Is in-person, instructor-led training slowly becoming a thing of the past? Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a major transformation of workplace learning was well underway in organizations of all sizes. The abrupt change to remote work only accelerated the acceptance of a concept that many organizations had already embraced for its flexibility and economies of scale — virtual instructor-led training (VILT).
Now that the immediate crisis has passed and remote work is seen as an option rather than a necessity, how does classroom-based instructor-led training fit into the picture? Answering this question requires careful consideration of the relative merits of virtual and face-to-face instructor-led training.
The benefits of instructor-led training
It’s widely accepted among L&D experts that much of the learning that occurs in instructor-led training results from the formal and informal, planned and unplanned interactions among learners. Much information is shared through group discussions and activities such as role-plays and debates, as well as in casual conversation among learners. Participants learn from each other’s experiences, exchange best practices, and establish connections that breach functional silos.
Can virtual instructor-led training yield the same or similar benefits? Certainly, but not necessarily in the same way or to the same extent. Live VILT has its own advantages, many of which are logistical. It can eliminate the need for travel and concerns about the potential for contagion. VILT sessions can also be recorded without the need for additional equipment.
On the downside, Zoom fatigue is a real issue which often requires holding multiple shorter sessions. Scheduling multiple sessions can be challenging, and retention of learning from one session to the next can suffer if too much time elapses between them.
VILT may also fall short, when compared to classroom-based instructor-led training, in learner engagement. VILT doesn’t remove learners from their work environment and its distractions. Attention often wanes and participants may end up reading emails or surfing the web during a VILT session. That doesn’t happen in the presence of an instructor in a classroom.
Additionally, the limitations of video conferencing platforms can make it difficult to orchestrate meaningful activities. Instructor demonstrations may be a substitute for hands-on learning. However, virtual breakout rooms can’t replace the nonverbal interactions that occur within physical proximity. The subtle nuances of gesture and eye contact often go unnoticed in a virtual environment. This can make it harder for participants to connect emotionally with the content, and build camaraderie with one another.
5 instructor-led training best practices
During the pandemic, employees became all too familiar with social isolation. They also became more accustomed to learning on their own time. How do these factors and other recent changes affect classroom-based instructor-led training? Read on to find out.
Remember to replenish
While working from home, taking frequent breaks became the new normal for employees. Science explains why — various studies on attention span suggest that learners maintain focus on a single activity for as little as two minutes, or as long as 18 minutes.
Research also shows that the longer learners spend in class, the more difficult it becomes for them to maintain their focus. One strategy for helping learners stay focused is to schedule breaks every 50-90 minutes. A recent Harvard Business Review article suggests a five to 10 minute replenishing break. The simple act of getting up and moving is more powerful than it seems.
Learners tend to be most focused at the outset of a class, which makes the first 20-25 minutes of an instructor-led training session the best time for content delivery through lecture. Afterward, introducing an activity that gets learners to engage more actively with the content and with each other is key. Additionally, using a variety of instructional methods and limiting the duration of periods of passive learning helps participants maintain focus.
Encourage social interaction
Organizations with a large percentage of remote employees face unique challenges without frequent opportunities for face-to-face interaction or informal, unplanned communication. A July 2020 study comparing employees’ experiences before and after shifting to remote work found that the ability to maintain social relationships with colleagues declined by as much as 26%.
It’s all too easy to assume that bonding among employees will occur naturally in the classroom during an instructor-led training. While some camaraderie naturally results from people being in the same space, deliberately incorporating team-building activities increases the likelihood of participants forming connections that build trust and support collaboration.
Prioritize health and safety
Experts believe that the COVID-19 virus will be around for a long time. As many employees transition back to a physical workplace, it’s important for organizations to maintain health protocols to mitigate the risk of contagion, particularly when holding face-to-face instructor-led training events.
One major risk that organizations can’t afford to ignore is the risk of liability. Civil lawsuits have been filed against venues and companies worldwide for allowing conditions that resulted in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. This is why many organizations are requiring event attendees to sign liability waivers stating that they tested negative just prior to an event.
It’s also wise to spread awareness of an event’s health and safety measures early on, including in announcements and promotions. Measures that can be taken include:
- Requiring pre-screening, such as temperature checks or a symptoms questionnaire.
- Providing hand sanitizer and face masks at the entrance to the learning space.
- Offering an online check-in, if required, to avoid creating a bottleneck at the entrance.
- Limiting class size and the size of breakout groups.
Ask the right questions
When searching for a venue for an instructor-led training event, it’s very important to inquire about how each option is following current public health guidelines. Other factors that can be discussed include the venue’s cleaning routines, the presence of sanitization stations, and the availability of face masks upon request.
To play it extra safe, L&D staff can consider choosing an outdoor venue. This will not only further reduce the risk of contagion, but alleviate the concerns of employees who have been working remotely.
Offer a virtual option
It’s always a good idea to record and/or livestream in-person instructor-led training events for those who aren’t able to attend, and for new employees hired after the session. Recording training sessions also allows L&D staff to evaluate the class afterward and note improvement areas.
Considering the best practices of virtual instructor-led training when designing a program for classroom delivery will maximize its usefulness for virtual audiences. For example, lining up IT support in case of technical difficulties, testing audio and video equipment just prior to the session, and sharing any supplemental documents with virtual attendees beforehand.
Someone on the L&D team may also be designated as the virtual moderator during the session. The moderator can engage remote learners from the moment they join and frequently throughout the session, with polls and discussion questions posted in the chat. When it’s time for group activities, remote attendees can collaborate in private breakout rooms.
The new world of work has many dimensions. Some organizations are making onsite work a full-time requirement, some plan to maintain an entirely remote work environment, and the rest are somewhere in the middle, taking a hybrid approach.
Hybrid learning that includes both face-to-face and virtual options is likely to become the predominant strategy for most organizations. With multiple options for meeting, it’s safe to say that instructor-led training isn’t going anywhere any time soon.