Encountering technical hiccups or horrors in your virtual workshops? In this short article, we share practical ideas for overcoming technical issues.
I’ve never met a Learning and Development Manager who was best friends with their Head of IT. Despite the inexorable move towards technology for learning - even before Covid-19 appeared on the scene - the IT department has always seemed a bit of mystery to L&D. Until now.
Learning Professionals must embrace technology if they are to make a success of the move to virtual workshop delivery and online learning in general. Learning to love the people in your IT department is mission critical.
The shift to virtual workshops has many silver linings. Not least is the opportunity to embrace all the ‘extras’ that technology has to offer: audio, video, collaboration and interaction to name just four.
For years now, ‘engagement’ has been the mantra of learning professionals everywhere. For decades we’ve known the benefits of practical activities, ‘learning by doing’ and the need to appeal to a wide variety of senses and learning preferences. Modern technology and meeting platforms make that possible (and even better) online. And I’m not talking about Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Environments – I’m talking about everyday technology that people are using right now for meetings and team collaboration.
Here are some of the key things we’ve learned:
- Learn to love your IT department. You will need IT’s help to ensure that your virtual workshop participants have access to everything they need. Organisations are rightly concerned about cyber security and you must respect that. So, talk to your IT colleagues about what you need and how they can help. You will need your best communication and influencing skills but that’s what you’re good at! Your IT people are the experts in software permissions, downloads, firewalls and security – and their role is valuable to you.
- Run practice sessions. Check that your participants are comfortable using whatever virtual meeting or training software you are using. Don’t assume they will know what to do. Some people are nervous about attending learning online and you need to reassure them and give them time to practise. It’s a good idea to have a pre-workshop session to allow ‘safe’ time for trying things out without worrying about making mistakes. Make it fun and empathise with those who might need a little more encouragement to engage and contribute online.
- Send clear joining instructions. What will your participants need to download in advance? How do they get it? Where do they save it? How will they join your virtual workshop and what should they expect when they get there?
- Explain how you want people to interact. Tell people how you want them to respond. When do you want them to use ‘chat’? When do you want them to use the ‘raise your hand’ function? Give everyone a chance to practise using the response mechanisms. Why not do a quick ice-breaker session using ‘breakouts’ so your participants experience how they these virtual ‘rooms’ work too?
- Introduce some friendly tech ‘rules’. These will include muting yourself unless asked to speak and turning your webcams on, so that everyone participates fully, and you can see each other. Switching to ‘speaker’ rather than ‘gallery’ view means your participants see the trainer on screen when they speak, helping them to focus on interacting with the presenter.
- Ask, ‘What needs to be installed?’ Some virtual workshops will require your participants to have some programmes installed. For example, it’s common to need the current version of the Adobe Reader to make full use of interactive pdf documents. Make sure your participants have working current versions of these programmes installed before your workshop starts.
- Anticipate technical issues. Your participants will sometimes run into difficulties. Anticipate what could go wrong and address these concerns before they detract from your session. If laptops suddenly do an update in the middle of your activities, what will you do? How will you reassure your participants? What passwords, if any, will you need and how can you make these as easy as possible to use? What happens if there are audio problems? Ask your IT colleagues to give you some tips and solutions to try in various ‘tech issue’ scenarios. And make sure you know your own way around your computer and software so that you can demonstrate what to do.
- Download resources onto your local computer. If you save everything you need for your session onto your local machine, you can be sure you have access to it all in the event of a lost connection with your office server. This is particularly important when working from home.
- Provide variety. You need to vary the pace and content of your virtual workshop to keep everyone engaged. Use a mix of videos (put links in the chat function), polling activities and breakout rooms to provide a variety of learning and collaboration experiences. And don’t forget that people will lose concentration after around 20 minutes so include some ‘brain breaks’ or ‘ErgoBreaks’ to maintain focus.
- Think about your own set-up. If you can, use multiple screens so you can have one screen displaying all your participants’ webcams and another with your course content. And if you have some pre-work from your participants, have this displayed on a tablet or other screen, so you can refer to this and demonstrate that you are using your participants’ pre-workshop contributions.
- Contingency planning Things will go wrong sometimes. Have a plan in place for if you suddenly lose your internet connection. One idea is to have your meeting app running on your phone or tablet as well as your computer, so if you lose your internet you can switch to your other devices and use your data connection instead. It’s also a good idea to have a back-up trainer, or Training Assistant, to provide support from another location in the event that you lose connection with your workshop.
Be kind to yourself. Everyone is learning. Everyone is getting better at this. We do need to be professional and effective, but we don’t need to be perfect all the time. Indeed, one of the benefits of virtual learning is that we engage with others as a human being rather than in a purely corporate capacity; your participants will be understanding if things don’t quite go according to plan.
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