Due to the lockdown, the possibility of organising remote training courses rapidly emerged at SQLI. At first, I was not very keen on the prospect and neither were my agile coach colleagues. We thought that not being together in a classroom would affect the quality of our training.
After two months and more than 25 agile training courses conducted via video-conferences, find out how our adventure in remote training went!
Does remote training work?
Yes! Interaction, discussions, exercises and games are key elements for trainees to understand and learn. With a video-conference, it is possible to have both trainer-trainee and trainee-trainee interaction, and to carry out valuable exercises.
The feedback from trainees has been very positive. Like us, some of them were reluctant to take part in remote training courses, but they were pleasantly surprised! According to their feedback, some of them even found remote training more effective than classroom training:"Even though we were in lockdown, it was possible to do exercises remotely with lots of teams thanks to Teams and Mural. Half-day sessions like this are ideal.""Great training, managed by 2 great trainers during lockdown.""Well structured and very instructive. This remote experience was most interesting.""Very lively training session!"Based on their questions and the discussions we had with them, we were able to confirm that they had grasped the various concepts covered during training.
Seven adjustments made for effective remote training
Adapting course length and format
While, with classroom training, we had two consecutive days of training to promote immersion, we changed the format to half-day sessions. We did this to reduce screen time and, therefore, avoid visual fatigue, long periods seated and concentration difficulties. We basically tried out two formats:
Four half-days on four consecutive days;
One half-day / one full day / one half-day, on three consecutive days.
Trainees' opinions of these two formats were mixed. Some of them liked the full day, which made it possible to focus on the training and not be distracted by their day-to-day work. Others preferred the half-days, which enabled them to maintain a good level of attention. Many of them told us that two full days in a row would have been too much to handle. For our SAFe training courses, which are always difficult to complete in two days, it was an opportunity to add a half-day to the training. We of course included a good 15-20 minute break in each of the half-day sessions, to give everyone a chance to take a break from the screen and move around a bit.
Adapting course content
Our agile training courses are generally made up of 50% theory and 50% practice (including exercises and games). While some of the exercises were not possible remotely, we decided that reducing the amount of practice was out of the question! It is an essential element for the trainees to fully understand and take on board the concepts covered. We therefore reviewed our courses one by one, in order to adapt the exercises: some were adaptable and could be conducted via a digital collaborative tool, while others were not and had to be replaced. Thanks to the Microsoft Teams video-conferencing tool, we could also divide the group of trainees into sub-groups, in order to carry out exercises in small groups and encourage all to participate.?
Reducing the number of trainees
In classroom training, the number of trainees is limited to 12. After several tests, we decided to limit most of our remote training courses to eight trainees, in order to enable everybody to interact and get involved.Turning on the webcamIn order to encourage interaction and participation in our training courses, we asked trainees to turn on their webcams. This presents several advantages:
It breaks down distance, both between the trainees and between the trainer and trainees;
It enables the trainer to pick up on the trainees' non-verbal language, comprehension problems, dips in attention, and so on.
Video-conference via Microsoft Teams
Using collaborative tools
We experimented with iObeya and Mural for the various games and exercises. Both are relatively easy for trainees to get to grips with. These tools are essential to enable participants to do exercises together. Setting them up and preparing the tables for the first course takes some time, but the advantage is it can all be reused for subsequent courses! At the beginning of the course, we take a few minutes to explain how to use the tool to trainees and allow them to experiment with it.
Collaborative workshop using Mural
More refresher exercises
We made the most of the half-day sessions to introduce exercises at the beginning of each day to refresh participants' memories of topics that we had covered the previous day. We used several formats:
The standard refresher exercise, where all participants recall what they learnt the previous day, while the trainer assists and takes notes along the way;
Little games, such as 40 Seconds and Agile Taboo, which are fun, stimulating and enlightening. The feedback on these games from trainees has been so positive that we will be keeping them for our classroom training courses.
Testing and working in pairs
Before the first remote training course, or before beginning a new remote exercise, we carry out dry runs among ourselves. This enables us to check everything is working properly and, very often, adapt the exercises for a better experience! Furthermore, each training course is initially led by two trainers in order to ensure it runs smoothly. It is easier to deal with unexpected problems as a pair: while one person is leading the session, the other can manage any problems that crop up and tweak things as needed. After conducting the course once as a pair, we assess whether subsequent sessions can be led by a single trainer or should continue to be run as a pair.
Planning ahead to avoid connection problems
Losing 15 to 30 minutes due to a connection problem is an all too common headache. To try to make sure it doesn't happen, here are a few precautionary measures:
Test the link to the various tools, with a person from the client company, before the training course begins;
Ask trainees to log in 15 minutes before the session in order to ensure that their connection works;
We give our telephone numbers to trainees so they can contact us in the event of a connection issue.
As it turned out, our remote training sessions actually began far more punctually than our classroom sessions! :)
So, is it better than classroom training?
No, we wouldn't go that far! While we are pleased to say that the remote courses work very well, certain aspects cannot be replaced, or are difficult to emulate, remotely. For example, for trainees who are somewhat reticent, withdrawn or lack confidence in the subject, it is more difficult to reach out to them and get them involved. However, by doing exercises in small groups, it is still possible to encourage participation, in the practical part at least. Elsewhere, in classroom training sessions, discussions can continue during breaks and at lunchtime. With remote training, everybody uses the break to leave the screen and video-conference, so the discussion is ended. As trainers, we do connect before the training begins, and offer to continue after the end of the session, for those who wish to continue to talk, but this does not replace the immersion that classroom training allows.
Will we continue the remote training courses once the health risks are over?
We think that most of our courses will switch back to classroom training. However, we see an opportunity for companies and ourselves to provide quality training for people located in other cities or countries, while avoiding long journeys for a couple of days of training. In these cases, continuing with remote training offers real added value.