May 11, 2011

Giving an online training - thoughts on it's challenges

I'm not a full time trainer, but I've been keeping some trainings in different places. Recently I had to give my first training totally online, so that it was only me and my computer using screen sharing with participants. That training was the hardest I've kept so far. There's so many challenges with online trainings which I wasn't aware of. Here's my learning's:

Whole situation seemed really strange. I knew some of the guys online, but there was about half of them I didn't know. It felt absurd to talk alone in my room and try to get people to learn something. For me, it's so much easier to go in front of the crowd and adjust and collaborate with the crowd to get the message through. And by no means it's really easy for me to go in front of the crowd, but it's just so much harder to do it totally online without true connection to the people.

With online training there's almost no connection to the people you are talking to. You don't see their reactions, you can't read from gestures or body languages that are the guys understanding you or would they need some more explanation. Or in the worst case they might be totally bored and they would need something to wake them up.

Also with online communication,  people tend to mute their microphones and you don't even here the slightest sound of laughter, when you try to be funny or you don't hear the moment of silence when they are possibly processing about something controversial or surprising you said. It's just you, your slides and silence. It's truly scary.

You are left with your voice and slides. You can't use your body language and the space to move around, you normally have in face to face trainings. You have to try to use just your voice to get the message trough. It is really hard. I've worked whole my career with multicontinent projects and I'm really used for using online tools and telco's for communication. I still never would have guessed how hard keeping training with these tools is. All the credit for those guys who do this more regularly.

I want to highlight that keeping training is so much different than meetings and presentations via online tools. In meetings and presentations the topic is often better known, there's natural conversation, microphones are open much more and you can hear and feel more about what others are doing. So I'm only talking about the difficulty of online trainings, the other stuff is much easier.

With the experience of two online trainings I'm not a good expert to give any tips how to perform better in those, but here's what I will do differently next time:
  • Setting the stage. I will try to get much more people to say something in very beginning. I'll try to get some expectations and knowledge about their competence in the area in question out before I start. That may help collaboration further during training.
  • I'm going to change my slides to contain less information. Even with face to face trainings, people tend to be reading the slides when you are talking to them, I can just guess how much they are concentrating on slides when that's all they see. Maybe less data in the slides will help the people to focus on listening. This is just me guessing, but it's worth of trying still.
  • I might be looking if there would be some way to get feedback during the training. Maybe vote buttons or some red, yellow, green lights for the users to be able to say when they've heard enough about subject or would like some more explanation. Even it might feel artificial, it could still give important feedback to me, to decide how to progress.

I guess it's obvious that I prefer face to face trainings and I guess everyone else does also. Sometimes still the subject is such small and focused that it's much more convenient to try to keep online training in 1-2 hours, than use many days or weeks to travel to keep face to face training. So I bet it wasn't my last training online.

I always like to try new stuff and learn new skills. This event was actually quite useful learning for me. I learned a lot about the teaching. I noticed many useful things when I was missing some important ways to communicate. From now I'm much more aware on those and I will try to concentrate on using those more wisely when I have the change.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

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