Podcast 103: Training during the Lockdown – lessons learnt

On the Cherryleaf Podcast, we discuss the lessons we’ve learnt so far from training in a virtual classroom environment during the Lockdown.

 

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Transcript:

This is the Cherryleaf podcast. 

Hello and welcome to the Cherryleaf podcast. It’s a snowy day here, so it’s not a walking podcast. This time I’m in the room that we use for delivering our new virtual classroom training courses, and also where we record our elearning courses. And this podcast is a follow up from podcast number 89, which we did back in June which was about the end of corporate classroom training. 

And in that podcast, we talked about the issues around converting classroom training to be in a live online format. We talked about how Google was delivering training courses in that environment. 

And this is about how it could be done. 

Well, we’re now in February 2021, so that’s what seven months onAnd in that time, we have progressed and we have been running virtual classroom courses. So that’s classroom courses delivered over Teams over Zoom with live trainer. And I thought it would be a good time to recap and reflect on what’s happened since then. What we took on board from the recommendations from Googlereally what we’ve done since then.  

The course since then that we’ve introduced. 

So it’s well worth going back and listening to podcast 89 If you’re interested in delivering training in a live virtual classroom format. 

So we mentioned on that podcast that we had some classroom courses, specifically policies and procedures writing course which we were delivering at the institution of electronics and Technology by Waterloo Bridge, which was great. You have these lovely views out onto the River Thames, but there were some issues over having enough people for it to justify running a course because you had to hire the training room there. 

So we mentioned on the last podcast that the way that Google was doing it was to use a flipped classroom environments splitting the course into two sessions of between 2 1/2 hours and 3 hours each. That there were delegates working in pairs on a single document and then they could breakout to discuss the work. 

You could just go up and down the document and add comments or see what the other person is doing. 

And also that Google was having exercises that were roughly 5 minutes long. 

Well, since then, we have introduced a number of virtual classroom courses and we’ve taken aboard a lot of the recommendations that Google make for the way in which the course is structured and the way in which the trainer behaves and interacts with the delegates also. 

So now if you go to the Cherryleaf website onto the training page, you’ll see a number of virtual classroom courses. There’s the policies and procedures course which is aimed at people that need to write policies and procedures. So outside of the technical writing area. 

And also for internal teams for different organisations, including Fire Brigades and the like. And we‘ve also introduced some variants on that. One that focuses on finance and accountancy related policies and procedures and another around it and cyber security related policies and procedures, those being for teams within organisations. 

We’ve also introduced a planning and managing UX or user experience virtual classroom course that’s aimed at helping managers and teams to plan and manage UX work, whether developing online services, the foundations of UX. 

That’s what that covers and within the technical authoring sphere. What we’ve run iswe’ve run in-house courses, so courses for teams within organisations via Microsoft Teams, or a number of mainstream technical writing courses. So that’s basically a live version of our elearning course. 

And we’ve also introduced variants for that, which have been a technical writing course for developers, and there’s the option of the course that Google has developed, or one that we’ve developed, or where we can add extra content or different content over and above what Google offers. 

And of course, for support staff people that are on support lines that also write documentation. 

So we’ve been busy and learned quite a lot in the time since June. 

A lot of it being forces the advice and experience from Google. 

So let’s look at some of those aspects. One is the format, so the formats that Google recommends of splitting one day into two sessions on consecutive days. That works well. So the courses that we run we’ve been running 9 till 12 on day one, 9 till 12 on day two. Or if we’ve got an international audience, then two in the afternoon till 5:00 o’clock, and occasionally for mainland Europe delegates an 8:00 o’clock start. 

And we have worked on the basis of doing about 15 minutes of teaching and then getting the delegates involved in some ways. So every 15 minutes or so and exercise or discussion points where people aren’t stuck just staring at a screen or staring at a trainer, talking away, and at the top of the hour breaking for 10 minutes. So people couldn’t put to loo or have a cup of tea, grab something to eat, deal with any emergencies at that time. 

And that structure that Google use we found has worked well. 

Now we mentioned it on the last podcast that’s Google uses the flipped classroom format. So what they do is they have precourse exercises that delegates have to complete before the live sessions. 

We’ve not done that. We have stuck to really taking people from nothing, no precoursework, and then teaching them on the day. 

There’s something else that we mentioned in the podcast that Google recommends is having a classroom buddy or virtual assistant that can deal with any technical issues. We haven’t done that yet. We’ve managed so far to be fine with just a single trainer and from a technical perspective, most things also far things have run pretty smoothly. 

We also talked on the previous podcast about familiarising delegates with Zoom or Teams or the platform, and briefing them on how to mute and unmute themselves, as and when is needed will. In factI guess with where we are now nearly a year into people working from home peoples knowledge of using these products is so good that they don’t need to be advised at the start of the course. Of course, people make mistakes, and they start talking without amusing themselves, and you just have to remind them about that, but that’s about it.  

 

What we have found is that it makes a big difference if delegates have their video cameras on. That from really from both the trainer and delegate experience, it’s much better that everyone can see each other, rather than it just being delegates’ disembodied voices that are coming out from the screen. 

Also, what we found this is ended up with more courses being delivered specifically to internal teams.That the delegates have been more international in nature. It’s been more than just people located in UK or the occasional delegates from France or Germany that there has been quite a variety of locations. Delegates being in India or the Middle East, in mainland Europe, even some in the States. And for those we’ve, as I said, done sessions which have started at 2:00 pm, so they can attend the course. 

Something else from the way in which Google recommended it was the online documents. People working in pairs and they see that people these days don’t necessarily have printers. We have done that, and it’s worked well, in general, OK, having the documents. 

The way that we’ve done it is to create a document for each pair of delegates, they have that in Word, and to create a space in SharePoint, put the exercises for each pair up into that space, and then share that to the delegates. 

And then on the day, they can open up the document,and it will launch into the browser version of Microsoft Word and they can work away on that. 

Now for more experienced. It’s all then collaborating by using back channels, breakouts, rooms, instant messaging and the like. That doesn’t seem to be happening so much as we would have expected. What we found is people still find it useful. They are adding comments within the documents between partners. And also it helps if you’re stuck just to have a peep at what your partner is doing just to help you work. And occasionally, people have worked collaboratively on things. But maybe the experience of using breakout rooms or backchannels isn’t as great as just using the online meeting environments. Perhaps, as people get more familiar and use breakout rooms and the like, perhaps that will be taken up more. 

Yes, so we mentioned on the last podcast, equipment and the different bits of kit that you need. Because we’ve been delivering elearning training for, we’ve had pretty much all the kits that we’ve required. We talked on the podcast 89 about having two screens. What we found with that is that has been challenging and what we’ve ended up doing is having one screen, one monitor, but to use as large a one as possible. We got some new kits for where I am based in Ashford, larger monitor, and in Brighton. Again, a larger monitor for that location. 

With our Brighton location, it’s an all-in-one screen, with an allinone computer. I should say with a webcam built in. Here in Ashford, we’ve did go with this idea that we had in podcast 89 of using a digital SLR camera. 

It was a little bit distracting. Looking with that being behind the monitor in the end, what we’ve done is put that into a black box and painted the interior with a non-reflective paint. In fact, blackboard paint. so it’s less distracting, harder to see the bigger screen if you are training. If you are thinking about delivering training, the advantage of that is that you can see more delegates. 

At the bottom of the screen because the screens are larger , and those delegates are bigger than they would be if you are just viewing them on a laptop. 

The way that we deliver the training is there are slides, and then there’s the presenter. So the bulk of the screen is taken up by the slides themselves, rather than just being a lot of different faces as per the classic Zoom call. 

One thing we’ve learned is the importance of good lighting, and we have used the umbrella lights that we have for recording the elearning courses, and have those besides the desk for the trainer, and that gives enough light onto the trainer and an even light. 

Another thing we did was actually to repaint the green screen that we use for the elearning courses, just so it’s a little bit bigger. Little bit wider. That can help with a live virtual classroom environment. There is no distractions behind the trainer. 

And also it’s clear who is the trainer. They are typically the only person with a plain green background behind them. 

I don’t think we mentioned it, last time on episode 89. Now what we’re doing in Ashford, not yet in Brighton, but in the Ashford location is we’re using lapel mics on the trainer for when they’re running the course, There is a temptation when you’re delivering a course, if the monitor is some distance away, maybe 70 centimetres away, to shout, to project your voice to where you think your brain thinks the delegates are. 

By having a lapel mic on, it means that you can shout less. You can talk at a more normal voice and that can help in terms of the trainers curse of the croaky voice. 

Because if you’re talking for three hours, and then three hours next day, you can end up with a little bit of a raspy voice. By using lapel mic, it means that you can talk at a quieter volume and protect and save your voice. 

In terms of handouts, we have been delivering those as PDFs. We’ve been sending those out prior to the course. So that for those that do have printers. We mentioned on episode 89, not everyone does these days, they can print them out and scribble over them. 

Or they can have them up on the screen if they want to go along. 

And then at the end of each session, what we’ve done is we have sent the answers. Also, the PDF to the exercises that people have been doing. 

So the biggest difference in the thing that we have probably made the greatest changes as we’ve gone along in delivering these virtual classes, h as being in the structure of the course itself and trying to make it as interactive as possible. Episode 89 talks about Nick ShackletonJones and his thoughts on training in a corporate environment, about breaking it up,so that there is a bit of training, and then getting the delegates to do some work. A bit more training, getting them to do some more work 

So the same things that we mentioned about the interaction with the students that Google recommended in the previous podcast. We’ve kept the 7 second and naming somebody specifically when asking questions. That’s worked well, that’s been reinforced as being correct. 

Also, giving delegates 5 minutes for the exercises as a delegate, it feels like no time at all. It does feel very short time as a trainer, it feels like an absolute age just waiting for that. And there’s only so many exercises you can get somebody to do without eating into the teaching time and actually having sufficient time to cover the teaching points that you want to teach. So that’s really been our experience so far of delivering virtual classroom courses. 

Luckily, we’ve not had any technical issues so far and it’s gone pretty smoothly. Of course, with a lot of these things, the more you do than the more tiny small improvements you make to the course, to the way it’s delivered, and that’s helped a lot. And you learn learn as you go along.  

What will happen in the future? We’re still in lockdown. People have been vaccinated, and it’s likely that people will be going back to working in offices at some point in 2021. 

What will we do with the way which we deliver the courses? 

I suspect we will continue offering the courses that we offer now as virtual classroom courses as virtual classroom courses. One advantage is that we have flexibility on the amount of delegates that we teach. 

We don’t have the cost of hiring a room anymore, and in fact, for the public courses, we’ve lowered the prices a little bit to reflect that. 

Oh, by the way, we’ve got a public policies and procedures course coming up in March that’s on our website, should mention that.  

It does give the flexibility for companies where they have staff members around the world for them to take advantage of the training under people together from all different locations. 

So that’s an advantage. 

Splitting it into two sessions also makes it easy to manage and schedule a time to present. 

So will probably keep those going. We will see whether there’s the demand for classroom courses. If there’s interest in returning to the Institution of Electronics and Technology, then they will be organisations that want the in-house teams talked all together in a classroom and the trainer going out to deliver that there. If that’s what organisations wants, then we’ll be happy to deliver it in that way. But I suspect the virtual classroom will be a little bit cheaper because you won’t obviously use of the time and money for the trainer to go to the venue where the course will be provided. 

We will also keep the elearning courses in the same format as they are for most of them. We now have the option with the technical writing course, as I mentioned, to deliver that as a virtual classroom course. 

But the advantages of elearning is that people can go at their own pace, they can start the course. And if something comes up, they can stop and then they can return at some point later weeks, perhaps even months later and restart the course. And they can do it at the times that suit them.  

Oh, I should mention if you want to know more about the virtual classroom courses that we now offer they’re on our website www.Cherryleaf.com/training. 

And if you have experience, either as a delegate or as a trainer, of delivering training over platforms such as Teams and Zoom, then share your experience. We would love to know how you do it and whether you do things to say or differently if you got any tips or tricks that are worth too. 

And you can contact us at info at Cherryleaf.com. 

So that’s it’s for this podcast. Really a follow up from one that we’ve done in the past. If you have time it would be wonderful if you could rate our podcast on iTunes. It does help other people come across, learn and discover that this podcast exists. 

Otherwise, once again, thank you for listening. 

 

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