With COVID-19 hitting the world, we all had to change the way we work. This is also true for trainers like me, delivering knowledge to people around the world.
The main agile leadership training I teach is Management 3.0, which is designed to work well in the physical realm. However, the Management 3.0 Fundamentals Online Workshop was quickly added to the portfolio and was specifically designed for remote delivery.
This article shares some experiences from the students and myself.
A Trainer Switching to Online
Oh my God! When I faced my first online training, I was scared. How to prepare? How to learn this quickly? How to provide a great learning experience for my students? I mean, there is a reason the Agile Manifesto states:
When I do in-person trainings, they live from interaction instead of monologues, the sharing of experiences instead of theoretical knowledge and from making new acquaintances instead of having anonymous faces sitting next to you. All this is inhibited when delivering a course through video-conferencing software, which I have witnessed numerous times when participating in online webinars and seminars. This was not what I wanted to deliver. I want my students to come out of a workshop thrilled, full of energy and eager to try what they have learned!
After sleeping it over, I read about the topic whatever I could, updated my technical setup and ran a couple of experiments with friends and other trainers to learn what worked and what didn’t. I ended up with a combination of videoconferencing and online white boarding.
Then, I taught online courses. It went great! So great, that I want to keep them in the portfolio when coronavirus is over.
Online workshops allow for more flexibility. For example, we can run a training over the course of four weeks, on Saturday mornings. Can you imagine doing this with a physical training? I can’t. Nevertheless, I did exactly this and ran an online workshop with Mareike, Claudia and Kai over the course of four Saturday mornings.
Switching to online for students
The really important question is not how the trainer felt, but how the students felt. We discussed this after the last session, guided by two simple questions:
- How was pivoting to online for you?
- Why did you like the workshop?
The answers to these questions were very similar. We were a very small group (only three students), which helped people ease into the new setup. The learning atmosphere was very relaxed, and we had plenty of discussions. The workshop was spread across four weeks, and we got together every Saturday morning for a couple of hours. This was a key benefit: The students could learn a small amount of new ideas and then reflect on them for a full week.
Of course, they could try the methods and experiment with them. Regular Management 3.0 courses are stretched over two consecutive days. While this delivers the contents in a more compressed manner, the learnings seem to stick better when the course is delivered in smaller chunks: The students remember better, they experiment more and come back with more thought-through questions. It also is easier to fit the training sessions to each individual schedule, partly because of the short duration of the sessions, partly because of the weekday we chose (Saturday).
The practical examples given by the students and the trainer, all contributing different perspectives, were very beneficial for everybody and sparked great discussions. They also made the content very tangible and helped students to remember the content of the class.
While all taught Management 3.0 practices worked well in the remote setup, a drawback of online sessions is the partial absence of facial expressions and body language. It cannot be denied that meeting people in person creates a stronger bond and improves communication between them. The strain of participating in an online class depends on each individual. Some people find it more difficult to follow, others experience it to be easier. All students expressed that “time flew by”, so at least it wasn’t boring. Students also reported that they had a good perception of the balance of theory, discussion and exercises.
As a side note, one participant mentioned that not needing to do small talk during breaks was actually a benefit.
Of course, we also asked for suggestions to improve the workshop. However, the overall impression was so positive (average rating of 9.67/10.0), that I decided to skip the results for this blog post, which were very detailed and focused on the courseware.
Some critical thoughts
Even though the course went well, and students were happy, I am not fully satisfied with the course and my own performance. Prior to this class, I had run the same workshop with fifteen non-native speakers on two consecutive full days. We had far less discussion and while people rated the course pretty good (average rating of 9.47/10.0) I did notice huge differences compared to the course I described in this article. So far, I have not succeeded equally well in facilitating discussion between students in large groups. The amount of knowledge that sticks with them varies greatly and depends more on the person than on the course. I can certainly improve here.
On a personal note, it is far more difficult for me as a trainer to run a class over the course of four weeks than doing it on two days in a row. Remembering to send out invites, keeping abreast of the students and their position on their learning paths and picking up exactly where we left off is draining. Doing it online is even more difficult: When a student loses contact to the group or the contents, it is hard for me to even notice. I don’t realize anything short of somebody dropping off the call or voicing their concern audibly. In the physical realm this is easier, because I can spot body language and facial expressions.
Taking out my crystal ball and looking into the future, I do believe live virtual classes are here to stay. They have advantages and disadvantages, but people have already accepted them or are in the process of doing so. Competition will grow, so will the accessibility of knowledge. Once you can get knowledge and certification online, people from all over the world can pick the best trainers available and schedules that suit them. Or they can shop for the smallest price. They also can opt for live physical classes and travel to the location of their choice. And that’s probably the best word for the change to come: Choice.
People will have more choices than in the past and because of these choices we are facing a fairer post-corona world than before. I like that thought!
The short version is that online trainings work. They require better preparation and have some drawbacks, such as worse informal interaction and more detached relationships between the students themselves and the trainer. On the other hand, they offer more choice and flexibility for students.
Another key takeaway is that new inputs, especially when complex, should be delivered in small doses. A Management 3.0 course means many new concepts and practices that might leave your head spinning. Having time to reflect on them, absolutely makes sense. Therefore, delivering it in four half-days instead of two full days is beneficial.
If you are looking for new knowledge or skills and haven’t tried online workshops yet, I encourage you to do so. Make a choice, run an experiment, reflect on the outcome, learn what you like most (e.g. online courses vs. in-person classes) and improve from there.
Photo Credit: Dominik Maximini