Skills Training using Virtual Workshops – Does it Work?

Do you really need to fly people to attend training events to learn new skills? A good question when clients are baulking at the costs of such events and not clear they are getting value for money.

With the development of new technology, is it possible to deliver skills training using video conferencing (VC) software?

Well, I’ve done it and it worked better than I thought it would. Here’s how.

I started this enquiry from a small position of advantage…I had delivered several live webinars for an international business school with participants on several continents. But I wanted to talk to some more experienced specialists before starting to charge clients for designing and delivering virtual programmes.

All the experts agreed that VC is easiest to use for knowledge transfer rather than mindset shifts or skills transfer. However, if you can maximise engagement using the right software (Adobe Connect was a favourite of some) and set up virtual teams, using virtual rooms, online team coaching, have post-teaching inputs, online case studies etc, it was thought that you can change attitudes and build skills.

To maximise engagement, I decided to complement the ‘lecture’ elements with short video clips using professional actors. These added dramatic inputs and provided examples of how to (and how not to) delegate, give feedback, build rapport, etc.

Other devices to stimulate engagement included ‘talking heads’ (ie two people having a conversation to bring out key points), panel discussions, interviews (eg with senior management and clients).

To ensure the quality of the virtual training was at the highest level, I pre-recorded these videos in a studio near to the main office for convenience. The costs for these videos were small. The extra quality sound and better lighting were worth it.

We decided that all the participants would be together in a meeting room in their local office. This obviously won’t always be possible.

A typical 2 hour module was designed like this:

  • Pre-reading to introduce initial ideas and encourage reflection
  • Facilitated discussion in a meeting room in the office (30 mins). I drafted a discussion guide for facilitators to use
  • Presentation input, including models/frameworks/video clips from actors (1h)
  • Facilitated discussion on reactions/challenges etc and the setting of personal goals/homework (30 mins)
  • E-learning support was made available on the firm’s intranet
  • Sponsoring partners to provide on-the-job (OTJ) support for participants to practise the particular skill covered. This was reported on at the start of the next module.

The facilitated discussions were important but most firms lack people with such training skills in each office. So a train-the-trainer was offered to get enough people up to speed.

The initial VC training was offered to develop Business Development (BD) skills and I ran five modules, roughly one month apart. I delivered the training from each of the five main European offices, with all the other offices on camera.

After each BD module there was homework – invariably using and developing one of the BD processes covered in the module. After the first workshop, the participants agreed their priority clients and carried out initial research into relevant sector and company issues. After the second module participants made their approaches to these clients (ie they picked up the phone or sent an email, using a prescribed approach).

One of the benefits of a modular design is that you can make the most of reflection. Participants were encouraged to keep notes of their thoughts and observations (as an MBA student would do).

So I came away from my first experience feeling positive about what can be done using VC software. It worked for BD skills and I can imagine it working for Leadership development programmes.

Is VC training as good as getting people together? Probably not. In particular you lose the opportunities for colleagues to network and build trusted relationships. But the cost savings are huge.

The VC software didn’t always work perfectly but I guess the glitches will be ironed out pretty quickly. So I’m a convert!

Hope this is interesting. I’m keen to hear the experiences of others pioneering in this area.

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