In January 2020, I received a great opportunity: a new role at Crucial Learning as the director of training success. Little did I know that a mere month later, amid a global pandemic, I would lead a massive shift from in-person delivery to virtual delivery.
This was no easy task. Not only would we have to learn and transition to new delivery platforms, but we would also have to learn new skills and overcome a negative mindset around virtual delivery. I often felt like a broken record, saying, “There’s a difference between world-class trainers delivering virtually and world-class virtual trainers.”
Over time, we trainers found our groove. Some of us began to believe that virtual training wasn’t just a viable alternative to in-person training—it was a rival option. Delivery platforms improved, as did our ability to leverage their capabilities to create amazing virtual learning experiences. In fact, many trainers and learners came to prefer the perks of virtual delivery.
Although virtual delivery is here to stay more than three years later, we’re seeing many organizations shift back to in-person delivery. This is the day for which many have waited. They never really made the shift to virtual, merely putting a pause on their L&D offerings. Others have become super comfortable in front of their monitors. As we make our move back to the classroom, it’s important that we do so mindfully—so our liking of virtual delivery doesn’t lead to limitations amid in-person delivery.
Let’s look at three areas to consider as we make our return to in-person learning: classroom, connections, and contributions.
The key to making the traditional, in-person classroom setting more effective is to use your physical space wisely. Here are some things to consider when it comes to your classroom:
- Class size. When we talk class size, we’re talking about both the number of participants and the actual size of your classroom. Virtually, it’s been easier to accommodate slightly larger numbers of participants, as there is no space limitation. The sweet spot for an in-person session tends to be 20–25 learners, with 30 being the maximum. Of course, the size of your training room will also help make the decision. It’s important that your classroom creates a safe and comfortable place for learning, connecting, and practicing.
- Class setup. The goal should be to create a physical environment that’s conducive for a positive learning experience and protects the integrity of the instructional design. To help, it is best to arrange the room in tables with groups of four or five. This makes it easier for them to connect and share, and it provides a better situation for deliberate practice.
It’s also important that you have your computer, projector, and audio connected in a way that allows for every participant to have the same experience. Make sure you have VIP successfully installed on your computer and that you have a clicker that works.
In a virtual setting, we’ve learned to accept that we may not be able to connect as deeply with each participant as we did in person. As we return to being in the physical space, we need to ramp up our connections to help learning stick and to increase the impact of the training. Here are a few ideas for improving connections.
- The content. Look for ways to connect learners to what they are learning. One option is to use the course model included in VIP. Always look to connect each principle to the overall framework of the course. Another powerful way to help foster this connection is to use flipcharts. Many facilitators leverage these to track principles and skills as they teach. Hanging them on the walls allows for learners to see and make connections themselves as well.
- The facilitator. The connection between a learner and their teacher is priceless. When learners feel this kind of a connection, it increases learning and application. Look for and create ways to connect with your learners. One great way to do so is to make sure you are set and ready to go the day before. This allows you to visit with your learners and get to know them as they enter the classroom. Resist the temptation to check your email during breaks. Use that time to connect. Move around the classroom as you teach and observe. This allows you to connect with more of the learners. Another way for you to make a connection is to share your stories. Insert yourself into the content where you can. Be careful, as there isn’t a lot of time to do this—but be intentional.
- Each other. Few things create a stronger bond or connection than learning together. Fortunately, the course design fosters learner connections through table discussions, practice groups, and learning partners. Look for ways to expand those connections. Mix things up. Don’t let learners limit themselves by choosing the most convenient partners or practice groups. Have them stand up and then go to the other side of the room to choose a partner. When they gather as practice groups, remind them to choose at least one person with whom they haven’t worked yet.
Participant engagement stands out as one of the biggest challenges of virtual delivery—but we’ve adapted. We’ve learned to use the chat pod, annotations, emojis, breakout groups, and more. We’ve realized that while our virtual engagement may not be as deep, it can be broad.
In a physical classroom, when we ask a question, we may have time for only two or three participants to respond. In a virtual class of 25, there’s time for all to respond in the chat pod. The challenge becomes how to get more contribution across the board in the classroom. Here are a few ideas:
- Create the opportunity. Rather than opening up a question to the class, have learners share in their table groups or turn to their neighbor and answer the question. Then get one or two people to share with the entire group.
- Recognize/reinforce contribution. Positive reinforcement and recognition are among the best ways to encourage contribution. Look for ways to do so with simple phrases like “Thanks for that powerful insight” or “These comments are great, keep them coming.”
- Physical emojis. I have seen some facilitators take a page out of virtual delivery by creating printed emojis on cardstock that they encourage their learners to use. If that’s a little more work than you’d like, try encouraging learners to share what they’re thinking with a simple “give me a thumbs up or thumbs down.”
As we made our massive pivot to virtual delivery, I often said a virtual classroom behaved very similarly to an in-person classroom, encouraging trainers to ask themselves, “What did I do to create a powerful in-person learning experience? And how do I do that same thing virtually?” Now as we shift back to in-person, we can again ask the same questions—but this time in reverse.
For more ideas to excel with in-person training, check out the “Tips for In-Person Facilitation” and “Getting Started Checklist for In-Person Facilitation” in Trainer Zone (in the Prepare to Facilitate section of your course’s page).