These days you can learn about almost any topic by watching videos online. But the benefits of having a trainer present to guide and correct you, troubleshoot issues, and maximise your learning makes face-to-face training invaluable. So how does this translate when the people you’re teaching are thousands of kilometres away, watching you on a video call?
Whilst face-to-face trainers are irreplaceable in terms of effectiveness, particularly for novice classes, there are many benefits to remote training such as:
- Greater flexibility for timing and duration.
- Reduced costs (especially if inter-regional travel is involved); and
- A much greater geographic reach.
Recently a client rang asking if I could teach their team a couple of new skills in QGIS in a hurry so they could get a report over the line. We had to put together some training material in a short time frame and attempt to deliver it as an effective learning session. And from all accounts, the training was a success!
Here’s how we made it work:
- Small class size
- Use appropriate teaching mediums
- Teach the concepts, not just the content
- Give attendees prior knowledge of the topic
- Limit your audience appropriately
1. Small class size
This one is a no-brainer. In a small group, the trainer can provide more one-on-one time, people are less likely to fall behind if they get lost at any stage, and you won’t need to stop as frequently to help people out as you would in a large class. Manageable class sizes are especially important when running remote training, since watching demos on a computer monitor can be trickier for students than being present in a room.
2. Use appropriate teaching mediums
The majority of people learn best via visual formats and hands-on exercises. As a trainer you’re already challenged with keeping attendees engaged and focused (doubly so for remote training), so look for opportunities to use visual learning tools.
It’s no cliché that a picture tells a thousand words! Most people zone out when they see a wall of text (like this blog post).
Something as simple as a stick figure diagram in a slide show with some animated components can get through to your audience and give them that “Aha!” moment that is so gratifying as a trainer.
Here’s an image we’ve used in our QGIS course – a humorous but helpful take on the difference between raster and vector images (humour is another fantastic tool for learning!):
3. Teach the concepts, not just the content
You’ve got your training program established. You have a workbook full of exercises and instructions. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of just having attendees learn the HOW by working through those exercises like robots, without understanding the WHY.
Start with the concepts. Break them down into digestible explanations. Use analogies, diagrams, and practical real-world examples. Then open the floor up for discussion – get attendees to think about how this concept or tool might apply to their own work/life, or where they can see its application. Not only will this help them get their heads around the concepts, but it will also help you grow as a trainer with a better understanding of your target audience.
4. Give attendees prior knowledge of the topic
OK, understandably this is not always feasible – people are coming to you to learn a skill, after all. But where possible you can give students a leg-up with simple, engaging prerequisite material to help them grasp the fundamentals before the day of the actual training. This could be in the form of educational videos, instructions on how to set up the software, and even a beginner’s exercise for the course. By allowing attendees to familiarize themselves with the software and material they’ll come into your training with a rudimentary understanding, instead of blindly.
5. Limit your audience appropriately
Something else to consider is limiting who you run remote training for, based on the difficulty of the training. In our case, the attendees all had some prior experience using other GIS software, which allowed them to navigate QGIS with relative ease. Where possible, try to gain an understanding of the proposed attendees and their relevant skills, and make a judgement call on whether your training is accessible enough to them in the remote format.
Another no-brainer here, but too often overlooked. Small things go wrong all the time, and can diminish your appearance of professionalism and competency, as well as disrupt the class. Well in advance:
- Triple-check all material and send out any necessary material to attendees.
- Provide clear instructions to attendees with times, meeting links, and any prerequisites.
- Do an internal “dress rehearsal” to check your camera, mic, slideshows etc.
- Be sure to leave some wriggle room for technical difficulties (at both your end and the attendees).
With more people working from home, or staff scattered geographically, it’s the perfect time to look at converting your training to an online offering, and hopefully, these tips help get you off on the right foot. Take a look at our existing QGIS course information for in-person and online training.
If you have any further ideas, please leave a comment below. Or if you would like to talk to us about our QGIS training offerings, please get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org or our social media streams – Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.