I currently work as a trainer for a major academic health center, and I teach a series of introductory courses on our enterprise content management (ECM) system. We currently have over 700 web editors and over 400 websites. When I first started leading training sessions, they were held in a physical classroom. With Coronavirus, the world transitioned into the digital realm, and my classes moved to the internet via WebEx, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. I was a bit in the weeds with where to begin each online training and how to keep people’s interest, but over time I’ve been able to muster together a process that seems to work for me.
I’m not claiming to be an expert, but throughout my career, I’ve found myself continually being pulled into a trainer role. Over time, I’ve been able to acquire a few tips to make my life easier. These top five tips aren’t revolutionary. For some, these may seem obvious, but if anything I’ve learned can help others figure out their own process, then have at it!
1. Provide Expectations Up Front.
What’s proven to me be the most effective way to begin each class is to start with introductions, followed by a general description of the class, and then a breakdown of my expectations. I try to keep this list of expectations short and succinct. If your classes are mostly one-offs, having simplified goals can help to focus your student’s attention. This list also serves as a great resource to continually refer back to during the class, ensuring that I was covering all the important topics.
2. Strive for Adaptation, Not Perfection.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare. In fact, prepare for anything (pandemic, anyone?). I’m constantly being surprised by the unexpected, so I try to start with the underprepared. In a physical classroom, that may have meant stockpiling extra pens and pencils, maybe even power strips for laptops. But, when you’re teaching online, access and technical problems are the base for where you should start.
I try to get ahead of these things a week before the scheduled training by sending out emails with all the technical requirements for the class. But, I also let go of expecting anything to go right. When issues arise during the class, depending on the total number of students and how many are affected, I’ll do a quick pass at troubleshooting. After that, I generally move forward with the training and leave further problem solving for after class. It’s not ideal, but it ensures that the entire class isn’t affected by problems that might arise with one or two students.
3. Show Your Face.
If you’re teaching online, your best bet for an immediate connection with your students is for them to see who you are. But, I don’t require that students turn on their webcams. Think in terms of equity – some students may not have access to a webcam. I do prefer to see faces, but it’s more important that students can focus on the training and not on their appearance.
For myself, I try to be presentable and conduct the training as if I were in a physical classroom, meaning – yes, I am, in fact, wearing pants. As someone more inclined to introversion, dressing for the class makes me feel not only physically ready but also mentally prepared to talk to others.
4. Forge Connections and Spark Conversations.
It’s hard enough to spark organic conversations in-person, but trying to facilitate them across a digital medium can sometimes result in the opposite occurring – awkward silences. The issue is that without the presence of some back-and-forth, either student-teacher or student-student, the class can end up feeling stilted or ineffective.
If your classes are one-off’s, like mine, with new people each time, then having everyone introduce themselves at the start can create an opportunity for the students to build a community of support.
Some students hesitate to bring up questions out of fear that it will hold up the class. I try to dispel this fear by frequently pausing to request questions and to confirm everyone is following along. This doesn’t always work to create a conversation, but it’s always worth a try. And, it can occasionally result in an interesting and informative break.
5. Elicit Positive and Negative Feedback.
How can you know how well you’re doing without feedback? It’s important to me to know that students are learning something. And, because I moved into a more permanent remote role, I need to know they find value in the online classes.
To get this feedback, I generally ask that students fill out a survey after the class. There are numerous online survey tools that you can utilize, but the best online free survey tool, in my opinion, is still SurveyMonkey. I keep the survey short and centered around questions regarding issues they might have faced and suggestions for how the class could be better. From just a few of these survey results, I was able to make slight adjustments to the class and I believe it has greatly improved the quality of learning for everyone.
I hope you find something that resonates for your classes and that your students get the best out of their online training experience. As more and more companies begin to see the value in hiring and retaining remote employees, classes held online may become the norm and not the exception.
Happy virtual training!