Making the best of a “forced march” to online training

It’s happening all over the place.  Even in companies where training budgets have remained relatively intact,  longstanding respected instructor-led classroom programs are running into the brick wall of slashed travel budgets.

Assuming that a program is delivered in the classroom as the result of careful analysis about how to best transfer the information it offers, it can be a blow to be told “move it online.”  But what is a training department to do? It sort of doesn’t matter how great your classroom training is if learners can’t get to the classroom.

The good news is that there are a lot more quality tools available now than there were the last time this scenario forced training online.  For one thing, it’s no longer necessary to sacrifice interactivity.   Web meeting tools make it possible for instructors and learners to communication in real time in what comes pretty close to a real classroom scenario.

The other good news is that moving instruction to the desktop makes individual coaching a lot more doable than in the classroom situation. Learners can be given individual written assignments which are reviewed by the instructor, or by each other.

It’s possible to stretch out the time commitment, too.   When the org is not paying for travel and protracted time away from the office, a course can be structured to meet once a week for a few hours over the course of several weeks. This opens the door to exercises which interface directly with the learner’s job responsibilities, increasing the opportunities for coached application of the behaviors the program is teaching.

Of course, there are pitfalls to watch out for:

  1. Carving out the time.  People who are out of town for training are perceived as otherwise occupied. People who are taking training at their desktop are perceived as “at work”.   Getting manager buy-in to free learners up for classwork is essential. It can also be helpful for learners to work from home or a coffee shop on class mornings
  2. The doughnut factor.  Seriously.  One of the pleasures of travelling to another venue for training are those breaks with company-provided food. A colleague at a client once observed that the day it’s possible to hand a doughnut and a cup of coffee to learners through the screen, we’ll see a whole new level of attention to online training.   It might be worthwhile to think this through, and perhaps offer gift cards to Panera or Starbucks to be used while training, thus reinforcing the “get out of the office to take training” concept.