Can Virtual Training Really Work?

Two months ago, we were all asking ourselves this question. How can we possibly take what we do in a physical classroom and transfer it to a virtual one? Well, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. And Symetri’s Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) has been up and running for over a month now. Read what six members of our training team have to say about their training going virtual.
Can Virtual Training Really Work?

Trevor Clayton                              LinkedIn Profile
Training experience:                     15 Years
Software expertise:                       Civil 3D, InfraWorks, Map 3D
First virtual training course:          Civil 3D Essentials

Virtual training is not a webinar

If you had told me back in January that it was possible to deliver a quality training experience in a virtual classroom, I would not have believed you.  In fact, I remember a conversation with a colleague two years ago where we came to the conclusion that virtual training was not a viable alternative due to suitable software not being available. 

Well, having taught my first virtual course now, I would have to eat my words. 

For me, training has to be an immersive experience, whether that is in person or virtually. As a trainer, I need to build relationships with delegates, and vice versa.  Based on my experience, for any kind of training to work, it has to be done through continuous connection and stimulation with the group to promote interaction.  I found I could achieve all that with our virtual classroom.  I needed to use new tools and employ new methods to replicate the learning experience I am used to delivering, but it worked.  And looking at the feedback from my delegates, you couldn’t tell the difference between this course and my face-to-face courses.  

I have seen other companies promoting webinars as online or virtual training, and for me (and I think for our customers) that kind of format just isn’t good enough.  Webinar software is great for demonstrating software features, but not for training.  But using the new software and new approach I’ve discovered with my colleagues, I can say that what I am delivering in a virtual environment can be properly called training.  I totally believe that we are now entering a new age with a viable alternative to face-to-face training . . . . not better, not worse, just different.

 


Bettool Jabur                               Linkedin Profile       
Training experience:                    4 Years
Software expertise:                      Revit Architecture, BIM 360, Naviate
First virtual training course:         Revit Architecture Essentials / Revit Content Creation

We can stay connected

As we moved our training into a virtual environment, rather than be anxious about the change, I took it as an opportunity to explore. I believe embracing change allows innovative ideas to flourish. And the more I looked at what we were trying to do – transferring our great training into an entirely new environment -- the more passionate I became.  I worked alongside colleagues with testing and establishing the best virtual classroom we could find, and then set out to master that environment.  (That’s a work in progress, but I’m having so much fun getting better!)

One of the most challenging tasks was to answer the question, “what is it that we as trainers actually do in a classroom?”  Well, there’s a lot -- and much of it we do without even realising it. We take for granted being able to walk around the room, gauging how far through a task someone has progressed. Or naturally measuring interest in a topic by taking note of a raised eyebrow, a smile or the shrug of a shoulder. All of this helps me build a rapport with the individuals I am teaching. My concern was, without these nuances found in a physical classroom, I would become disconnected from my delegates.  So part of my mission was to help us find a virtual platform where we could create the same connectedness.

I knew our VILT approach needed to be interactive, smooth, and not hinder the usual classroom feel. The solution that we have chosen, well . . . some may say you can actually deliver a better training experience than in a physical classroom, with its interactivity, connectivity, designated personal spaces, video capabilities, one-to-one zones, Q&A sessions and polls.

It’s exciting to be a part of a team that has a fully functional virtual classroom providing an engaging learning environment. It definitely feels great to be in a room with clients once again!

 

Caroline Tigersjö                         Linkedin Profile
Training Experience:                    7 Years
Software Expertise:                      Civil 3D, AutoCAD, Naviate
First Virtual Training Course:       Civil 3D Essentials

Do you read lips? 

English is not my first language.  I have learnt most of it from listening to English (a benefit of captioned movies, instead of dubbed). I figured out I read lips more than I thought when I had an English teacher at university. The teacher often leant down behind a screen while he was talking and, suddenly, I couldn’t understand him until he straightened up again and I could see his mouth.

Communication is never easy. There are the technical aspects; being able to see and hear the person you are talking to clearly.  But from a trainer’s standpoint, I also need to make sure the recipient understands what I am saying. Seeing my students, gauging understanding, seeing their smile when I try to make a joke . . . I rely on these to help me to deliver a great course.

All of that has gone out the window with virtual training. At Symetri we have moved almost our entire course catalogue online and our training team has had to examine our teaching styles.  How will we communicate when we’re not in the same room as our participants?

Luckily, technology had been our friend with this. Our software platform can simulate the classroom experience almost exactly.  We have webcams and microphones, which pick up almost all our communication, both verbal and non-verbal.

Not everyone is comfortable with webcams though (me), and not everyone raises their voice to be heard on a video conference (also me). Again, technology helps. We have buttons for Raise Hand, Agree and even Applause (if I really do something good).  So even if you can’t get a word in edgewise, I will see you and can make room for everyone.

Communication is not easy at the best of times, and these times have tried our communication skills to the limits – but hopefully, it also means that we develop new communication skills that we will take with us in the future.

 

Cheryl Sneddon                          Linkedin Profile
Training experience:                    7 Years
Software expertise:                      Inventor, Fusion 360, AutoCAD, Vault
First virtual training course:         AutoCAD Essentials

Adapting is what we do

Virtual training has become a more intense subject in the last few months. Personally, I love to teach.  And teaching in a virtual environment has been something I have always wanted to explore.

At Symetri we are always adapting.  We believe that change is an exciting challenge and we thrive on it.  These days all of us learn differently. When I was at university I learned from long lectures and large books. I have always preferred to be taught with visual aids rather than words -- “a picture is worth a thousand words” works for me as a learner.  This is pretty universal now, where people want information quicker, they want to absorb the information you are giving them now, so they can apply it to their own theory. Therefore, we must adapt to this way of digesting information.

During my first virtual training session, I made the subjects small. I felt like I was able to condense what I was saying to the delegates with more confidence. When I was talking, I made myself more aware of how I was coming across, so delegates could listen and concentrate on one subject at a time, trying not to crossover subjects, unless necessary, so not to lead to confusion. Timing was also key, having a structured agenda brought clear guidance and frequent breaks.

All in all, it was easier than I imagined. Delegates are adapting at home too. They are accepting of the challenges we all face and therefore I never felt under pressure.  BUT  . . . one of my “superpowers” as a trainer is reading delegates. I like to be able to look at my delegates during training and get that gut feeling of where their learning capabilities lie. It allows me to change how I teach if needed. This is still something I have not figured out just yet. Using a webcam almost still feels alien to me. But I am learning new ways of testing for understanding in a virtual classroom.  In time I will learn to adapt, as humans we all do.

 

Steve Lovell                                Linkedin Profile          
Training Experience:                   13 Years
Software Expertise:                     Revit MEP, Revit Architecture, AutoCAD, 3ds MAX
First Virtual Training Course:      Revit MEP Essentials

Responding to the challenge

Sometimes it takes courage to try something different and unfamiliar, especially when you are least expecting it. This is how I felt when facing the prospect of undertaking VILT (virtual instructor-led training) for the first time a few weeks ago.

As a long-standing trainer for Symetri UK Ltd, I pride myself in delivering the highest quality training. This is typically with everybody in the same room, using our equipment and following my display screen, with a high emphasis on hands-on learning for our delegates.

I am delighted to say that we have been able to recreate an engaging and compelling learning experience delivering quality virtual instructor-led training.  The transition to VILT has been a steep learning curve with the use of leading software and weeks of thorough lesson planning. By drawing on my many years of training skills, I managed to create the equivalent learning experience as much as possible within a virtual environment. Having made this transition successfully, I really feel we have responded to the challenge and we are working smarter for our customers. 

In fact, we have found a number of unexpected benefits to working this way.  For example, VILT means no travel for our customers or us.  And no shipping of training laptops around the UK.  So it is a much greener way to teach.  We can also better reflect on the day’s learning by having greater flexibility in the way we deliver a virtual course – for example, running training every other day.

Overall, VILT does more than compete with our traditional training delivery, which is great news and a story well worth sharing. I hope to see you soon on a VILT Revit course near you!

 

Wasim Younis                              LinkedIn Profile
Training Experience:                    20 Years
Software expertise:                      Inventor Simulation, Dynamic Simulation, Inventor Nastran and Fusion
First virtual training course          Inventor Nastran Essentials

Training made more accessible to a wider audience.

Over the years I have taught simulation to many engineers across the UK, Nordics, Europe and USA. I have on many occasions been asked whether I can deliver training remotely. My response to this has always been NO as I don’t believe I will get the interaction between the trainees that I can get from a classroom. All my courses are very much hands-on with ample opportunity to ask questions as soon as the course starts. With the goal to increase the confidence of applying simulation within your workplace straight after the training course.

With the advent of Covid-19 and lockdown, this had a significant impact on my training delivery and I was reluctantly asked to consider virtual training for all my simulation courses. As my first virtual course was getting closer and closer, I was getting more and more nervous about delivering the course and its effectiveness.

To my surprise and the feedback from the delegates, there was minimal difference in my delivery method and workflow. The interaction with trainees was made more personal with the ability to switch on webcams giving the same feeling of a classroom course delivery. As I tend to deliver training regularly to our Nordic customers this method of training also makes it more cost-effective to customers.

In all Covid-19 has changed my attitude to virtual training and during this period my courses have been a big hit with our customers throughout the UK and Nordic regions.

We are currently hosting free one-hour VILT taster sessions in various Autodesk products to allow you to try out the experience - Register here

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