Baking Quality into Virtual Training [Podcast]

We talk all the time about the real cost of poor quality software making it to production, but what about the equally negative impact that poor quality can have in the delivery of virtual training? EnCompass senior instructional technology specialist, Nina Talley, sat down with us to share some actions that can—and should—be taken before your next virtual class begins in order prevent the pitfalls that can negatively impact learners’ experience or even your business as a whole.

Welcome to this week’s episode of The Skytap Podcast!

Noel: We just got out of your session, which was titled “Delivering to the Developing World; A Producer’s Lessons Learned.” You talked about delivering virtual training on a global scale, and some of the technical challenges that come along with that, especially when some of your users are in maybe a low bandwidth area. I was curious as to how you identify some of those challenges ahead of time rather than facing them at the start of your training session and then going into panic mode.

Nina: Yeah. As we laughed about during the session, whatever we can do to avoid panic mode is of the utmost importance. One of the things that has been a best practice for us has been the use of one-on-one technology checks with each participant. These usually are five to ten minutes, just checking in. A member of our production team will meet them in the virtual room ahead of time and go through, “Do you have the hardware you need? Do you have the software you need? Here’s the virtual space. Let’s do a quick little orientation so that nothing is a big surprise on the day of.”

These are also great checks to confirm, “Will you be in the same place when you come in for the session? Is this your home office, your work office, somewhere else?” Even checking, sometimes, for specifics about latency and bandwidth. If folks are really having a challenging time, to get those kind of details, to get details about their IT staff availability.

Usually, our participants are UN employees. Since we consult or contract with them, then we have access to some of their IT staff who can also provide some additional support. We like to have that one first touch, at least a week before the session, so then we have some time to mitigate the issues before the delivery.

Noel: That brought me to something else that came up in your session. I heard someone say earlier on this week that accessibility can be more important than quality, since if your training isn’t accessible, then it doesn’t matter how good it is. People can’t get to it.

It’s almost like in situations like this, just because they can get to it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to use and pain-free and not cause headaches or frustration. It’s almost like accessibility now isn’t even enough. Yes, it’s got to be of a good enough quality, and yes it’s got to be accessible, but it’s also got to be easy to use. By doing some of those things ahead of time, you’re going a step further.

Nina: Yeah. I would agree, and I don’t think it’s an either/or. Quality has to go with accessibility. With some participants, you’re also doing some major capacity improvement about their own understanding of how web browsers are different from an interface like one of the platforms that we use. Kind of doing some education just to get them up to par with being more comfortable with using the technology that’s needed for the session. I think all of that comes under “high-quality” and how you show up for your participants and how you prepare for their questions or their concerns and their realistic environment of what they can and can’t do.

We’ve certainly delivered to, or have had participants who just don’t have the hardware capacity to participate. Knowing that in advance, then we can go back to our main client and say, “This person just doesn’t have it, so either you provide it for them or they can’t participate.” There’s nothing that we can do further to set them up with the hardware or technology that they need. Sometimes those decisions have to be made. But I think even that is an aspect of high-quality delivery to be able to support every level and be really clear so that expectations don’t get muddled by the end for why somebody didn’t have a good experience because they didn’t have the technical pieces that they needed.

Related listen: Check out our podcast interview with Shannon Tipton, “Making Self-directed Training Accessible and Learner-centric

Noel: One of our partners always talks about the cost of quality, and about how sometimes it can be hard to envision what that cost is if you see that everything is fine and that your quality is fine but it’s when you then do have a problem. In this case, it’s someone talking about a bug making it into production in software development and how when that happens it can be catastrophic. Everything from stock market losses to negative media coverage and that kind of thing, but this is very similar in that you’re talking about, you know, it may not be a bug. It could have just been a missed opportunity to check something beforehand and that then creates some real headaches and maybe even further.

My question would be what is the cost of quality in virtual training when something like this can happen if we look beyond just someone getting frustrated, what’s a bigger impact that would maybe resonate more with the business that it can go to from there?

Nina: Yeah. That’s a great question, too. I think the main cost of quality is that one individual’s experience could snowball and affect twenty or thirty different people’s experience and could interrupt, then, the opportunity for the learning gain that we were going for. Identifying in advance what those issues are is critical, but even if you’re in the room, there are things I think that you could do or that I’ve done as a producer to connect one on one with them. I’ll even ask them to leave the room and we’ll have an email conversation to just take it outside so that it’s not any longer an interruption for the rest of the folks in the space and then we can try to mitigate.

If we can’t, then, say, we’re going to have another one on one before the next session because we want to make sure that we find a solution for this so that it doesn’t interrupt a future session. I think that’s so critical to not allow one person’s experience to influence other people because we all have different technical setups. We’ve even had situations of folks connecting in from Ghana but different offices in Ghana. Even though one might assume that the internet connectivity in Ghana is generally the same, it just wasn’t in this case. That person was just like, “Well, I don’t have a problem.” Great, I’m glad you don’t have a problem, but that’s not the case for this other person. We can’t judge because we don’t understand all the specific issues about their individual connection. Really taking the time, then, to understand what every individual is experiencing and not having it negatively impact other folks.

Noel: To end on a positive and not the fear of the things that can go wrong in virtual training, I’ve heard some people say that they believe that virtual training offers even more opportunities for interaction and engaging with learners than being there in person. Earlier in the session, we talked about smaller functions like the chat and whiteboard and those kinds of things.

I wanted to get your opinion on that statement because I feel like a lot of training is moving to virtual and will continue to do so. What opportunities do you see there in virtual that maybe don’t exist in-person and do you find one to offer more than the other?

Nina: This is a great question. I come from a background of face-to-face training and I love face-to-face training. I think it gives human beings the opportunity to be themselves fully, and to bring that into the room. There’s still so much, I think, that is limited by our technology that doesn’t quite get there as a face-to-face interaction does. I would say that so much is impacted by the design and the facilitator. If you have a poor design or a poor facilitator who is not interested in interactivity or not interested in the cues that we give one another when we’re disengaged in the classroom setting, the same is true for a virtual space.

If you don’t have that facilitator who’s going to pick up on their intuition cues like, “I haven’t heard from this person or their quality of responses isn’t anywhere near what the rest of the group is, there’s something going on there. To be able to identify those in that moment is one of the key elements. I think even though the technology is present, for us to have fantastic virtual experiences, we still have a way to go to learn, to increase our capacity in the design and the facilitation in a lot of spaces.

I think a lot of folks, even though they’re picking up on wanting to do more virtual events, they’re coming from a space of webinar-ish or PowerPoint pushing. Those traditional modalities aren’t what we want to continue to do. We want to innovate and really incorporate different things and not to lean too heavily on any one method because I think even folks who do webinars with just the webcam on them and just kind of talk to the camera the whole time, that’s not always efficient either. You want to be able to vary it and to know what kind of features work well with each other.

Chat and poll are really similar, so you don’t want to rely on those two interchangeably too much, but you want to do your whiteboard or your screen share or your breakout room activity and mix and match it up so that it’s more interesting but also attending to the learning outcome that you want.


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