The more things change, the more they stay the same. That may be true of some things. But if it defines your company’s approach to remote learning, you may be falling behind.
Two factors drive the need for a different approach to remote learning. Foremost is the growth of the remote workforce. Consider this statistic from Forbes. Over half (57%) of all companies have a formal policy that allows employees to work offsite. However, that only tells part of the story. A 2017 study by Global Workplace Analytics reveals that 80-90% of the workforce would like the opportunity to telecommute. And State of Remote Work cites companies who support a remote work experience have an employee retention rate that is 25% higher than companies that don’t.
While a remote work team offers many benefits to both the employer and the employee, it does have its challenges. One such challenge is ensuring an effective remote training model. Because, as with all types of learning, when it comes to remote training, one size does not fit all. This is particularly true with the ever-increasing number of available, and accessible, technologies that can facilitate a training experience.
Which brings into focus the other factor that may prompt a different approach to training—a better understanding of the way different workers learn. Companies that embrace multiple approaches to dynamic, distance-based learning will be in the best position to capture the minds and interests of the most talented employees.
The Benefits of Asynchronous Learning
For many companies, asynchronous learning (i.e. participants start and complete a training class at different times) is a common practice for training remote employees. For the employee, such models reinforce what they enjoy about working remotely. They are autonomous and can fit the training in when it’s best for them—without taking away from their personal productivity.
For an employer, asynchronous learning can expedite an onboarding process and free up other resources who would otherwise need to give up days, or weeks, of time to prepare and deliver the training. In most cases, their participation is trackable, which affords an employer a bit of control by making it easy to see which employees are completing the training—and how quickly they are doing so.
One approach does not fit all learners.
While asynchronous learning offers many benefits, there are times when a collaborative approach is required. For example, if you’re trying to help your sales team with a specific soft skill, such as developing strategies to overcome objections, an asynchronous module can’t provide the nuance and feedback that may be gained when participants can interact with their peers or their manager.
The good news is companies don’t have to buck the trend towards remote, asynchronous learning to find new and innovative ways to blend dynamic, collaborative experiences into a remote learning model.
Dynamic, collaborative learning provides an option.
Collaborative learning allows remote employees to work together and solve problems as a team. If executed properly, this model can encourage peers to evaluate ideas and share information. This, in turn, stimulates discussion and generates solutions that are arrived at by true consensus. With collaborative learning, an employee can interact with their peers without needing to bring them onsite.
Also, collaborative learning allows for real-time questions and answers, which makes problem solving and learning new procedures more efficient.
Here are a several tips for learning leaders to consider about integrating a distance-based collaborative approach with their asynchronous training.
Content is, and always will be, king.
It stands to reason that when you’re asking remote employees to take the initiative to complete a training module, the content must hold their attention. However, even in a collaborative environment (whether peer-to-peer or instructor led) effective content must be at the core of a great training experience.
Here are some ways to make your content hold the attention of your audience:
- Ask them what they need. This will get your audience invested in the process and ensure that you are maximizing your efforts as well. In many cases, reaching out via email before your training can help ensure you have the material you need.
- Embrace the power of story. Stories or helpful anecdotes can help turn a dry topic into something memorable. Make sure, however, that the any story you use is immediately relevant. If the story invites questions, it will be easy to get off topic.
- Always check your own work. You are an extension of your company or brand. So take time to proofread your content to ensure that your audience is not distracted by an avoidable spelling error or incorrect statistic.
- Take time to curate material. Original content has its place. But if you’ve taken the time to ask the audience what they need, you may find that a timely article or video may provide just what they’re looking for. And it gives you credibility. Win-win.
Remember they are participants, not students.
The difference between collaborative and stand-alone learning models is the presence of others including, in many cases, some sort of leader. This can weaken collaborative learning if the employees feel like students, and the instructor seems like a teacher. Think of that class you had where the teacher droned on and on… you know the one.
Here are some tips to keep your audience engaged:
- Be a facilitator. Think of yourself as conducting a focus group. You’re there to start a discussion and encourage idea creation.
- Be overly prepared. Have an agenda, then stick to it. One way to ensure you do this is by practicing your part, including being familiar with the technology that you’re using to reduce the chance of long, awkward gaps.
- Give them things to do. Have participants answer poll questions; type questions into a chat room—anything that gets them to engage with your topic. Remember, however, that this can easily get you off topic, so be sure you limit the time and scope of these activities.
Get everyone involved.
In collaborative learning, it’s important that everyone be seen and heard. Nonverbal cues are an essential part to training. When an instructor can see all participants, they can pick up on non-verbal cues that can make all the difference in ensuring an effective training session.
- Break down barriers. Even the most passive learner can benefit from collaborative learning. While they may be intimidated to ask questions in a classroom setting or when everyone is gathered for a meeting, they can find a virtual setting empowering.
- Users take as much ownership as they want. While some employees may simply participate with a thumbs up or thumbs down action, others can take more of a leadership role, particularly in areas where they have specific expertise.
- Create an environment that rewards top performers. Not only does it make your training more effective, but acknowledging and fostering expertise among your remote teams can grow talent in your organization.
Keep technology relevant.
Remote workers want the information that they want, customized to their needs, available when they want it, and they want it on any device (including mobile). But this doesn’t just mean if you build it they will come. To create effective, collaborative learning, you should follow a few guidelines:
- Let technology do what it does best. One look at the phone you hold in the palm of your hand reminds you of how mobile has changed the way we communicate. But that also means knowing its limitations. Direct messaging and email cannot interpret the tone of someone’s voice or body language.
- Create a vault for file sharing. When information is made readily available online, users will have a place to return, allowing them to learn at their own pace much like an asynchronous model.
- Make sure they understand how to use the technology. Training today is not as easy as giving employees a tablet and leaving them to figure it out. In some cases, you may have to ensure that the employees learn to use the device and perform the jobs that are expected.
- Demo the technology before using it in the training. This serves two purposes. First, it will help prevent unforeseen glitches. Second, new technology can often become the hammer to which everything else is a nail. By creating a demo, you’ll quickly be able to tell whether the technology solution is relevant to your audience.
Today’s remote workforce makes it essential to have a well thought-out approach to training. In many cases, remote workers will find that having an asynchronous training model where content is delivered on the right platform and built with a great user experience is completely sufficient. However, there are times when remote workers can benefit from collaboration. By considering dynamic, collaborative training methods, you can maximize the logistical benefits of remote training while still inviting important interaction between team members or departments.
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