5 Things to Do to Successfully Launch Live Online Contract Education Training for Employees

woman looking at her laptop screen

When COVID-19 hit, contract education units at California’s community colleges, like so many other organizations and businesses, made the move to online. While the colleges transitioned to online teaching and learning for instructors and students, contract education professionals worked to rapidly move workplace training for employees to a virtual format that included live instructor-led training that before had been delivered in person, usually on-site at a business.

We tapped a few contract education professionals who head up units that have led the way in the shift to online employee training to equip you with the basics as you prepare to take your training program virtual or refine your current online program.

1. Choose Your Platform Wisely

What you use to deliver your online employee training is an important factor – you need to be sure the platform offers the tools you need to effectively deliver instruction. In making this choice, it’s important to know your audience. Will you be delivering training to home-based workers or essential workers who will be taking the course at the work site? What equipment will each type of worker group require for learning, and will the tools offered by the videoconferencing platform you are considering make that possible? 

Zoom tends to be a popular platform among organizations of all types. Contract education users we talked to described Zoom’s simplicity; with a low learning curve, users can be up and running in very little time. It also includes a host of features that support participant engagement, such as a gallery view that allows attendees to see one another, breakout rooms for group discussion and a polling feature.

In addition to Zoom as the delivery vehicle, The Training Place at Butte College uses Vyond, an animation software  that creates role-play scenarios, Kahoot!, an interactive polling and quiz tool, and Miro, a visual collaboration software that allows teams to “capture, organize and structure” their ideas.

2. Develop Strategic Content and Rehearse Your Delivery

Content makes or breaks a training, so it’s important to learn how to deliver content for an online audience. Jonathan Bissell, who heads up CCCE Corporate Training Solutions – that’s San Mateo Community College District’s contract education unit – teamed up with expert trainers Claire Laughlin and Rae Ann Ianniello to develop for other trainers a four-day training titled Boot Camp Training with Certification: How to Successfully Teach and Build Online Content. Additional training opportunities will be provided throughout the year.

Bissell emphasizes it’s important to pick your MIT – Most Important Takeaway – and develop all your objectives around that, making sure every activity builds to your ultimate training goal. Delivery is a huge part of online training, and good delivery requires a lot of advanced preparation. It’s important to test-drive your activities and rehearse other parts of the training, too, such as transitions between activities and breakout room assignments. 

This is where it’s also important to know your audience. For example, will participants be taking the course using a laptop or smartphone? Will they have camera capability or have to join in only through audio? These details play a role in content delivery.

“You can’t use the old content and just expect it to work the same virtually,” explains The Training Place’s Director Annie Rafferty.

She advises to lean on the creativity and innovation of instructors during this current change environment, relying on what they are seeing, experiencing and learning from online learners and using that information to adapt content and delivery.

Once you have solid content, you can make it work for you! Get the most out of it by making it the subject of a blog article, creating a video course or writing an e-book for lead generation on your website.

3. Have a Producer in Every Training Session

Managing instruction, while monitoring a chat screen for comments and troubleshooting technical issues can be a lot for a trainer to handle. That’s why each training run by Bruce Winner, manager at the Government Training Academy at Los Rios Community College District, and his team includes a producer who serves as an assistant to the instructor.  

The producer helps participants with technical issues, such as helping someone join the meeting or working through microphone issues. This role also can include monitoring the chat feed and letting the trainer know when questions arise or dropping in on breakout-room sessions to help keep participants engaged. The producer’s phone number is typically shared at the start of the training in case any issues need to be handled offline.

Winner created a guide for producers and trainers but believes it is important to encourage trainers to help shape the producer’s role for each training.

Winner advises that if there isn’t enough money in the budget to hire a second person to help run the training sessions, you can consider hiring a savvy college student at a more affordable rate or enlisting the help of an intern. 

“I think it’s just absolutely essential,” Winner says of the position.

4. To Engage, Don’t Be a Sage

Trainers should play more of a facilitator role, helping participants interact with one another as they process the information they are learning.  Also, using tools such as breakout rooms and polls can provide meaningful opportunities for participant engagement, as long as they are used to support the learning objectives. 

“Early and often is a good way to think about engagement,” Bissell says.

He recommends starting off the training session in gallery view with smaller audiences, versus just sharing the cover page of a slide presentation, say. This creates a more welcoming environment for those entering the “room,” and you should plan on returning to gallery view throughout the training session to ensure you are able to connect with participants. 

Rafferty, at Butte College, has been exploring gamification as another way to engage employees in virtual supervisor and COVID-19 resiliency skills trainings. The platform engages trainees in real time with positive daily feedback, such as high-fives or point earnings for individual and class team accomplishments before, during and after class. Rafferty and her team are considering a customized advanced delivery platform for online employee training that would include sophisticated features, such as a thermal sensor that tracks how many times an individual has interacted with an instructor and for how long. In a virtual setting, trainers lose the ability to walk a room and engage participants during training. The thermal sensor would give the trainer information to determine who to call on next during online training.

5. Ask Them How You Did

With online training being brand-new for many units, feedback that will help you refine your offerings is especially valuable. Winner, at the Government Training Academy, was surprised to find the vast majority of those who responded to the post-training survey indicated they would prefer to take any similar future courses online or in a hybrid setting, versus a strictly in-person classroom training. 

“That really surprised us because everything we’ve always done was in person and these folks have mostly never done online courses,” Winner said.

Winner has revised the survey to ask participants questions that will yield the most useful information for modifying the course. One question he will ask: If you were making changes to the course, especially concerning its current online format, what would those changes be? 

Free Toolkit to Market Your Online Training Service

If you are a California contract education unit that offers live, instructor-led online training for employees, the California Community Colleges Contract Education Technical Assistance Provider (CE TAP) has developed a marketing toolkit to help you promote your online training service. The free toolkit includes an animated masthead and copy to use in your emails, website copy and promotional web banners, and a brochure. Many of the items are customizable. Email Margaret Schmidt, Project Manager, margarets@maxinet.com or Faithe Briley, Project Specialist, at fbriley@mtsac.edu for a link to access the toolkit.