Swapping classroom for cloud pt1

Paul Norrington interviews one of his clients on the journey of becoming a virtual trainer.

Reading time: 3m 30s.

Overcoming the challenges of delivering the virtual classroom has been a passion for Paul Norrington, both in the corporate world, and now as the core focus of his own business. The journey from classroom trainer to virtual classroom trainer can be a daunting one.

To throw more light on this particular learning journey, Paul decided to interview Janet Gover, who has successfully navigated the transition in recent months with Paul’s help. Janet works as a technical trainer for broadcasting technology company Avid. Whether you are contemplating making the same journey, or have already begun, read on.

What prompted you to get involved in virtual delivery?

My client, Avid, needed a cost-effective way of delivering advanced training on their systems to their customers. Avid are aware that customers are not always going to keep sending people to London to do this sort of training, finances being what they are. As well as the time and costs involved, there are other reasons to go down this route:

  • Some clients are based in countries that are difficult to reach or have delays and problems with the issuing of visas.
  • Some companies are very lean in terms of number of staff, including those in the broadcasting industry, making it difficult to release people from the office for several days to attend training.
  • Virtual training can also be organised at much shorter notice than face-to-face.

What was your first experience of virtual delivery like?

For advanced technical training, I wasn’t certain it would work. Personal interaction and dealing with questions have always been a critical element of my face-to-face delivery as it takes us places we wouldn’t normally go. I was concerned virtual delivery would be too prescriptive and one-way. However, having delivered many times now, I’ve learnt to overcome those challenges and engage my audience. I like it a lot.

Personal interaction and dealing with questions should not be absent in the virtual classroom, they are the key! It’s a mindset thing. Is the conversation in your head ‘Oh well, let’s do it via WebEx if we have to’ or ‘How could I interact and engage even more than I do face-to-face’? What technology platforms have you been using for delivery?

I’ve mostly used Adobe Connect so far. Learners also access virtual machines set up using Cloudshare. This enables them to have hands-on access to the systems they need to learn how to use. We allow access both inside and outside the live sessions.

Great idea to combine these two technologies to keep it hands-on. So what are the key ways you engage your audience?

Four key points spring to mind:

  1. I train users how to use all the different ways to communicate via the live online platform. As a general rule I’ve found that people’s understanding of technology is not as good as they think it is. I get everyone using the features early on. This delivery method is new to students who in the past have only been taught in a F2F situation – so it requires them to adapt their learning method, just as it requires us to adapt our training method.
  2. I use my webcam, and try to get everybody else to switch theirs on too. There’s something comforting about seeing someone’s face. It’s easy for participants to think they are speaking to a computer, not other people. We need to overcome this.
  3. Once I’ve covered the technology, I throw in something really interesting about what they need to learn. I flip them over on to something that is ‘their thing’ very early. This relieves stress for anyone not quite so comfortable with tech. Get them off the means of communication and on to the subject matter as soon as you can.
  4. I keep my eyes open constantly for chat messages, raised hands and other responses. When I’m demoing, I make a special effort to do this, and keep my audio beeps turned on to prompt me of participant activity. There’s nothing more frustrating for participants than to be ignored. 

What other challenges have you faced so far?

There are limitations on the length of a live online session. I normally run two lots of two hours per day with a break in between. Retaining attention for any longer than that is unrealistic. Even at that, I still find it more tiring than face-to-face delivery,

I’m with you on that too. I sometimes push it to 2.5 hours if it’s a small (12 or less) group and there’s full-on interaction, and give people a five-minute break half way through.


About the interviewer

Paul Norrington helps global organisations and training companies overcome the challenges of running effective virtual meetings, workshops, training, webinars and other live online sessions. Visit his website www.paulnorrington.com



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