Stop Stressing About Virtual Training Activities

The United States went into lockdown mode as it responded to COVID-19 back around St. Patrick’s Day of this year. It’s been about 6 months since the world of learning and development has gone almost exclusively to virtual design and delivery, and there’s really no end in sight.

Are you still able to come up with original virtual training activities to keep people engaged?

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Are there instructional design lessons to be learned from Married At First Sight?

Perhaps I’ve been quarantined too long and have run out of “good” shows to watch, but when I recently stumbled across Married At First Sight (Season 9) on Netflix, I couldn’t resist.

As I began to watch it, I noticed something. I found myself rooting for certain people on the show. I wasn’t rooting against anyone on the show, but I definitely found myself rooting for a few of the people more than others. As I reflected on this more, I wondered if there was a lesson for us in the world of instructional design.

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Virtual Training Design Lessons from a Weekend of Wine Tasting

Last weekend I had a chance to visit several wineries in Walla Walla, WA. A lot of people wondered why I was going to wineries if I don’t drink. Honestly, if I have an opportunity to sit outside on a gorgeous day, surrounded by beautiful scenery and amazing views while having fun conversations and learning about things I knew nothing about, then count me in.

As we sat in the final winery we were visiting over the weekend, I began to reflect on the experience and realized there might be some lessons to take away that can be applied to virtual training design.

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Virtual Training Session in 10 minutes

Virtual training delivery has always been tricky, but since COVID-19 basically eliminated business travel, just about everyone has made a push to convert existing training programs to virtual.

Sometimes converting programs to virtual can be fairly simple, but usually, the best results come from keeping your learning objectives the same, but starting from scratch when it comes to activities. Virtual training programs and in-person programs are simply two different experiences, and retrofitting in-person programs to fit into virtual delivery may have been appropriate when we were desperately looking for quick ways to continue offering professional development, it’s certainly not the best long-term solution.

Virtual programs and in-person programs are simply two different experiences, and retrofitting in-person programs to fit into virtual delivery may have been appropriate when we were desperately looking for quick ways to continue… Click To Tweet

Within the next week or two, Soapbox will be updated to allow users to choose whether they’d like to create an in-person or a virtual training program. Here’s a closer look at how you’ll be able to generate an entire training lesson plan, with activity instructions customized to your virtual delivery platform, in about 10 minutes.

Step 1: Define your presentation

Simply begin by entering the name of your presentation, the amount of time you have to deliver your presentation, whether your presentation is to be delivered in-person or online (this blog post focuses on online delivery), the approximate number of people who will attend, the type of presentation and your virtual platform.

Defining the basics of your presentation

The amount of time you have to deliver your presentation, the approximate number of people who will attend and the platform will all impact the actual activities that are generated for your presentation. You’ll be given different activities and instructions if you have 4 people attending than if you have 400 people attending. Similarly, you’ll be able to use different features of a virtual platform to engage your audience if you’re using a platform like Zoom that has breakout room capabilities compared to if you’re using a platform like Microsoft Teams which does not allow for breakout room discussions.

Step 2: Set Your Learning Objectives

There are about 30 different choices for your learning outcomes. The key question here is: given the amount of time of your presentation and the goals of your program, what is it that your learners will realistically be able to do by the end of your presentation?

Some people contend that they can cover 6-10 objectives during a 30 minute presentation. While those people may have 6-10 talking points they’d like to cover, those aren’t learner-focused objectives.

Soapbox will limit the number of learning outcomes you’ll be able to select based upon the amount of time you have available for your presentation. This will ensure a presentation that stays focused and offers participants an opportunity to find ways to practice using your content.

Once you’ve made it through steps 1 and 2, you’ll have a presentation with activity instructions that connect to your learning outcomes and that is customized for your delivery platform. Most users have suggested it takes less than 10 minutes to get to this point.

Step 3: Customize and refine the virtual training activities

There’s no need for you or your team to spend time thinking through the best combination of activities that align with your learning objectives and that will keep your learners engaged. In this final step, you can now invest your time in making sure you have the right activities and talking points for your presentation.

You can drag and drop activities to re-arrange the sequence and flow of the presentation that’s been generated.

Outline of a virtual training session

You can swap out a suggested activity for one that may better suit your facilitation style, your comfort level with the virtual platform and your learners’ needs.

Virtual training session activities

You can edit the activity instructions and add talking points that are important to cover during your session.

Step 4: Generate a Virtual Training Session

Some Soapbox users find the PowerPoint file generated to be a time saver, and they modify the slide deck with some specific talking points, diagrams, illustrations or other key visuals. Others find that they will use their own slide templates, but copy some of the content from the Soapbox-generated slides. Either way, you have a visual resource that can be downloaded and used as you see fit.

Many Soapbox users like to have a hard copy instruction guide at their fingertips, so they’ll download the Facilitator Guide that can be generated. This guide offers step by step activity instructions and reflects any edits and talking points you may have made to each activity.

Virtual training session facilitator guide

That’s it. If you think Soapbox could help you generate better virtual training sessions, you can sign up for a free 14-day trial here.

You can also sign up for a brief demo to have someone walk you through Soapbox by selecting a spot on the calendar below.

Free Lesson Plan: Training Your Staff on Converting Programs from In-person to Virtual

Here in the United States, our Spring of COVID-19 has turned into the Summer of COVID-19, and soon, we’ll have the Autumn of COVID-19. It doesn’t appear that we’ll be coming together to deliver in-person training or in-person conference sessions any time soon. So how can organizations best help their presenters convert their programs from in-person to virtual delivery?

Retrofitting your existing programs to try to do the same thing, just in a virtual environment is tempting. Keep in mind, however, that virtual delivery offers opportunities for which in-person instruction doesn’t allow… and there are some things you can do in-person that you just can’t do online. Below, you’ll find a lesson plan that we’ve created for a 90-minute session that you can use to help educate your staff, co-workers or clients on ways to think through the conversion from in-person to online instruction.

Retrofitting your existing programs to try to do the same thing, just in a virtual environment is tempting. Keep in mind, however, that virtual delivery offers opportunities for which in-person instruction doesn't allow. Click To Tweet Continue reading

What kind of facilitator are you designing for?

A few weeks ago I asked: “What kind of facilitator are you?” and I shared this model:

As part of this post, I also asked the following two poll questions:

Into which quadrant do you think that you fall?

Into which quadrant do the people you design training for generally fall?

If you haven’t had a chance to respond to those questions, I invite you to share your thoughts now by selecting the choices that best fit you and your situation. The answers I’ve received so far offered some interesting data points.

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What kind of facilitator are you?

Designing effective training is one thing. Designing training that can be delivered effectively (by you or by someone else) is a bit of a different animal. It doesn’t matter whether the training is being delivered in-person or virtually, the person delivering the session is an enormous X Factor in whether the training will be effective or not.

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A Training Activity that Leads to Discussion Every Time

“G****mmit, I knew he was going to make this hard!” exclaimed one of the participants as we got underway.

Earlier this week I was asked to drop by a client’s meeting with a group of their trainers. I’ve worked with these trainers for several years and they have adopted the dialogue-based approach to training in which my company specializes. I wasn’t asked to help them work on their facilitation or delivery, I was asked to come in to help ensure everyone understands the “why” behind this dialogue-based approach. So I reached deep down into my bag of tricks to find a way to unearth any resistance or misunderstanding that may still exist among these trainers.

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A few considerations when designing a game for your next training

In Monday’s episode of the Train Like You Listen podcast, Heather spoke with our colleague, Lauren Wescott, about her recent experiences designing games for the training room. Lauren spoke briefly about cooperative vs. competitive games, and what each type of game could bring to the training room. If you’re looking to bring a game into your next training program, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:

“Games” and “Gamification” are not the same thing

Games are something you play. Gamification is an intentional design strategy. Playing Jeopardy or awarding points for correct answers doesn’t really mean you’ve “gamified” a training program.

In their book For The Win, Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter suggest that true gamification goes beyond points, badges and leaderboards and includes a variety of elements such as:

  • Constraints
  • Emotions
  • Narrative/storyline
  • Learner growth and development
  • Relationships
  • Challenges
  • Elements of chance
  • Competition or cooperation
  • Feedback
  • Resource acquisition
  • Rewards
  • Transactions between players
  • Turns
  • Win, lose and draw states
  • Achievements
  • Avatars
  • Badges
  • Boss fights/culminating challenges
  • Collections (of badges, resources, etc)
  • Combat
  • Content unlocking
  • Gifting
  • Leaderboards
  • Levels
  • Points
  • Quests
  • Social graphs
  • Teams
  • Virtual goods

If you’d like to read about real life examples of some of these elements in action, Zsolt Olah chronicled his experiences in this 2018 case study published in eLearning Industry.

Pros and Cons of “Competitive” Games

As mentioned above, competition can be a key element in games – whether it’s a board game you play at home like Monopoly, a game played on Sundays (like football) or a game you’d play in the training room. In my experience, competitive games – a game in which there is one winner (and potentially a lot of losers) is the most common type of game used in training settings.

Competitive games offer a variety of pros, including:

  • Engaging those who like to win
  • Offering a sense of “play”
  • An experience similar to activities (such as Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit) that learners have played before
  • A goal
  • Some competitive games include teamwork
  • Simulating the competition that some in industries such as sales may experience in real life
  • Opportunities to simulate real life challenges

Drawbacks of competitive games may include:

  • Participants focusing more on the rules and winning while losing sight of the intended point of the game
  • Games designed after Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit focus more on knowledge and less on the demonstration of skills learned
  • Some participants may be turned off by needing to engage in competition and/or may fall so far behind in the game that they lose interest

Pros and Cons of “Cooperative” Games

I’ll admit that the genre of cooperative games is relatively new to me. It’s not uncommon for others with whom I’m talking to look puzzled and ask: “What’s a cooperative game?” when I’m speaking about different types of games, which makes me think I’m not alone in my lifelong ignorance to the existence of cooperative games.

Cooperative games, in a nut shell, are games where players work together to accomplish a common goal. “Winning” is often measured by “beating” the game. In the game Pandemic, for example, players work together to try to stop a global outbreak of diseases. Winning happens when all of the diseases have been snuffed out. Losing happens if the diseases take over the world. Win or lose, all of the players are in the experience together.

In my limited experience with these types of games, here are some of the pros I’ve found:

  • Learners must stay engaged or they’ll be letting their colleagues down
  • While there’s always an emphasis on winning, learners generally don’t lose sight of the point of the exercise and argue with one another over the technicality of certain rules
  • De-emphasizes competition while emphasizing skills such as group decision-making, collaboration, cooperation and communication

Some of the drawbacks of cooperative games include:

  • Because this genre is less common and rules of the game can sometimes be complex, learners need some time to grow comfortable with the rules and the activity… I’ve not yet seen a “short” (15-20 minute) cooperative game
  • Planning and design of a cooperative game can be intensive

If you’d like to explore the genre of cooperative games in more depth, the two examples that Lauren offered during Monday’s podcast were:

A few final considerations

Games can be fun, engaging and memorable ways for learners to grasp important concepts and skills. Take great care, however, because as many people noted when I posted on LinkedIn about using games in the training setting, games can also turn many learners off. Some comments included:

“I use [games] sparingly because games for the sake of games is annoying as heck.”

“Pictionary with a group of medical assistants to practice vocabulary, always a huge hit. Build a spaghetti tower that can hold a marshmallow with a bunch of programmers.. no.”

“I tend to see games being used where there’s not really a good link to the learning, applying or recalling the actual concept that should be supported. Plus, I personally am not a game person.”

“Earning badges probably works for many people especially if there are incentives connected. But for me, not even then. It always strikes me about the same as training dogs with treats.”

As these comments show, great care should be taken when it comes to designing and incorporating games or game elements into your next training program.

If you’d like to know more about a cooperative game our organization created for training and presentation skills (called: Train the Trainer: The Game), drop me a line!

What do you think? Competitive games in the training room? Cooperative games? Stay away from games? Let’s hear some thoughts in the comment section!

Train Like You Listen: A New L&D podcast

Welcome back and happy new year!

In 2020, we’ve decided to mix things up a bit. You’ll still find two posts each week, but now on Mondays, you’ll find our new podcast – a short audio clip offering insights and bite-sized nuggets on trends, cool tools and tips for L&D professionals. Our first episode explains a little more about what it is and offers some thoughts around the best piece of career advice we’ve received as L&D professionals.

Give it a listen and let us know what advice helped you become more successful as an L&D professional in the comment section below!