Tips on Effective Virtual Training


November 18, 2020
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

Global Professional Instructor Dr. Kevin Mabie shares five tips to ensure that your virtual training is a success.

Just before stay-at-home orders first went into effect this past March, I had the chance to conduct an in-person training for what I believed might be the last one for some time.
Much of the country had begun to shut down, so the participants who attended were grateful for the chance to learn. These participants inferred that though most of the country would need to shut down to contain the virus, frontline healthcare and social work employees—among others—would have to continue working, making the skills CPI teaches that much more relevant.
Back then, I would have said the only way to conduct an effective CPI training would be in person. Now, months later, I am happy to say that I was wrong. Conducting powerful CPI trainings virtually is absolutely possible.
If you are looking to conduct effective trainings virtually too, I had several key learnings that I would like to share with you here:

1.  Arrive early to ensure “Rational Detachment” before you begin.
Many of us have experienced the awkward lull at the beginning of a virtual meeting while waiting for the things to begin, and as a result, we sometimes wait until the last minute to log on. However, this can cause unnecessary stress for you as the Instructor.
Kyle Ament, one of our Global Professional Instructors, recommends “getting in the call early to make sure technology is working,” and to engage learners in conversation before training begins.
Though pre-training conversation may be easy for Kyle, it might not come so easy for you. To help, we recommend utilizing the concept of “Rational Detachment”—the ability to manage your own behavior and attitude and not take the behavior of others personally.  
In your pre-training communications, explain the concept to your learners and let them know that at the start of training you are going to ask them to share a way in which they have recently prioritized Rational Detachment. Make that the topic of conversation as learners arrive to the virtual meeting space. If you can post the conversation topic in the chatbox, this allows learners to easily join the conversation whenever they log in.

2.  Find opportunities for realistic practice.
Melissa Marsh, another one of our Global Professional Instructors, knows the power of utilizing practice in a virtual CPI training. To set expectations with learners and help keep them engaged, she recommends providing everyone with an active role through activities, discussions, and practice.
Role-playing can be just as effective virtually as it is in person and is easily facilitated. For instance, if content calls for a role-play, having learners play the part of a “person in distress” allows for the building of empathy; having participants play the role of “staff” builds confidence in the CPI tools; and having others play the role of “observer” can unlock a series of great conversations around the module’s learning goals.
With virtual training, it is much easier for a learner to lose focus than if they were doing onsite training, Melissa says. “If you think about binging a TV show, no matter how entertaining the show is, you start to lose details after watching a few episodes in succession.” She encourages Instructors to keep this in mind and to be understanding, because no matter how engaging you present the content, there is always going to be screen fatigue.

3.  Be open to reflective silences.
Engaging learners sometimes takes a bit of patience, and that is when reflective silences are your friend. In virtual training, reflective silences are even more critical: whether learners need time unmuting themselves or are having trouble being seen by the presenter, a long pause is often necessary. When I train, I let learners know to expect these pauses, and before moving to a new topic I use a reflective silence to make certain no one has additional questions.

One easy way to make sure that everyone is ready to move on to a new topic is to utilize a “fist of five.” Learners are asked to hold a hand up in front of their cameras with one, two, three, four, or five fingers showing. Learners holding up a “1” may not fully understand a current topic, and learners holding up a “5” are ready to move on.
If your learners are hesitant about holding up fingers in front of the screen, the same concept can be used via typing a number in the chatbox. However, the added benefit of having people hold up their fingers allows you to actually see every learner in the virtual room, so everyone is more likely to participate, and it reinforces the value of group dynamics.

4.  Share airtime.
Some people are more comfortable talking when they can do so from their own homes, which sometimes leads to long-winded responses, so come to a training prepared with strategies to share airtime more evenly. I often use a timer. When people know there is a clock ticking, they tend to formulate their best answers and parse out the most important information to share. When paired with reflective silence, using a timer helps to foster higher quality content for the greatest number of people.
According to the CPI blended learning model, adults learn and retain information best when they are taught concepts ahead of time and then given time to discuss what they learned. If you can frontload the use of a timing mechanism into the training, each module can be given the appropriate amount of time for discussion.
When topics have the potential to elicit several responses, ask learners to type a “1” in the chatbox if they would like to respond, giving you a snapshot of which learners want to participate in the conversation.

5.  Embrace the advantages of virtual training.
It was strange at first to be talking to a group while they were simultaneously using the chat function, as if they were passing notes during class. But I realized many of these side conversations were actually improving the training, providing a list of questions and related comments for me to respond to.
That said, off-topic chatting and jokes can be a distraction, so I have found that beginning a virtual training with guidelines around the use of the chat box is helpful.
During an in-person training, I take time to have learners look at the Safe Participation Guidelines on page 2 of our workbooks. I then work with the room to compose a short list of “Priority” Safe Participation Guidelines for our specific training. I have participants justify “why” some guidelines may be most important for our training on that specific day.
After that, I have the group identify other guidelines that may make our training run more smoothly. In a virtual environment, I still encourage Instructors to utilize our Safe Participation Guidelines (these aren’t just about safety during physical skills!), but also to add a few guidelines that may help virtual environments run more smoothly. For example, your group might agree to keep their cameras on. CPI trainings are meant to build relationships and rapport; it’s hard to do that when we can’t see the people we’re teaching. Your group might also agree to mute themselves when not speaking. This may seem self-explanatory, but some learners can still find them helpful.
There are many things I’ve learned in the past several months beyond these five tips. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned how staying open-minded to the opportunity that virtual training gives us has allowed me to capitalize on this experience. Moreover, staying open-minded has allowed me to create effective learning environments for the people who need CPI training the most. 

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