When the “lockdown” in Northern Ireland started on the 28th March, we were left in a difficult situation. Instil are a classroom based training business. We weren't prepared for training without a classroom.
So, like just about every other business in the country, we've spent the last few weeks figuring out what we're going to do.
The product of that time is an approach to delivering our classroom based training at a distance using digital tools. We've published our approach as a PDF in the training section of our website. Today, we've also published it as a blog post in html format.
This post, the second in a new series on distributed-classroom training, will take a look at the learner experience in a bit more detail.
It's important to say that this approach to virtual training is not our considered response. It's a quick reaction driven by necessity. It will change as we adapt to our new ways of working.
I'm sure you've seen the meme, "Who led the digital transformation of your company?". It's true that this crisis has accelerated our thinking.
We know that our classroom training forms a part of your overall learning strategy, and we hope that continues. But when the classroom is closed we need to find other ways to deliver the same opportunities for learning.
Our strategy is to provide the same high quality learning experience online as you would get in a classroom. Right now, that means we run our classes via video conferencing very much in an instructor-student type relationship. Over time, assuming virtual delivery of training continues to be necessary, we expect to adjust this approach to take advantage of the benefits of distributed working.
The classroom, online
What is it about classroom training that works? What won't work when everyone is remote? What features of e-learning can we appropriate to enhance the student experience? These were the questions we were grappling with. Thankfully, lots of other people (at universities, in schools, in corporate learning & development companies) were having the same challenges. We've been able to learn a great deal from what other people have done.
- Maintaining energy is difficult – in a classroom, the teacher and the student can spark off each other to maintain momentum and engagement. Online, that's much more difficult to achieve. And right now, lots of people are in make-do office situations that are not great at helping stay focused.
- Hear, See, Do – Our classroom training follows a pattern. We tell you about a thing, you see us do the thing, you then practice the thing. We'll do this in an online delivery too, except you might have to search or read instead of hear.
- People can't focus on video for very long – We don't really do lectures at Instil, but there are times when we can talk through a topic for 20 or 30 minutes. Online, that's foolishness. Experience from e-learning shows us that people struggle to focus on videos that are longer than 6-8 minutes, and best practice advice is to keep them even shorter. In our scenario, we're going to chunk up our teaching time into smaller iterations.
- Distribute the teaching as well as the classroom – In the classroom, there's an obvious teacher-student dynamic. We lead the students through the material, giving them the things they need to know. We don't need to do that online - instead, we're going to give the students a challenge and let them find the answers; they will hopefully teach us something!
- Distributed, but not alone. One of the major issues with e-learning is that students are alone on the course. Naturally, this isn't a problem faced by classroom training. Research shows that interactions with staff and other students play a significant role in ensuring student success, so we work harder at them. Video is on by default.
There are other lessons to be learned. We don't expect that our crisis response will be the best solution. Every time we run an online course we reflect and adjust our behaviour (as all good Agilists do).
All of our portfolio is already available as virtual delivery for business customers. In addition, we are running open courses in this distributed format. The first course is Python Programming for QA Automation on 28th April 2020. Get in touch if you're interested in attending.
(image: Gregory Varnum)