Distance learning: how to host online training courses?

Is training undergoing a revolution? In a way. Even if distance learning it not new per se, it has swiftly increased these past few months. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced training organizations to adapt by developing new formats. Far from being a simple parenthesis, this practice is meant to last. Even so, a virtual training course cannot be conceived, prepared and delivered like a physical training course. For these reasons, in this article, we share a few tips on how to make your online programs successful.

1/ Anticipating image, sound and settings

When you host an online training course, you depend on technology more than ever. Therefore, watch out for the quality of your sound and image. Indeed, your settings, your chest and your voice are your only links with the participants. Sound and image influence your credibility, the clear understanding of your contents as well as the ability of participants to remain attentive. Make sure you invest in good equipment if the one you have at your disposal is not adapted, such as a microphone, lights and a camera if necessary.

However a good image and sound do not only depend on the tools you use! Be sure to choose a place with adequate lighting, particularly for your face: avoid backlighting or putting yourself in a dark location. If you are poorly exposed, your image will be bad even though you might have the best camera in the world. You should also choose a quiet place, without any background noise. Your internet connection is also a key element which can affect your video quality. In fact, in case the network in your home or office experiences some problems, try to switch to your phone’s Wi-Fi.

You should also prepare the settings in which you will place yourself. Your audience will see everything there is around you throughout the training course. Don’t choose a place where people (colleagues, family, pets , etc) could barge in during your training and be a cause for distraction. To keep a professional image, avoid to place yourself in front of a sink full of dirty dishes or an unmade bed. Do not forget to rid your desk of any objects which might hinder you or fall during your intervention (holiday photos, scattered files with no link to the training course…).

Finally, your settings are not limited to the room where you installed your desk. They also include what participants can see on your computer screen. You should be careful to remove files or photos which should not be seen during screen sharing. The participants of your training course do not need to see how you were dressed for Halloween!

2/ Conducting courses adapted to distance learning

As is the case with physical training, a virtual course must be prepared by keeping in mind its educational goals. Planning your course is also important. It is one of the key elements to maximize your participants’ attention during your online training course.

Dividing the time spent hosting your course is a good way to ensure you keep your participants focused and that you remain dynamic over the duration. Instead of planning whole days of training, it is possible to divide the training course into several half-day sessions. You can also save one or two hours at the end of the training for a question-and-answer session for example.

You should avoid improvisation as much as possible. We have all had a hard time staying focused during a conference, a lesson or a course at one time or the other. Many of us have had trouble to remain attentive when following a webinar as well. Every pause or moment of hesitation can make the participants’ attention waver. This should be avoided at all costs. Your plan must be detailed and anticipate as many elements as possible to limit improvisation. To keep a sustained rhythm, you can prepare slides, videos or small group works in advance.

In fact, leading exercises during a virtual training course can be more challenging than leading them in person. Some exercises have a tendency to break momentum: an extended individual preparation time makes the instructor passive. In addition, shorter sessions mean that the duration of the exercises you are used to is not necessarily adapted anymore. To handle these issues, consider removing a few exercises from the training time and giving your participants homework.

3/ Building and keeping a high momentum

Momentum is an important element for the success of a virtual training course. To promote a dynamic approach, it is important that all participants have good conditions. Think of a few rules to implement and present them at the beginning of the training. For example, during videoconferences, it is advised to turn off the microphone when a person doesn’t speak. It avoids noise interference and helps the session run smoothly. Other examples include requesting that participants use a headset, that they go through the chat box when they ask to speak or place themselves in a quiet environment and with an adequate setting to follow the course…

Once these comfort conditions are assembled, you can begin interacting with your audience. Do it in the very first minutes of your intervention and boost your participants frequently. You can, for example, include a few games to break the ice. Here are two ideas: ask them to present themselves in a fun way or to give their opinion with a survey tool. If you encourage them to express themselves, your participants will be more active during their training.

Once the ground rules are laid and the interaction has begun, the idea is to maintain the momentum throughout the session. See to it that the content of your intervention remains attractive and that your audience doesn’t grow tired. Use slides to illustrate your speech, show short videos or even put on some music, and prepare a few questions to ask your participants at each stage of the training course. Many solutions exist! You can also involve several instructors. It can be useful to conduct sub-working groups, ensure that participants don’t grow weary of the voice of a single instructor or even handle the chat box and the visual and video mediums. You can also maintain interest between sessions by suggesting articles to read, videos to watch or do personal interviews to follow up on the participant’s progress.

To summarize, switching from a physical training course to a virtual one is not as easy as it looks. Step by step, by seeking progress and asking your participants’ opinion, you will be able to develop efficient online programs.

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