Training your clients in new technology and digital resources can be a chore. In fact, many organizations struggle with their training programs because they’re unsure how to best get students to engage or how to improve the learning experience.
Often the problem is multi-fold: too small of a team, poor preparation, an ill-fitting trainer, or lack of understanding. Still, no matter the issue, client education and training is not an option, it’s a must. In fact, it’s one of the most critical aspects of any software or technology deployment program and vital to client retention.
The problem is that training and education can become especially difficult when dealing with a virtual classroom solution.
The benefit of a virtual classroom is the ability to host training sessions anywhere around the world and to invite as many attendees as possible. Virtual training also eliminates the need for students to travel to your location and all associated costs, which is why 77% of U.S. companies offer online corporate training according to eLearning Industry.
It sounds like the best of all worlds. Unfortunately, virtual training labs can come with many pitfalls if you’re not properly prepared.
For many businesses, particularly startups, which deploy complex or enterprise software, virtual training pitfalls can be nearly impossible to avoid. Facilitators forget that adult learning and training can be just as complicated as teaching in a classroom full of children.
When providing training, it’s not just one element that makes a successful software training lab; it’s the whole experience. To help make your virtual training lab a success, below are five tips to help you create an optimal learning environment.
1. Prepare the Trainer and the Objectives
The most knowledgeable software or technology professional at your company shouldn’t always be the teacher. Yes, subject-matter expertise is vitally important to the success of your training session, but how the facilitator teaches that session is what will truly make or break the experience.
When choosing trainers, make sure they are able to build a connection with learners, create a welcoming environment, and skillfully steer the session in the right direction. They should be at ease with the technology that is being demonstrated, but they should also have the necessary communication skills to engage the remote audience and to keep their participants hooked on the information.
Your training should be designed based on performance goals and learning objectives. The key is to create appropriate objectives. For example, instead of making the objective, “Show how to use the report module,” make the objective more tangible like, “Demonstrate how to generate a report based on date and time.”
Once you’ve made your objectives based on your audience and their competencies, you can create an outline so that you the trainer can guide the virtual training and keep the session on track. Prepare the correct learning materials, tools, and methods to best serve your attendees and your objectives. It’s all about being prepared to teach and not just “winging it.”
2. Tell Stories
Let’s be honest. Technology training labs can be a bit boring at times. Watching an instructor click through screen after screen to demonstrate special features and options might be a good solution for selling software, but it’s not as helpful when trying to teach an audience how to use it. Instead, it’s far more effective to demonstrate your technology and software through the context of user stories.
Stories help make your training relevant to the trainees, catching their attention and sparking their interest. It’s a good idea to pair visuals of software features with thought provoking scenarios, games, or ideas, as doing so can make virtual classroom training much more effective.
Encourage your audience to share common problems that they face in their work environment, and then provide them with a demonstration of how your software can fix the issue and give them the results they’re looking for. This is a much more engaging approaching than simple “show-and-tell.”
3. Pay Attention to the Setting
While virtual training labs come with a myriad of benefits, they also have some downfalls, in particular when it comes to communication. While technology has come a long way with video and audio conferencing, it’s not perfect and trainees can find themselves fading into the background unless effort is made to draw their participation.
One key to a successful virtual training lab is to compensate for the lack of nonverbal communication cues by making use of other available features such as the “over the shoulder” that lets the trainer see the user’s screen as well as group and individual chats.
You’ll also want to break down your software training lab into short sessions, often under an hour, to encourage interaction and to prevent boredom. In a virtual classroom, it’s critical that you constantly facilitate communication by asking questions, encouraging feedback, and allowing your participants to spark conversation. Consider creating activities that immerse your audience in the software through live business scenarios, games, or small group discussions.
4. Answer All Questions
Don’t get so focused on hitting your objectives and finishing the training session in the allotted time frame that you forget why you’re there: your audience. A virtual training lab is only as good as what your audience gets out of it, and if you leave them confused or with unanswered questions, then you’ve failed to do your job.
That’s why it’s necessary to regularly incorporate breaks to digest and discuss each topic or feature. Your audience won’t always jump in and say, “I don’t understand” or “Can you provide an example.” It’s up to you as the trainer to create activities and to set up scenarios where attendees provide feedback that will help them fully comprehend what is being taught.
Remember, your virtual classroom solution isn’t for you; it’s for your trainees. Make sure you give them what they want and need.
5. Rehearse Your Sessions
Just as you can’t send the most knowledgeable software user you have to a training session without preparing them to teach, you can’t train without rehearsing your session.
You should conduct a test run to ensure that you’ve perfected and polished every aspect of your virtual training classroom. In this test run, have a focus group join you for a “mock” session where you can iron out any issues and glitches. Check to make sure that everyone is able to login to the platform, that all content is accurately displayed, and that there won’t be any surprises. On the day of your session, log in to your training lab 15-20 minutes early to reacquaint yourself with the platform tools and to test any audio and video capabilities being used.
A virtual training lab can (and should!) be one of the most helpful and valuable tools you have in your arsenal for client retention and satisfaction. A premium cloud-based training lab solution with pre-built virtualization templates and easy-to-use features can help make every training session a success.
Michal Frenkel is Director of Product at CloudShare. She is responsible for translating CloudShare’s vision into reality and for making sure that customers get the best product experience possible. Michal holds an MSc in Computer Science from Bar-Ilan University in Israel.