The past few weeks have been a time of rapid change and adjustment to a new world. At times like these, it’s more important than ever for People and Learning & Development (L&D) leaders to connect and exchange ideas with each other. In our new virtual miniseries, Udemy Connect, several hundred L&D and People peers have come together virtually to share ideas and solutions for our new working world.

Each episode in this three-part miniseries explores a different topic of interest for People and L&D leaders. In the first episode, we looked at ways to ensure your employees’ success anytime, anywhere. You can read the blog recap here

In this second episode, we explored how you can adapt and transform existing in-person training into an online environment. In this blog, we’ll share some of the highlights from Udemy Connect Episode 2: Converting vs. Transforming: Taking Your Training Virtual.

Anchoring to a purpose

As we consider our People and L&D programs, especially in times of rapid change and uncertainty, we want to ensure programs are anchored to a purpose and helpful to people in our organizations right now. (For those of you who attended the first webinar or read the recap, this will sound familiar). This is why we recommend returning to these questions: 

These questions became even more essential in the last couple of weeks, as we re-examine our entire strategy and plan for the year. Answering these questions is not easy and it takes discipline to return to these questions on an ongoing basis. 

For example, we recently launched a series of “Work from Home Daily Tips,” which we discussed in the previous episode. We’ve been putting together quick tips to share with our employees and community on how to thrive while working from home. While they’ve had a lot of immediate impact, we realized that we had to be mindful of their ongoing effectiveness. After a few weeks, they weren’t as impactful anymore and we’d covered a lot of tips, so we stopped doing them. Similarly, we’ve had to rethink and reshuffle deadlines and priorities after considering what will have the biggest impact now. Many of us on the Learning team are long-term planners, so this has been a significant adjustment!

Rethinking “So you want to be a manager”

One of the programs where we’ve made an immediate pivot was a pilot training to help individual contributors learn how to move into their first management role. The People team shared that they were regularly hearing that individual contributors had questions about management and how to become a manager. We looked at employee engagement data and feedback and got input from our current managers and leaders to develop a training focused on four key questions:

  1. How can you develop in your career?
  2. What is it like to be a manager?
  3. What is expected of managers at Udemy?
  4. How can I start preparing?

Initially, we had planned to create a highly interactive two-hour workshop to be conducted in our San Francisco office, but starting March 9, it was announced we’d all be working from home. Our team decided to offer the workshop virtually instead. We saw it as a great opportunity to try a new method for delivering training and use the lessons we learned to inform future programs. We held the workshop virtually on March 26, and initial results were promising. 

Here are a few of our tips for transforming training to a virtual setting. We recommend thinking about these three questions:

  1. How do you set people up for success prior to the training?
  2. How can you use technology to your advantage?
  3. How can you adapt your facilitation style to meet the needs of remote learners?

How do you set people up for success prior to learning?

We realized making the training virtual opens it up to a broader audience. Initially, we were only going to invite attendees from our San Francisco office. When we decided to offer the training virtually, we opened it up to employees from our other global offices — and it worked. Even though it was late for our Dublin colleagues, several employees from that office joined as well.

To help set people up for success, we shared expectations ahead of time, asking attendees to treat the session as a normal instructor-led training. We recognize that working from home can involve more distractions, so we asked attendees to make a plan for how they’d dedicate this time to learning. This might be as simple as putting their phone across the room so they wouldn’t be tempted to look at it or signing out of Slack, or it might involve asking their spouse to watch their kids or take their dog for a walk during that time.

How can you use technology to your advantage?

We believe that it’s important not to let go of high standards for engagement and interactivity, so we wanted to make sure that our training was engaging and interactive in a virtual environment. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to meet your learners where they are when they’re learning in a virtual environment and give them the tools they need to be successful.

Web-conferencing tools have great features like breakout rooms, polling, and whiteboarding. For our Udemy Connect miniseries, we’ve also been using Slido to poll our audience and collect their questions. 

Similarly, we updated the participant guide for the workshop. We’d originally planned to give participants a physical printout, so we updated it to make it a fillable PDF. This may seem simple, but it’s key to empathizing with people’s situations. Not everybody has a printer at home and not having the materials might lead people to check out and skip the activities. Updating the PDF was a simple way to create a more inclusive experience.

The blended learning, flipped classroom approach is still meaningful in a virtual world. For example, you can assign online courses on Udemy as “pre-work” before a virtual discussion workshop and as further learning through curated Manager Learning Paths.

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How can you adapt your facilitation style to meet the needs of remote learners?

Once we decided to deliver the training virtually, we thought about ways to adapt our facilitation style to meet the needs of remote learners. We shortened the length of the workshop since we know it’s hard to keep people’s attention online for extended periods of time. Similarly, we looked at the curriculum and acknowledged that we’d need to cover less content and allow more time for transitions in an online environment.

We also thought about ways to make the content more visually interesting. We had asked some of our current managers to share short videos of themselves, giving advice about management. We included these videos in the training deck to bring new voices in and keep the content engaging. Similarly, our facilitator would switch up his delivery approach to keep the workshop visually engaging: Sometimes he’d use a slide deck, sometimes he’d switch it off and turn to video.

Here’s a quick recap of Audrey’s tips for taking in-person training online.

Adapting your presentation style to a virtual setting

The Udemy Public Speaking Club has traditionally focused on presenting at in-person events like conferences or large meetings. We saw an opportunity to rework the content to meet this point of need and time, so we created a bonus meeting focused on presenting virtually.

Here are a few of the tips we recommend when presenting virtually.

When people are working in a remote environment, they’re facing a lot more distractions and potential difficulties than when they’re in person. Slow your pace to ensure you’re understandable, even over a bad internet connection.

Count to 10 after asking people, “Any questions?” If you don’t pause long enough after asking people for their questions, you could miss the people who are struggling to unmute themselves, looking for the Zoom window amongst all their other open windows, or hesitant to speak up. Plus, the longer you wait, the more likely that someone will speak up. 

If you are a meeting host giving a presentation, you have the ability to mute/unmute your participants if you want to control potentially distracting noises from your audience.

People are generally more hesitant to speak up in virtual calls than in-person meetings. To get more engagement from participants, call on people by name or ask participants to use the chat feature to ask their questions.

Rather than looking at the video of your audience on your monitor, look into your webcam. If you find yourself distracted by your own image, you can hide your “self view” on Zoom.

To do this, have two lighting sources facing you behind your camera lens and another lighting source behind you. If possible, avoid overhead light because it causes unflattering shadows and forehead glare. You can also try putting your computer in front of a window to use natural lighting to light your face.

If you’re sharing your screen, limit your mouse movements to avoid distracting people, close other apps and tabs, and silence notifications.

Adapting to change

As we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, we’re all experiencing significant change in both our personal and professional lives. It’s important to acknowledge the emotions we’re all experiencing — and to recognize that they won’t always be linear. One of our mottos on the learning team is the quote by Voltaire, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” We’re always looking for ways to support our people by acting quickly, even in challenging circumstances. 

We’d like to leave you with a few final tips as you think about adapting your in-person trainings to a virtual setting. First, be transparent with your audience. You can let them know that you’ve had to make changes or adjustments. Be open to feedback to move fast. Recognize that the first iteration might not work exactly as you’d anticipated. Ask for feedback and look for ways to improve future iterations. Don’t plan too far ahead. We started by planning for the next two weeks and gradually began expanding our scope to the next month, but all of those plans are still rough. Finally, give yourself permission to cancel or pause. Listen to feedback, assess how things are going, and keep returning to the questions we shared at the beginning: What is the point of need and time? What matters now, what matters most, and what doesn’t matter anymore?

Page Last Updated: April 2020