If you’d asked me in early March about running a course online, I’d have said, ‘don’t be daft, we’re not geared to do it that way. Anyway, we prefer classroom style delivery where it’s easier to emphasise points, sketch on a white-board or flip-chart and generally respond to delegates’ needs’.

Step forward a few months and here we are in the middle of August having successfully switched to online delivery for our PFQ, PMQ and apprenticeship courses. What’s even more interesting is the fact that we’re getting quite used to it now and starting to consider it a possible norm!

In hindsight, the transition didn’t seem that difficult. We were given a week’s notice from Leeds City Council that staff on the PMQ and apprenticeship courses were going to be working from home and that the classroom delivery would need to stop. We were familiar with video-conferencing tools and suggested to the delegates that we would trial shifting the classroom delivery to a webinar format. ‘Let’s try it out for 3 sessions and see how it goes’. Predictably, the first session was a little ‘lumpy’ as one or two had difficulties logging in etc, but by the second week it was all getting more familiar and less problematic. By the third week (and end of the trial period) it was a resounding ‘thumbs-up’!

What did we do and what are we doing that’s any different?

  • First off, we found that we needed two presenters to keep it interesting. When you’re focussing on a computer screen, there needs to be some change along with a bit of banter! You’ve only to consider some TV news programmes that have more than one presenter or even things like ‘Strictly’ (which of course we don’t watch!).
  • Using an on-screen pen! This made a lot of difference from our perspective and was commented on very positively by the delegates. It made it easy to emphasise certain points on any PowerPoint slides and when responding to questions it was possible to use the screen like a flip-chart to support any verbal explanations.
  • We did notice fairly quickly that the spontaneity around informal Q&A was reduced. We figured that people are less comfortable about interrupting the session in the ‘new’ medium. We endeavoured to reduce the formality by devoting a few minutes at the start of a session to discussing any notable features that we could see behind the different participants or commenting when a cat, dog or child appeared. The best one was when a cup of tea slowly slid across the desk in front of one of the apprentices on the end of an arm! We feel that this has worked well and after 5 months of video link-ups there is definitely a more relaxed feel. We are aware that people in general are more comfortable with interacting with us rather than just watching and listening.

So, we’re now half way through August 2020 and feeling relatively confident with what we’re doing in terms of delivering training online. However, we’re still aware of areas where we could achieve more and are exploring new methods. The current one concerns online group-work and brain-storming. Even with the pen/flip-chart approach we’re not quite getting the engagement of a classroom environment and are currently investigating the use of some different online solutions. We’re having some success with an app called Miro™ which has facilities like whiteboards and post-its where the delegates can work writing and applying post-its in real time. We’re also exploring the different video-conferencing tools; our current one is quite robust in terms of the connection, but could be a little bit more flexible with creating sub-groups.

Will keep you posted…