Online training: the good, the bad and the yawnsome.
Updated: May 4
Apologies, I was delayed writing this post on account of my online Flugelhorn workshop.
Learning online has gone through the roof. Can’t think why. Google found me 9 billion choices in 0.61 seconds. From Afghani for Beginners to Zen Yoga, there are more online courses than you can shake a mouse at.
Being stuck at home has created a huge captive audience for learning and developing skills. The world of work is no exception, with thousands of professional workshops online competing for your team’s continuous development dollar.
But how do you sort the wheat from the chaff of online training?
Having trained folk to be more productive, more creative writers for nearly 20 years, we’ve got a few ideas about what makes a good training session. Now we're running our Sharper Writing workshops online we think there are a few things to look out for when it comes to booking web-based training:
1. Book experience not software
Everyone’s a trainer now, right?
Well maybe not. While the tools exist to put together some pretty impressive looking training materials, that’s not the same as having run a tried and tested training programme that just happens to be online.
The best trainers will have put the hours in with live groups, honing the learning and watching how people absorb information. It’s not something a pop-up webinar host will ever get quite right.
A few flashy polls do not a training session make.
Having run hundreds of live workshops over the last 15 years, we’ve got a pretty good idea what works and what doesn’t. We’ve also got a huge repertoire of ideas and exercises that keep our online sessions engaging and get people thinking.
2. Have goal
Booking a session, send the team an electronic invite, job done. Not quite.
The more specific you can be about what you want to get out of the workshop the better.
Don’t rely on the generic agenda posted on the training agency web page. Most training programmes cover similar ground. Push the trainer or agency to tailor the session to your specific needs.
We always research our client’s writing style first. We look at their websites, their emails, reports, invites – anything they can send us.
This allows us to prep the session with their particular challenges driving the workshop.
3. Factor in attention deficit disorder
Online training is more focused than a training room or corporate venue. Attendees aren’t delayed by problems on the Circle Line, there isn’t the disruption of the tea trolley arriving, and other attendees are reduced to a less distracting thumbnail.
Which means online sessions are more intense. And that’s a good thing. But too long a session can risk audience fatigue.
There are workshops still running to the traditional day-long format. We’ve run some. But that’s quite an ask for delegates to keep focused.
We've found that more, shorter sessions work better than one long one. You can build a regular schedule of sessions which teams actually look forward to.
Try and gauge what sort of time lengths, time of day, or level of interaction your team will respond to.
And there's the added advantage with shorter sessions that you can create a manageable recording of the session to share later.
4. Book a workshop not a webinar
The temptation with online workshops is to sell more and more places. The trainer doesn’t have to go anywhere, and there are no limits to the crowd that can sign in. But once you go beyond 15 people you stray into webinar territory.
What’s the difference? A webinar is far more of a show and tell. With so many attendees, it becomes hard to answer questions or take any time to give someone a considered response. Which is great if you want to capture some specific points and tips. But not so good if you’re looking to develop people’s skills.
With a smaller group, you can take time to answer questions. You can break the group into small teams of pairs to tackle challenges ‘outside’ of the main room. This can be very effective as teams return to the ‘room’ and compare notes – just as they would in the real world.
5. Above all, book experts first, trainers second
There are plenty of great trainers out there. For some, it’s a career. They don’t know anything about the subject, but they know how to motivate a class. Just give ‘em the deck, a few outcomes, and off they go.
Never having mastered the whole ‘jazz hands’ thing, we think you should invest in someone who knows their stuff. Expertise will out. Ask a difficult question and the trainer trainer will fold or bluster. Makes no difference whether it’s online or off.
As a writing agency, we practice what we preach every day in live writing projects as well as training people to write. What we feature in our workshops is based on techniques we use to create compelling copy for our clients.
And now all that experience is available online here.