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Fail to plan, plan to fail - why design is essential
virtual classroom, virtual training

At the heart of every training programme is the goal of equipping people with skills to improve their job performance.

To do this well, there are lots of things for training specialists to consider. How do they blend synchronous training (that occurs at a particular time) and asynchronous training (that’s self-directed and undertaken independently)?  How much of the learning experience is knowledge transference versus group discussion versus on-the-job application and coaching? How will the impact be measured, and what does good look like? And of course, against a backdrop of continuous technological development and remote and hybrid working, how can virtual classrooms be relevant and engaging for learners?

bored woman laptop
Central to all of these questions is robust scoping and design.
Yet time and time again, we’re brought in to salvage programmes that haven’t given enough attention to these critical stages, resulting in:
  • content heavy courses that feel more like lectures – limiting retention 
  • theory rich, interaction light sessions without meaningful opportunities for learners to consider the relevance to their day job – impairing transfer into the workplace
  • glitchy technical experiences that switch learners off and breed mistrust in the trainer and programme

Recent research shows fewer than 10% of learners feel the virtual and hybrid sessions they’ve attended exceeded their expectations. But the outcome of poorly designed training isn’t just dissatisfied learners, it’s a failure to achieve the desired learning objectives.

Is it realistic in 2023, to think that our corporate clients will pay vast amounts of money for courses that never have an impact because they will be forgotten before the learners even go back to the workplace? Probably not!

So why aren’t scoping and design being done properly?
  • Content bias. This is an issue on both the client and trainer sides. We regularly see briefs from managers and L&D that focus on what they believe needs to be learned (the content), and experienced subject matter experts, who feel their value is their knowledge, transfer content-heavy and theory-rich classroom courses into the virtual environment. This just results in boredom and information overload. When training specialists work with clients to define the business issue that needs to be solved through new behaviours, skills, or competencies, it’s much easier to design effective and engaging programmes.
  • The urgency to deliver. In the bid to get to delivery and impact, the scoping and design stages are either skipped completely – or rushed. As a result, scoping isn’t SMART enough (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timebound) – causing misalignment between stakeholders throughout the process, and design is an afterthought – surfaced when the programme is failing to deliver. Training providers mustn’t rush or overlook the creation of SMART scopes and well-designed courses if they are to deliver the client’s learning objectives.
  • Budget limitations. When funds are tight, time and money are focused on delivery, because design is less tangible and harder to quantify returns from. However, undervaluing this critical stage just creates problems further down the track – fundamentally compromising the effectiveness of the learning. Time spent on design will ultimately boost the return of the programme.
  • A misunderstanding of what design is, and therefore why it’s so important. Design isn’t (as someone once said to me) ‘making the slides look pretty’ – it’s the process of accelerating the application of new learning in the workplace, of weaving relevant, relatable content around meaningful interaction. Training specialists need to drive this point home so their clients recognise the value of investing time and budget on this critical stage.
  • Trainer technical confidence and competence. When we’re just sitting and listening to someone talk, it’s easy to get distracted by other things going on around us (how many times have you seen delegates secretly checking emails and phone messages?) But when we get to participate in group discussions, brainstorm solutions, or solve a problem together, it’s much more interesting, we feel acknowledged and valued, we stay engaged, and we remember more. However many trainers struggle with building participation and interactivity into their virtual courses – either because they lack an understanding of the array of options available in online platforms, or because they lack the confidence to use them. Trainers must educate themselves on virtual classroom capabilities so they can design meaningful tasks where learners can reflect, explore, practice, plan implementation in their role, and receive regular feedback.
engaged learner

The good news is when you get all of this right through good scoping and design, virtual learning can be just as, if not more effective than classroom-based models. 

To help training specialists master the art of designing for virtual learning excellence, over the next 12 weeks we’ll be sharing a series of articles. Based on experience from our teams, clients, and industry experts we’ll help you scope for success, design high impact learning centered around interaction and maximum engagement, and measure return on investment. 

So if you want to elevate your virtual classroom game, follow us on LinkedIn (next week is on the Art of Scoping) and sign up below to our fortnightly round up where you’ll receive exclusive content and resources.

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