By now, most organizations like Yale Medicine experienced the unexpected urgency to convert in-person classroom-based learning experiences into live virtual formats. In mid-March, when all nonessential employees were asked to work from home, the learning and development team was given the challenge to assess which learning programs could be delivered through live virtual or e-learning formats to support the quarantined workforce. This post will explain how in four weeks the L&D team successfully tackled identifying which courses would best fit a virtual format and the practical approach to adapting them, which includes preparation, design, practice, execution, and debriefing.
The article “Making the Switch” from the June 2020 issue of TD provides a thorough approach and schematics on how to convert to the live virtual format. This post explains our experience with being nimble and learning quickly how to make this conversion using a comparable format.
PreparationYale Medicine’s population consists of more than 5,000 physicians, clinical support staff, and nonclinical administrative staff. These employees focus primarily on outpatient ambulatory medical practice areas of patient care. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 95 percent of learning programs were delivered as in-person classroom-based training, which reflected the learning culture.
When all nonessential staff were quarantined in mid-March, our staffs’ need to complete their Core Curriculum—a mandatory series of leadership and staff development courses focused on effective communication and change management skills—by June 2020 sparked an urgent call to action.
To quickly deliver the live virtual learning programs, the learning and development team used Yale’s Zoom platform. The team had to learn how to use this platform to offer engaging learning content and group activities, with the hope of continuing the mission of enhancing the culture of the organization. When trying to design and deliver a virtual learning program, it’s best to leverage platforms the organization already uses since staff are familiar with the tool. Also, since we knew that Zoom was going to be our go-to live virtual learning platform, we understood our parameters and what features we could use.
Before planning to use all the bells and whistles of your live virtual platform of choice, it is important to recognize how comfortable staff are with current technologies and how quickly they can adapt to the learning curve of new ones. As learning and development leadership, it’s our priority to ensure staff are confident delivering live virtual training with the technology they are using. The key word for facilitators, trainers, and coaches who are going to deliver the training is confidence, not competence. Everyone will have varying degrees of knowledge and skills with technologies; however, all learning and development staff members need to be role models for change and show that even when asking for technological assistance, everything is going to be fine and the occasional hiccup is part of the adjustment to a new way of doing things and is handled in stride.
There are other items to consider as you prepare to convert an in-person session to a live virtual learning session, including:
- Duration: Evaluate and agree on an appropriate duration for the session and include time for learners to complete their post-training evaluation (ideally when the session is still taking place).
- Use of Video Camera: Session facilitators should show themselves on video and use audio to offer the best possible social connection with learners. However, consider whether learners must also show themselves on webcam. Is audio alone sufficient?
- Materials: Identify the paper-based materials and teaching aids that must be converted to digital formats that learners can fill in.
- Registration: With the team, decide on the logistics of learners signing on and registering.
DesignFor a more detailed design process, please refer to “Making the Switch.” At Yale Medicine, our rapid design approach involved studying the learning materials and visuals to identify which items relied the most on in-person interaction and social learning (also known as group work). Brainstorm alternatives to design these experiences virtually while maintaining the best possible learning outcome. Look at the population. Is this a group that has experienced virtual learning in other places or is comfortable with being self-directed and figuring out how to navigate such experiences as breakout rooms? Or is this a population that is used to being guided and needs more support through its learning activities (even in classroom-based learning) and the higher-end formats like breakout rooms that may be too confusing and distract from the learning?
With in-person classroom-based content, learners’ responses and body language demonstrate their level of engagement. This is more challenging in a virtual world since learners can discreetly tune out and multitask. At Yale Medicine, we had to figure out ways to distribute “check-in” questions and quick elements of interactions like raising (virtual) hands. Another option is to call on participants by name to ask for their input, which keeps them on their toes and ready for engagement. To do this, it’s important for the facilitator and producer to create a conversational and supportive environment in which everyone is learning this new virtual modality together.
Provide technology platform onboarding at the beginning of the lesson. Include time in your learning plan for technological hiccups and learners who need assistance connecting. Consider adding polling and testing to further ensure attention and knowledge retention. Build in short breaks for learners to “disconnect” and stretch and attend to email and other needs.
PracticeThe proverb practice makes perfect is true when you’re planning to deliver live virtual learning programs.
There are many variables to consider before you conduct live virtual learning programs. To ensure the best live virtual learner experience, hold a practice or dry-run session to test the virtual technology platform, microphones, webcams, bandwidth, and the quality of media sharing such as video, to name a few. During the dry run you will also practice using virtual learning techniques such as breakout rooms, polling, and learner feedback features like chat, Q&A, and visual signals like “Raise Hand.” Among all this testing, you will also rehearse the lesson plan or facilitation script to ensure a coherent flow of instruction for the learner with minimum distraction by the virtual format. To make the best use of training resource time, orchestrate the dry run as a train-the-trainer so all possible facilitators and producers have time to rehearse, ask questions, and problem solve together.
ExecutionExecuting a live virtual learning session is similar to doing the same for a live classroom session. Days before the actual session begins, you should review their registration roster to familiarize yourself with the learner population; get a sense of their technology fluency; and, most importantly, communicate instructions with how to access and use the live virtual platform. It is also important to communicate to each learner the expectations for the session, completing the assigned prework, testing their audio and video, network bandwidth, and working with your organization’s IT if the learner needs assistance to download any applications beforehand. On the day of the session, you should sign onto the live virtual platform at least 30 minutes before the session begins to test all media and conduct a final briefing of the lesson plan and welcome early arrivers.
One resource you will want to have during your session is a producer. This person ensures that the virtual learning session runs smoothly by supporting you and the participants. The producer provides technical support to participants, runs interactive elements of the session, and serves as the back-up facilitator should you experience any major technical interruptions, keeping the session afloat until resolution. A producer can also keep an eye on the chat and virtual hand raises so participant questions are answered at appropriate times. In some ways, the producer is like the stage director who manages all the mechanics and logistics of the show backstage, while the facilitator is the actor onstage who must ensure the audience is engaged and achieves the learning outcomes expected.
At the top of the session you should run through how to operate any interactivity tools to ensure participants have access to them and know how to use them appropriately. This will allow the participants to become familiar and comfortable with the tools in a low-pressure setting.
Remember to be flexible and keep going. There will be bumps in the road, but if you and your producer work together you will provide your participants a valuable learning experience.
DebriefAfter each live virtual learning session, you should debrief your experience. The debrief should include discussions about what worked well and how to resolve any issues or concerns that emerged during the session, including what to do about learners who had difficulty joining the session due to unexpected technological issues. There may be learning elements that need to be redesigned or removed if they did not provide the intended outcomes or if the technological complexity overwhelmed the overall experience. Review your participant evaluation feedback as part of your debrief process. You will want to incorporate questions specific to virtual learning to your existing standard set of evaluation questions. These should include questions about the ease of using the technology and the clarity of any resources used such as videos and digital course materials. Participant feedback should also be considered when making changes to the virtual learning session.
A Note About Going Solo
Can a live virtual learning program be delivered by one person who acts as the facilitator and producer? Absolutely! In this case, all the steps mentioned in the is post still apply and the step of practice becomes more important than ever. In some cases, it may make sense to further streamline or simplify the intended lesson plan and virtual learning activities so the facilitator can effectively balance delivering instruction while providing any technical troubleshooting that emerges.