ATD Blog

Rapidly Moving Your Face-to-Face Training Online

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Are you in a situation where you need to quickly convert your existing face-to-face classroom training materials to the virtual classroom or to an asynchronous or e-learning platform? And by quickly, I mean—this conversion should have been had yesterday.

If so, you are not alone. Almost all organizations are facing this challenge in some way or another as the COVID-19 global pandemic has launched us into needing to modify existing training materials.

Global pandemic or not, we need to be ready to act on short notice to modify our training materials to accommodate shifting environments. Maybe you have company travel bans, a global workforce, or a lack of facilitator resources. I have seen these all at some point during my talent development (TD) journey, so being able to train employees virtually or with e-learning is an invaluable must-have resource.

Where Do We Start?

Our heads spin as we try to brainstorm how the magical, engaging eight-hour classroom experience we’re used to providing could possibly fit into a shortened e-learning module while maintaining effectiveness and engagement.

The first thing we need to realize and accept is that the training will be different. We should not expect it to be the same experience. But can we achieve the same learning outcomes through a different modality? Absolutely. The key is to ensure that we are successfully setting up our learners to meet the learning objectives. We must focus on the structure and purposefully organize the course for the new environment.

My Experience

In a previous role, I led new-hire training for the department, which meant I provided employee onboarding events every two weeks. I was one person. I had to figure out how to either multiply myself to facilitate all required courses or come up with a new strategy.

I remember my manager suggesting a solution—that I record my face-to-face or virtual classroom trainings then supply the recording link whenever we had a new hire.

What?! I was appalled by the suggestion. “You mean you want me to have new employees listen to a recording?” My trainings were all about interaction, discussion, and relationship building. I knew a recording would not provide the learner with the ability to apply the learning nor would it provide personalized feedback.

Another example in this role was when we had recurrent errors made by employees on the job, I would get called in to provide refresher training. “We need to inform them to never make this mistake again,” I was told. Again, the request was for me to take a SME-created PowerPoint slide deck and upload it to the learning management system for the learner to hopefully read. Can you guess the outcome? The errors were repeated in most instances, even after the “training” was rolled out.

I wasn’t willing to fail our learners and employees by providing ineffective training. Yet I had to change my usual training based on the reality of being one person and being asked to move my training online while helping my manager understand what makes for effective training and development.


Taking the First Steps

To quickly and effectively get your content online, let’s explore a few ideas to jump-start the process.

Make Sure Your Content Is Valid and Relatable
Before you think about adapting any of your current material from instructor led to online training, check to see if the content is outdated. If it is, get rid of it! Sometimes we are creatures of habit and provide training to provide training because it is what we have always done.

What good does it do to exhaust yourself on a topic or angle that no one cares about or puts into practice? For example, has the organizational culture changed so that the content, as currently presented, is irrelevant? Similarly, does the training relate to “how things are really done around here”? If not, it doesn’t make sense to repurpose it.

Further, this might mean making sure your e-learning training is current with the last update of the program—that is, that the version of the software hasn’t changed since you’ve developed the course. For example, has a software update changed the look and feel of an application since the course was developed? If so, be sure to revise any screen shots accordingly. With regard to organizational systems, are processes still handled the way the job aid outlines? Now is the time to make sure your content will help learners be effective and productive.

Make Each L&D Project Step Mini
Even though you’re being asked to quickly move your face-to-face training into a virtual modality, it still has to meet learning objectives. When you're crunched for time, instead of skipping a step altogether, do a mini needs assessment. Rather than not asking any questions when starting a learning project, ask one or two, such as, “What does success look like once learners complete the training?” Then list key skills, behaviors, and tasks that learners must do differently after the training.

Another mini step in the onboarding example is to ask the new employee’s manager, “What can we do to improve the new employee’s experience and ability to be productive?” Or check with two employees who have been in the department for one to two years, asking, “What would have made your getting up to full productivity easier had you known it in your first month?”

Only include the essentials. Leave out all the nice to haves. This will immensely trim down the content.

Include Tasks for Learners to Complete
In my earlier role with new hires, I discovered that learning stuck when the learners had to do something (a task) rather than just click through slides. An effective learning program requires more than a set of clickable PowerPoint slides. The learner needs to experience real-life scenarios, try out tasks, and receive feedback along the way. An extrinsic smiley face and a thumbs up icon at the end aren’t enough.


An example of this in a virtual classroom would be a knowledge check question, when a facilitator asks learners to respond with green check or red X then calls on a learner to hear more and gives personalized feedback. Or, when a facilitator takes a poll of the audience and responds based on the results. Or, when there is a breakout activity and the facilitator debriefs based on the results that learners came up with in their assigned small groups. It still is all about trying it out and letting the learning practice.

For an onboarding program done via asynchronous online training, you may assign new employees the task of logging on to the intranet to find answers to a series of questions, such as “In the IT department, how many direct reports does manager Alex have?” and “Which HR staffer handles employee benefit questions, such as healthcare flexible spending?”

Avoid Simply Importing PowerPoint Slides From an ILT Course
I facilitate ATD’s E-Learning Instructional Design Certificate and ATD’s Articulate Storyline programs. In these courses, we suggest avoiding simply importing PowerPoint slides from the face-to-face training course. Why? Because face-to-face training and e-learning are different learning modalities. The content may be the same, but the experience does not translate the same way when placed into the online space.

For example, what happens in e-learning when animations are supposed to occur? Or when the facilitator should click to build slides? Or when there is supposed to be a participant discussion occurring?

These steps should help:

  • Modularize the course. Chunk the content to make it easier to digest for the learners.
  • Create a user interface.
  • Transform the interactive experiences that happen in the classroom to interactive experiences in the online space.

For example, if you were having students try on personal protective equipment in the ILT classroom, think about how you could get them to replicate that in the online space. Maybe they dress a character in PPE based on various scenarios presented.

Find a Tool That Makes It Easy for You to Build the Programs
There are an abundance of e-learning tools, and it can be daunting to know where to start. I prefer Articulate 360 Storyline and RISE but I also recommend this Elucidat blog post if you are trying to weigh pros and cons of varying tools. Steve Penfold first offers questions you should consider about yourself and the training you plan before outlining features of authoring tools. You can then select a tool based on features that are important to you.

For instance, do you feel confident in your technical skills to the point that you’re able to use a more complex authoring tool? What do you need in terms of scalability? How much of a budget do you have? In addition to information from Penfold’s post, I recommend asking fellow facilitators what tools are working for them.

Remember, it may seem like a lot of work upfront but there are immense benefits once your content is online. E-learning has benefits for the learner and the organization. The learner receives a personalized experience and can complete the self-directed learning in his own time. For the organization, the learning is easy to track; the content being delivered is consistent; and there are decreased expenditures due to reduced travel, less in terms of facilitator costs, and decreased time spent at the training event. Give it a try and I bet you will be impressed with what you can produce in a short amount of time.

Feel free to reach out to me directly with further questions or guidance. My email is [email protected]. You can also connect with me via LinkedIn. Learn more about my early endeavors with e-learning in this ATD post, “What I Learned From Designing and Developing E-Learning.

About the Author

Nikki O’Keeffe is an internal ATD Facilitator. She is dedicated training specialist who delivers a positive, memorable, and meaningful service that repeatedly meets or exceeds the expectations of the client. She has experience creating strategies and visions to ensure training requirements and deliveries are in line with quality, probability, and client need. 

Nikki has worked in varied industries, including education, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. In her role as the global senior training and development specialist at PAREXEL International, her focus was on managing and developing courses for new and existing staff on technical systems, process changes, new products, and soft skills.  Her educational background includes a BA in psychology from Butler University and a master’s degree in exercise science, health, and wellness from Northeastern Illinois University. Her specific areas of interest include virtual training, facilitation techniques, and mentoring new trainers. 

Nikki is skilled at providing face-to-face and online learning programs for global participants of varying experience levels. In addition to delivering training, she has performed training needs analyses to identify gaps and recommend training solutions, worked with SMEs as a consultant to develop courses and curriculums, and evaluated programs for effectiveness. 

As a certified ATD Master Trainer and certified ATD Master Instructional Designer she understands the value of solid training plans and strong facilitation. Nikki looks forward to sharing her experiences and expanding her knowledge base by learning from her participants in the upcoming ATD courses that she leads.

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Thank you for this article. I like the bit about using relevant and up to date details only. Also the point about getting the learner to DO to learn more. Also the point on creating an experience rather than using powerpoint.
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This is a great article. My favorite tip is having learners to scour the website to find answers which makes it interactive. Great idea. This is causing me to rethink our current New Hire Orientation and how we can increase the knowledge retention and add value to the learner, process, and organization overall. Thank you for posting.
Thanks Kyle! It really is an easy twist on the normal "watch me" demo activity. Learners like a challenge and this works well! Let me know how you go!
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Thanks for this article, Nikki. I interface with a lot of non-trainers who have trained faced-to-face in their various units over the years and are now having to make the quick switch to "delivering" training online. You've outlined well some clear and practical first-steps that I'll be passing on to them.
Hi David! Thank you for taking the time to read the article and I am thrilled you will be able to pass on some practical tips! We need to help set our F2F trainers up for success when they are making this transition to the virtual space. Good luck!
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