stack of books with a laptop on a table in a classroom
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In the current business landscape, training has become more critical than ever. It's also become more complicated thanks to the pandemic.

In-person training, the primary approach for many organizations, has become impossible due to remote working arrangements and social distancing regulations. Virtual employee training has become the go-to way for businesses to reskill employees.  

At its heart, learning is about the interaction between instructor, student and environment, something that can be reproduced in a virtual setting when done right. Here's the advice of HR professionals and trainers on how companies can improve their virtual employee training initiatives.

Know the Difference Between In-Person and Virtual Training

Interacting with a person you see on your screen is completely different than being physically close to someone, said Ana Casic, media relations associate at San Francisco-based TalentLMS. The most common mistake first-time virtual trainers make is trying to recreate the face-to-face interaction.

"Don't do it," she said. "Keep in mind the difference between in-person and digital interaction and environments. For example, remote learners cannot read social cues from their screens." 

There's a distinct difference between in-person interactions and virtual ones, said Ben Walker, CEO at Denver-based Transcription Outsourcing. “If we’re talking about face-to-face classroom training as ‘regular,’ the main difference is that this is more interactive compared to virtual training," he said. "Connections are a lot more real and interactions are a lot more dynamic.”

To overcome the barriers, trainers need to focus on clear communication that uses the screen to their advantage and enhance training using digital channels and experiences. Make sure whoever is leading training gets the preparation they need to teach remotely, commits to the virtual classroom and fosters real interactions, virtually.

Related Article: Is Your Organization Ready for the Hybrid Learning Challenge?

Pros and Cons of Virtual Employee Training

There are several pros and cons to virtual employee training, Casic said. "Virtual employee training is quick to set up and saves time with automation," she said. "It's easily measurable and allows HR and training managers to keep track of learners' progress and identify skill gaps."

That ability to measure a number of data points quickly is an important advantage, said Walker. "Another would be that it provides micro-learning to supplement gaining knowledge in person," he said. Virtual and digital learning can be made available in a number of formats, allowing learners flexibility in when and how they consume the content.

But, as with any technology, technical difficulties can disrupt the experience. "Users could also end up being overwhelmed by the many platforms to use,” Walker said. 

The other problem is the overall group experience. "Nothing can replace the feeling of interacting with a group of people in the same space and social bonding and feeling of togetherness that comes with it," Casic said.

That lack of interaction and social bonding can be addressed in a virtual setting by putting participants into group activities and creating discussion forums. 

Related Article: L&D Best Practices for Your Newly Remote Workforce

Do's and Don'ts of Virtual Employee Training

Companies looking to enact virtual employee training initiatives need to be consistent in their approach. Employees who have gone through different trainers and types of training might be jaded and less likely to benefit from training. For instructional designers and trainers, this means focusing on a single strategy rather than testing a new way of doing things every meeting.

Also remember that the more the team engages with content, the better the training. Making that content immersive and engaging makes it more likely the trainees will reap the benefits and that organizations will see a solid ROI. Here are a few more virtual training do's and don'ts:

Do:

  • Include department leaders in training sessions to assure buy-in.
  • Focus on application and give participants the tools to transfer their knowledge.
  • Have a plan for sustained learning over time and provide reinforcement. 
  • Enable real-time interaction with facilitators and other participants.
  • Ensure your trainer has experience with live online training sessions.

Don't:

  • Deliver learning material in long and monotonous single-format sessions.
  • Assume all the participants are tech-savvy.
  • Communicate and act like learners are next to you.
  • Set training on Friday or risk employees forgetting everything by Monday.
  • Rely too much on PowerPoint presentations. Add variety to the session.

While in-person training is an important part of onboarding and teaching new skills to employees, it might not be possible in the current environment. This means that managers need to rethink training and implement virtual initiatives.

However, a Zoom meeting with a PowerPoint presentation won't cut it. On the contrary, it might end up becoming a costly, failed initiative. Embrace the virtual world and use the screen to your advantage to avoid that outcome.