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Because we’re working in a new norm right now it’s our obligation as leaders, as people who are educating other people, to not just teach the material but to connect on a very personal level as well.
The tough part is where do we start?
How do we make the connection between an in-class training environment and a remote environment?
The learning theory landscape is an overwhelming map of techniques in practice right now in business and in education. A small section of the learning theory landscape is the principle of andragogy: the education of adults.
When you’re a child you’re pretty fearless. Most younger children relish exploring new things. They’re the first ones to pick something up off the ground to look at it.
As we become older, we have a tendency to put biases in place. We make assumptions like: “Oh I don’t like this food so I probably won’t like that, so I’m not willing to try it.”
With the recent shift into remote work, more and more adults are being forced to explore that childhood curiosity they left behind long ago. They’re starting to have to learn new technologies, how to be integrated more into social media and stay connected, how to be more curious, less fearful, less resistant. How does this current reality feed into the four principles of andragogy, particularly as it relates to distant learning? Let’s take a look.
1. Adult learners want to be involved in the process. They need to be considered partners.
What this means now more than ever, is that your employees need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction. The mentality “I’m the teacher, you’re the student” no longer applies. You’ve got people from all sorts of different backgrounds in the remote work environment. Some have specialized skills. Some have more general or practical skills. But all of them bring experience to the table. As educators or facilitators, we need to be able to recognize what those experiences happen to be and to include them in our planning.
While a lot of organizations want to focus on testing and KPIs (key performance indicators), sometimes a gut feeling can be your best success measure. Be willing and prepared to have lots of interactive conversations. Get specific and dig deep by asking questions like: “If I were to ask you to teach back what I just taught you right now, how comfortable would you feel?”
You’re bound to get a guaranteed response that’s a gut reaction, which is great because now you can identify where actual gaps are and add them to the learning process.
Tips and Tricks
Start off your lesson having a learning strategy meeting with your employees. Set aside 5-or-10-minutes for an informal talk about what your participants want to get out of their learning and how they actually want to apply it. Outline these different learning objectives and measurable goals.
Try different feedback scenarios:
- Demonstrate the basics to me
- Explain a more complicated topic to me
- Troubleshoot an issue around XYZ as if I was a customer
Get people to actually feel like they’re walking through this experience in a real-time environment rather than a staged training environment. Remote training involves more fluidity, more flexibility, and a much stronger focus on engaging learners via a personal connection.
Be personable first. Be a trainer second. Take the first few minutes of any training session to talk and get to know your audience.
2. Adult learners’ experiences contribute to how readily they’re able to adapt to the new material and to accept and integrate that new material into their day to day activities.
The same holds true when it comes to learning how to be successful in remote training and development. In other words, your experiences as a teacher or educator (including mistakes), provides the basis for the learning activities you develop and deliver. Whether we’re the facilitator or the student, we should all constantly be looking at ways to adjust and adapt.
Don’t think that everything you do is prescriptive; sometimes coloring outside the lines really does produce the best picture. Coloring outside of that prescriptive box can yield some fantastic ideas. Get creative. Get people involved.
Tips and Tricks
Measure your progress. Historically you can look back and see what it is you did or didn’t do that made you or your training session/s successful.
Leverage people, like peer trainers, to deliver content so they can roll their own personal mistakes and experiences into the training process. This helps people relate and feel like they’re learning something from a colleague as opposed to an authority figure.
Outline what failure scenarios look like: role-play worst-case scenarios.
We know people are going to forget about that one-day training experience and typically fall back to their usual ways. Muscle memory and keeping skills sharp play a large part in training.
Case in point: part of the job of customer service reps is upselling, a skill set outside of their normal day to day activities. A general rule of thumb is if this is a critical skill that you know is going to be necessary at some point in time, start the training as a ramp-up process. If you know a new up-selling initiative is going to go live in a month’s time, start looking at ways to upsell people, ways to convey the main content, and ways to go back and drop little reminders so that it stays fresh and top of mind.
The challenge is maintaining a recurring calendar. The easiest thing you can do is set a cadence for yourself. For instance, every two weeks, reach out to different groups within the organization. Look at the most fundamental things that they should know and have quick meetings with these groups. Holding micro training sessions to talk about what’s working and what’s not keeps the momentum going.
You can also do a quick pulse survey to find out where people might be getting stuck. And respect the fact that people don’t know what they don’t know. Employees don’t want to come across looking unskilled. So be prepared to put on your investigator cap to find out what you can do as an instructor to better connect concepts with individuals and groups.
3. Adult learners are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.
If the subject you’re teaching has no bearing on your employees’ day-to-day life you’re going to get a lot of pushback. Be prepared to be asked “So what? Why do I need to know this?” And be ready to answer.
Because of the situation, we’re in right now, it’s also very important to understand that we’re not just dealing with the job. We’re dealing with a new state of affairs. Life skills are just as important as job skills. How many of the people in your workforce know how to cook? Know how to use an iron? Imbue your remote training sessions with your own personal insights and ideas. It’s a great stress reliever to talk a bit about the latest and greatest binge-worthy shows, trending YouTube clips or whatever other subjects seem to resonate with your learners.
The point is, by taking the time to help educate people on things outside of nine-to-five you’re opening up a massive opportunity. You have an army of subject matter experts in your own backyard. Tap into these resources to help promote a sense of connectivity, a sense of engagement. Measures like these help to boost morale. People are going to feel like they’re part of a community and not just simply part of a training classroom.
Tips and Tricks
Add a non-work-related activity to a virtual training session as a means to greater personal connection.
Try things like trivia games, polling questions or digital scavenger hunts.
Don’t be afraid to recommend personal stuff, like a cooking channel on YouTube or a great movie on Netflix, or a book that you’ve just read.
Don’t stop being you. If you’re sharing your own personal instruction, your own training examples and experiences, people are going to connect with you more as a person than a talking head, and that’s really what you want. Sharing those stories of experiences and inspirational moments help to entertain, engage, and inspire.
4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
It’s driven by “how do I get the best possible result for me to ensure that I’m actually progressing and being successful in my current work environment?” In fact, problem-centered learning actually promotes self-directed learning. Participants are looking for information, tracking down resources, and asking colleagues questions. A technique called chunking lets you take large blocks of information and break it into smaller bite-sized blocks focused on a particular problem and a specific solution.
Tips and Tricks
Adults learn by doing so the focus should be on problem-solving, not simply ticking the box. Get people engaged and participating. People don’t want to feel like they’re just sitting, watching a screen.
If you’re using Zoom, you can set up dedicated meetings where people can share their screen, have conversations, listen to calls (even job shadow from a distance).
What’s the ideal number of participants for remote training sessions? A lot of it depends on what you’re teaching and the type of business you’re in. A group no larger than 10 people gives you the opportunity to network with people on a more one-on-one basis. Run multiple sessions if you have to.
When you’re running remote training sessions, pay attention to those people who are participating the most and those who are participating the least. Shift the dialogue a little bit so that if you have somebody who is talking a lot, you can redirect their questions or comments to somebody who’s not as engaged. “That’s a great question, let’s ask XYZ what they think about this….”
You’re always going to have different personalities in your training sessions. It’s okay to put your foot down. Ask an overzealous questioner to put their questions in an email, since not all questions may be relevant to the entire group. Pointedly ask: “Could you do that for me?” Get their buy-in or commitment. People don’t want to derail your training session as much as you think they may want to; a lot of the time people’s behavior is unknown to them – they don’t realize that they’re being disruptive. Address them on that personal level and then go back to the rest of the group.
Always keep checking in by asking: “How do you feel about this? Is there anything that’s overwhelming or unclear right now?”
Make sure your lessons are broken up into micro sections – never longer than 45 minutes at a time because people get antsy.
Take a bio break. Bring your laptop with you to the kitchen as you go to fetch a coffee, give a brief tour of your place, show them your pet following you to the fridge to help people feel that personal connection.
Even when it comes to demonstrating software to customers, remind your learners to be upfront – “We’re working from home right now, there’s bound to be some hiccups, we respect you’re working from home right now too and we’ll just roll with the punches as we go.” Customers love it because they’re in the exact same boat.
Recognize it’s okay not to be okay
A lot of people are starting to feel overwhelmed with everything going on right now. We’re constantly being inundated by content, free webinars, free videos, free podcasts, free online or organization-supplied resources. When does enough become enough? It’s important for individuals to be able to say they’ve reached their capacity and can’t take on any more information. And it’s just as important for all of us to understand and appreciate that it’s actually okay to not be okay.
At this particular point in time, and in other times of uncertainty or crisis, sometimes people don’t want to learn a new skill and they don’t actually want to have connectivity. This is an unprecedented time and we have to be very conscientious that behind the employee, behind the badge number, there’s a person. It’s important to discern what’s important from a training perspective and what’s important from a health and wellbeing perspective. Sometimes health and wellbeing need to outweigh professional training time.
Don’t be afraid to push back on virtual training agendas that don’t fit with what’s going on – especially in the great big wide world at the moment. If you believe now or tomorrow morning or next week is not the best time to train, say so. People need a chance to adjust and get into a state of mental readiness – whether that’s dealing with COVID-19 new realities or being wide-eyed and bushy-tailed enough to absorb content from a first-thing-in-the-morning training session.
The exhaustion being experienced by people finding themselves members of a remote workforce isn’t just around technology and being on phone calls and meetings all day. There are different commitments or distractions happening remotely too, like homeschooling kids. If people can’t make a training session, understand that. Record the training and share the link. Build timestamps into your recordings to allow people to jump to those sections of the training relevant to their roles or learning needs.
Embrace your work from home status. If your pooch is sitting beside you on the couch and starts yapping when the doorbell rings. Or your teenage kids are milling around upstairs oblivious to that ringing doorbell, roll with it. Integrate it into your training. It makes people happy when you hold up your pet to the video. It’s simple stuff like that, that breaks down long-distance training and makes a connection. After all, you’re a person before everything else.
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