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Navigating the Transition From Classroom to Online

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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Training connects people.

It connects people to ideas and new ways of thinking. It connects people to growth and attainment of goals. It connects individuals to a larger purpose and helps move organizations forward.

One of the most wonderful things about classroom learning is seeing those connections form right before your eyes. When you read the body language of participants who experienced a paradigm shift, you can almost see the lightbulbs glowing above their heads. Watching them make the connection between the concept and how it may be directly applied to their lives is an adrenaline rush like no other. Until, of course, a pandemic closes your training room.

When our workforce was sent home, people were scared. They experienced every level of anxiety for themselves, their families, their friends, the people they serve, and the world at large. They heard heartbreaking stories and worked hard to offer their assistance. This new remote work, however, often left them emotionally drained and disconnected from the support system inherit in their physical workplace.

Without so much as a single online training under my belt, I repeated the mantra, “Training connects people. Training connects people.” Because, the truth is, the learning and development that happens in the training room is often secondary to the actual connections people make with each other. Training is the reason to come together, but the connections that form among the people in the room can help support an organizational or aid in a culture shift.

By the first of April, our workplace learning quickly “zoomed” to an online platform. Had we been given 12 months to plan for this kind of massive content transition, it would have taken 18. But our staff needed connection—and quickly. The topics presented to them almost didn't matter. It was the need to see each other and share commonalities during the most challenging of times that was the focus. Our culture of support and connection needed to continue.

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My internet dropped during my first online training. I was literally disconnected from my class. So much for “connection.” But something amazing happened when I was bumped out of that virtual room. The training continued! While I worked my way back in, the participants kept talking about the topic. When I rejoined, they were sharing with me what they learned from each other. I couldn’t have planned it any better.

Now, at the top of each class, we cover the “new world ground rules” and the first, and most important one, is to practice loving kindness. The idea behind this ground rule is an understanding that we are all doing the best we can. So, if your internet drops (ah-hem), your cat walks across your screen, you forget to turn off your camera, your kids need your attention, your neighbor starts mowing his lawn, or any other manner of calamity happens, it’s OK. We'll practice that loving kindness on you because it is who we are as an organization. The merger of our home and personal lives has intensified our connection, and our workforce is stronger as a result.

As I reflect on the past few months and try to cull the lessons I’ve learned from this huge transition to online learning, I find three truths:

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1. The platform doesn't matter.
As trainers, we may prefer either classroom or distance learning, but that's all it is—a preference. Whether in person or online, those lightbulbs are still glowing. If your passion is still behind your training, it will be a success. Any skilled trainer with an ability to adapt can figure it out. Go into it with an open mind and chances are you'll succeed.

2. Learning and development is always important but even more necessary during crises.
It baffles my mind when organizations decide to cut L&D during a downturn. It speaks volumes about their culture and beliefs. Connecting people to ideas and connecting people to each other is a powerful business. Eliminating it may have a long-term impact that can reverberate in staff engagement and productivity much longer than a short-term business decision. When times are challenging, turn to your trainers and allow them to unleash their creativity and apply it to the situation. You may be surprised at what they can accomplish.

3. Opportunities are everywhere.
Whether you decide to view the changes in front of you as challenges or opportunities may have a huge impact on your success. I transformed my training to an online platform and doing so strengthened the relationships I have with the people in our organization. Had I decided to view this task as a challenge, I guarantee that the outcome would not have been successful for anyone. Next time you have a challenge in front of you, call it an opportunity and see what amazing things will transpire as a result.

I look forward to the day when I can return to the front of a training room and see our staff in 3D, but this pandemic has opened my eyes to possibilities of multiple platforms. Wherever I facilitate in the future, I know that training connects people, and those connections are critical to individual and organizational success. My role is to facilitate them in any and every way possible.

About the Author

Molly McAllister is the training and staff development coordinator for the Connecticut General Assembly and has been providing professional learning and development opportunities for legislators and staff since 2013. Molly has been a member of the national chapter of the Association for Talent Development since 2000 and has been a Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD) since 2009. Molly recently completed studies with the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) and became a Certified Professional Coach this year. She most enjoys helping people realize their full potential. Molly can be reached at [email protected]

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