if the delegates indeed are understanding the topics / content being delivered.
Tips for Instructors……
► It can be awkward for some instructors to present virtually when they are sitting alone in their office. The most important thing you can do is RELAX! Be aware of where the camera is and be sure that you are making eye contact with the camera while lecturing and definitely when answering delegate questions.
► Log into any software that you will be using in the session prior to session start time. Have your files open and ready to go. For example, if you are using a power point presentation, have supplemental .pdf files, word or excel, have everything open and ready to present to save time during the lecture.
► Be comfortable with utilizing extended monitor. If you are going to use more content than simply power points (recommended use different sources of content to mix up the delivery of the session), be sure you can move quickly from one file to the next during your delivery.
► When assigning problems, set up the problem with them. Review the problem statement file and be sure they understand exactly what needs to be done and the approach to solving the problem.
► Assign key learning points to be asynchronously kept. Many of the delegates reported back that they did not feel working on key learning points in a virtual environment was an efficient use of their time. With that said, often times the delegates may not complete these. Use your judgement when it comes to requiring delegates to document or keep notes on the session. The KLPs are a very effective tool to reinforce learning when you ask them what they felt was important to remember from the previous days lecture, for example handy rules of thumb, and so on. Another option is to provide seed questions in the google docs and have them answer the questions in the evening / afternoons on their own time to be reviewed the following day.
► If you are new to instructing adult learners, the following book is an excellent reference: HINTS & TIPS for Trainers, Instructors, Professors and Lecturers: with added tips for Blended and e-learning, Gerard A. Prendergast, Grosvernor House Publishing Ltd., 2018.
Where do we go from here?
In light of the feedback from the delegates that have taken our virtual courses is that they needed something that would be easier to work into their daily schedule. With the work of breaking our online modules into mini-modules completed, we are now able to provide focused short courses that will take delegates two to three days to complete. These courses are a blend of pre-requisite mini-modules, for example, basic conversions, or physical properties of gas and liquids, the basic course topic mini-modules, for example Pump Applications, Types and Selection, combined with virtual instructor lead lectures, real world problem assignments, and problem solution debriefs with round table discussions. These courses are ideal for mid-career professionals and addresses the lessons learned from the past year of virtual course development and delivery. Delegates are able to build their own customized course that meets their specific training needs based on their job roles. Below is a listing of our current short course offerings, and the rough time it takes to work through them. The first three listed are two-day courses, all others the content is delivered over a 3-day period.
For the two-day courses, delegates take their online module assignments on day 1, and attend the virtual instructor lead lecture on the topic on day 2.
For the three-day courses, delegates take their online module assignments on day 1, attend the virtual instructor lead lecture, and work their problem assignments on day 2, and then attend the virtual instructor problem debrief and round table discussion on the practical issues associated with the topic at hand. This format allows for increased flexibility of the delegates during the work week to get the training that they need, yet still have time to manage their current work assignments.
This Tip of the Month shared our learnings regarding delivery in a virtual environment. We hope that this discussion has given you new ideas about how to approach your own learning and development programs. For instructors out there, we wish you the best success in the sessions that you deliver and hope that some of the tips and resources presented here were useful to you. If you would like to learn more about the short courses, please visit the link below:
By: Kindra Snow-McGregor, P.E., Ron Frend, and Mahmood Moshfeghian, Ph.D.