Now more than ever, knowing how to conduct online training is a must for marketing and management staff.
In these times of uncertainty, firms must be nimble in the ways they pursue their long-term strategic planning goals. This means providing your professionals with the right tools to keep them on track to meet overall marketing and new business development goals and objectives. Some of these tools can be provided through training and coaching, and education online is a must.
Every firm has varied marketing goals and objectives, and it is up to each individual to participate in the achievement of those goals. This requires unique forms of educational interaction. Determining the type of virtual classroom you need can be a very complicated task; it may also be the most important. Consider one of the following types of training to meet your specific needs:
• One-on-one sessions—one trainer works with one participant online
• Group sessions—one trainer works with a group of participants online
• Classroom sessions—connecting parallel traditional classrooms from different locations
• Seminar sessions—multiple trainers and a group of participants
• Group think—online learning blended with real classroom learning; remote guest-trainers conduct lessons with participants
Once you’ve determined the type of training, dial in your methods and equipment. These eight simple steps detail best practices for achieving the necessary functionalities and features of a successful online virtual classroom.
Step 1: Set up your virtual classroom
Make sure your platform is highly intuitive and provides you with all the tools you need to deliver sessions that feel like face-to-face training. Explore the numerous virtual classrooms and their respective features to see which best supports and enhances your training style.
Consider a program that allows you to provide a variety of interaction options for your participants as well as to conduct discussions, role plays, conversational classes, and other interactive activities. Consider a video-conference connection, which allows the trainer to see and hear simultaneously with participants.
Other tools to consider include an internal chat for writing messages to the whole group or to a certain participant and tools for sharing learning content that give you opportunities to present the learning content in various media formats—images, text, videos, audio files, etc.
Step 2: Get to know your participants and their needs
It is especially important to gather information about your participants and their levels, needs, and interests before the learning takes place. The right type of training can give you an experience close to what you can find in a traditional classroom setting. For this reason, the better you know your participants and can create content that is relevant to them, the faster they will adjust to the computer-assisted learning environment. This will help them feel part of the learning community you’ve set up and will motivate their active participation and collaboration with others.
One suggestion is to conduct a short survey to collect information about their interests, learning styles, and expectations. Afterwards, you can use this information while designing the learning activities by including real-life examples as well as content relevant to the participants’ interests. Knowing your audience is fundamental to achieving differentiation.
Step 3: Prepare the content for your session
When planning your sessions, include various activities that are designed to facilitate interactivity, discourse, and teamwork.
A successful and attention-holding virtual environment requires the instructor to interact with their audience every 3–5 minutes. Consider dividing your content into 3–5 key moments then switch between a presentation of key concepts and practical exercises or discussions. This technique will enable you to keep the participants’ attention by encouraging their active participation.
Strive to prepare content-rich sessions by utilizing the following tips:
• Mix up your presentation by sharing your screen to demonstrate external applications or uploading images, documents, presentations, tables, infographics, and video files.
• Encourage collaboration by conducting small group activities and using the available tools to write and edit text or draw and create graphic objects.
• Include group discussions, brainstorming sessions, and other interactive activities—the video-conference connection gives you the opportunity to conduct activities requiring active participation and contributions from the group.
• Assign individual tasks—you can have your AEC professionals participate by reporting on areas of expertise, assignment status, and any relevant opinions. This will give them some accountability for participation during the setup.
These are only some examples of the various learning activities you can plan for your online sessions. Be prepared by uploading all learning materials beforehand, and practice how to access each of these areas.
Step 4: Prepare your virtual environment
Although learning in the virtual classroom is computer-assisted, it is still instructor-led and depends on interaction with the participants. The video-conference connection allows visual and audible contact between the participants, which makes the experience resemble a face-to-face interaction. This allows participants to see facial expressions, reactions, and other elements of non-verbal communication among the entire group.
The virtual classroom likewise change the role of the instructor to that of a group facilitator/moderator during collaborative activities and an expert when the audience needs assistance.
Make sure students/attendees see you in the best light! Keep the following tips in mind when preparing for your virtual classroom sessions:
- Make sure that there is enough light in the room. If there is not enough natural light, you can switch on an extra lamp behind your web camera.
- Choose a place where you are clearly visible—the best option is to face the light source so that the light falls on you. If the light is too bright, make sure you dim it appropriately. Otherwise, the harsh contrast will deform or wash out your on-screen appearance.
- Choose clothing that is a different color from your background.
- Make sure that your surroundings are clean and tidy to reduce distractions for both you and participants. You may choose a clean wall, bookshelves, or any other interior backdrop that resembles a working environment. Consider virtual backgrounds that are fun and inviting, but don’t let them be distracting, and be aware that they can make you “disappear” into the background. Avoid bright colors and objects that might be distracting.
- Don’t be a floating head! When you switch on the camera, make sure you can see your whole face and at least part of your torso on screen. Make an effort to position your image in the center of the video feed.
- Make sure that there is no background noise in the room or anything blocking your microphone. In some cases, it is best to use your phone for audio.
Step 5: Practice and watch
Just as you would instruct your staff to rehearse before a big interview, it is helpful to perform one or two test sessions with a colleague or participant ahead of time. Rehearse the activities in the virtual classroom and make sure your schedule, sound, video, and any uploads or links you may be incorporating are functional. These tests will help you explore any potential problems and plan your sessions more precisely.
The test sessions will also help you try out the virtual classroom in real-time interaction with participants. They will serve as inspiration for more ideas and make you more confident when conducting your online session.
You may want to consider recording and watching your session if the software has this functionality.
Step 6: Schedule a welcome session
Most programs are very intuitive and participants won’t require any special training to use the tools. However, the first session is usually a new experience for everyone. We recommend planning a longer first session, spending some time getting to know one another, and introducing attendees to the environment. During the first session, you will be able to learn more about your audience, their interests, and expectations.
Step 7: Start training, but with preparation
Once you get used to working with the tools of the virtual learning environment, you can build the structure of your online course.
One suggestion for easy preparation is to distribute the schedule and any resources ahead of time. Create a session timetable with a clear framework. When the specific session’s schedule is ready, share it with the participants. Make sure you plan activities for interaction among participants that foster an online community. Select and use appropriate electronic materials and resources relevant to the audience’s experiences, interests, and levels. Create varied study activities that correspond to pre-set educational aims. Balance the activities of individuals, small groups, and the entire group.
In one recent online training, MARKETLINK Principal Keri Hammond arranged in advance for two principals of an architectural firm to share some mentoring tips by utilizing screenshare. It was very successful in breaking up the training session with other presenters’ assistance.
Step 8: Collect feedback from your audience
As part of the working process, gathering participants’ feedback will help you improve your performance as a virtual instructor. At the end of your session, as well as at the end of the entire course, you can prepare a short questionnaire or survey for your participants. All of this allows you to personalize the study process based on the needs of the entire group as well as the individual participants.
The purpose of these training sessions is to provide value to the participants and make them more efficient in their work. Take time to customize your content, and don’t allow distance to hinder your long-term strategic planning and/or marketing department goals.
AEC firm staff members need focus and direction to help them navigate the changes that we’re experiencing and that will be coming in the near future. Give them the tools for continuing education and a venue to ask for advice. This training program will establish you as the firm’s clear marketing knowledge expert.