It’s no surprise that 2020 has changed the landscape of virtual training in significant ways. While the live online virtual classroom has been around since the 1990s, and its use has steadily grown over time, the COVD-19 pandemic has skyrocketed online learning to the forefront of every organization’s mind.
My own journey with virtual training began almost 20 years ago when I started designing and facilitating online classes. For my 3rd book, Virtual Training Tool and Templates: An Action Guide to Live Online Learning, I conducted a global survey to look at trends and realities and decided to continue it on an annual basis.
This year’s survey was conducted between May and July. Almost 900 responses came in (870, to be exact). The results are summarized in the following infographic, which is also available for download.
While the key data points can be found in the graphic, there are several items of particular interest.
See below for 7 items that stood out to me in the data.
Almost every organization has been impacted by COVID-19 in some way. Just over 90% of survey respondents said their organizations are doing more virtual training as a result of it. Interestingly, 7% said their organizations are doing more but for reasons other than COVID-19. And a few (2%) said their organizations are offering less virtual training, and implied that budget cuts and reduced resources were to blame.
Despite its long history as a viable learning solution, virtual training is still new for many organizations. Just over 50% of this year’s survey respondents indicated they were new or fairly new to online learning.
My sense based on the survey results and my own work with my global clients is that virtual training is here to stay and in a significant way. When it’s designed well and facilitated flawlessly, the results can be even better than in-person training. As organizations realize this, they will embrace it.
One survey participant said it best: “Like many organizations, we were forced to go to virtual (100%) and now we realize it’s the way to do business going forward.”
The most common length of a virtual class remains at 60 minutes (similar to the 2018 and 2019 findings). However, a larger-than-expected number – 19% – said their virtual classes are over 2 hours in length.
Seeing this number of longer (2+ hour) classes seems to indicate that many organizations simply transferred their in-person programs to the online classroom without much forethought or re-design. In other words, they took a 1-day in-person class and made it a 1-day online class.
This is understandable given that the pandemic required many organizations to quickly pivot. However, for long-term success, in-person classes should be translated and transformed when moved online. Organizations should seize the opportunity to re-design the learning experience to maximize all the benefits that virtual training has to offer.
The Participant Experience
Most virtual classes (77%) have under 25 participants. And 15% have over 35 participants. My recommendation has always been that unless you significantly change the program design, the number of attendees should stay the same when moving from in-person to online. Just because you can put more people into a virtual classroom doesn’t mean you should. The right number of participants depends upon the program outcomes you are trying to achieve.
In this year’s survey, I also asked “Which of the following most closely aligns to your definition of virtual training?” Exactly 15% chose “presentation with one or more speakers” and 78% chose “interactive training class.” It’s interesting that these percentages have a similar breakdown to typical class size. It’s obviously much easier to have a larger audience when the purpose is just presentation-style, one-way communication.
2020 seems to be the year of the video, and the survey results agree. 66% of respondents said they are using webcams more this year. 83% of facilitators use webcams (48% the entire time, 36% for at least part of the class), and 55% of participants use them (23% the entire time and 32% part of the time.)
Comments about the increase in webcam use included accountability, connection, engagement, making the even more personal, and sometimes it’s a requirement (such as for CE credit).
When asked reasons for not using them, lack of bandwidth was the #1 cited reason (11%), followed by organizational restrictions and that some participants are not equipped with webcams.
My favorite response to the question about webcams, which summarizes the overall sentiment about them is “We prefer and recommend webcams remain on, but yield to bandwidth and bad hair days.”
Several years ago, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) published an article by Robyn Defelice which answered the question of how long it takes to develop 1 hour of virtual training. In 2009, it was 69 hours. A 2017 update reported 28 hours. My own 2019 survey revealed it was 29 hours.
This year, the trend continues downward, at just 9 hours of development time for each 1hour of interactive virtual training. Since many organizations quickly pivoted – in some cases in just days – it’s not surprising to see the continued downward trend. Yet my hope is that we are just getting better at creating quality interactive learning experiences.
I’m often asked, “what’s the best virtual classroom platform?” and my answer is always “it depends.” There are so many factors at play that there isn’t one right answer to that question. So, my surveys have simply asked “which platform do you use?” It’s been interesting to see the change over the past 3 years.
In this year’s survey, Zoom is the most popular program at 51%, a large increase from last year’s 30%. It’s followed by Microsoft Teams (28%), WebEx Meeting Center (25%), Adobe Connect (24%). GoToTraining rounds out the list at 13%.
I asked two open-ended questions on this year’s survey: “What’s your biggest challenge related to virtual training?” and “What do you wish your organization did differently related to virtual training?”
The resulting themes in both questions were strikingly similar… respondents overwhelmingly want more support from their organizations.
They want buy-in from leaders to recognize that effective virtual training is more than just a lecture. They want trainers to be upskilled in virtual delivery techniques. They want support from IT to be able to use more robust virtual classroom platforms, instead of being forced to use platforms designed for meetings. They want participants to be equipped with technology to fully engage (webcams, headsets, etc.) They want support to have producers to help manage the technology. And they want support to have the time it takes to develop interactive online classes.
Many of the items above items would directly address the challenges mentioned, from the technology challenges to unengaged participants to unskilled facilitators.
A few of the survey comments that summarized several of these themes and stood out to me include:
“Had more resources available to support the transition to virtual. The assumption is that very little work is involved because we were offering the same course face to face before. But the reality is that it takes a lot of time if you want to do it right.”
“Allowed us, the in-house experts, to lead the way rather than asking the admin team and finance folks what we should do about training.”
“Let us have a producer, have a set of good webcam[s] and mic[s]”
“We should have trained our trainers earlier on how to be effective online facilitators/trainers and be aware of all the tools they have available to make classes truly interactive.”
We are moving into a new era with virtual training as the gateway to immersive learning experiences. Nearly 7% of survey respondents indicated that they are incorporating new technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into their virtual classes. The next few years will be an exciting time in this learning space.
And now over to you. What’s your experience with virtual training? How do your virtual training classes compare? Please enter your thoughts in the comments below.
And, if you or your organization needs help with your virtual training strategy, design projects, or facilitator skills… check out my Resources page for lots of information, or Contact me today for strategy consulting, virtual facilitation skills training, and other workshops.