The problem with PowerPoint-based training 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many trainers and training companies to transition their in-person workshops into the virtual space, which meant giving up many of their go-to tools. Bereft of flip charts, colored markers, and the magic of human interaction, they turned to PowerPoint slides and talking-head presentations delivered via pre-recorded video or a live feed. Many are leveraging breakout rooms and virtual whiteboards, but they’re still not engaging learners enough to prevent the dreaded zone-out that happens when audio is muted and cameras are off.

The new world of work necessitates remote learning. But with minimal facilitator training and the limitations of synchronous virtual course design resources and tools, training can feel impersonal and learners isolated. As a result, its effectiveness is greatly diminished. The initial phase of “make it work” is securely in the past. With virtual and hybrid work arrangements showing up as the clear future for many organizations, it’s time for trainers to provide immersive development experiences designed from the ground up for a geographically dispersed audience.

All point, no power? 

Even before the acceleration of synchronous virtual learning, many trainers considered the ubiquitous slide deck a non-negotiable. The slides were there with relevant information, but they generally provided a background visual and served as a tool to help remind the facilitator of key talking points. In an on-site setting, this type of learning has its limitations; take it to the virtual space, and it really falls flat. Slides lose their effectiveness in the online world because they become the star player (taking up the full screen view) instead of playing a supporting role to the trainer.

Think about what happens when a trainer becomes a disembodied voice-over. It typically takes just 10-15 seconds for people to read a PowerPoint slide. What happens next? Their eyes certainly aren’t going to stay glued on an inanimate visual, so they start to wander—to TikTok, the daily Wordle puzzle, their emails—anything that isn’t the PowerPoint.

Talking heads are a pain in the brain 

Then there’s the “talking head” (facilitator) who supplements PowerPoint slides by speaking directly into a webcam or recording a video tightly focused on his or her face. This format means that the vast majority of information delivered in a corporate training video or workshop is auditory, which takes a heavy toll on the learner’s cognitive load.

Cognitive load is an important consideration in instructional design, and it provides significant evidence explaining why traditional talking-head corporate training is both taxing and ineffective. Cognitive load refers to how much of our working memory resource (the part of our memory where we store information for short periods of time while we work with it) is taken up by a task. 

Research has found that our working memories have a very limited capacity. In order to get people to learn more, it’s important to pay attention to instructional design that reduces cognitive load by engaging the learner in novel ways (i.e. not PowerPoints delivered by talking-head trainers). The combination of talking-head video and PowerPoint involves the learner taking in written and/or spoken words; it takes significant mental effort to translate these words into rich visuals and scenes that enable the learner to contextualize the information into the job environment. And with little-to-no opportunity for practice, exploration, or iteration, these learning tactics often fail to make a significant impact on employee performance.

Simply put, L&D teams should not expect traditional employee training solutions to solve the latest problems and work for hybrid teams. Effective learner training that drives enhanced employee performance in the hybrid working world requires new resources and tools that enable disruptive learning designs. 

Effective remote learning design tips

Make it interactive

Watching a lengthy PowerPoint-based virtual delivery can strain attention and inadvertently cause learners to check out. Make the experience more interesting and help learners stay active and engaged by using synchronous activities, question and answer sessions, learning simulations, and live feedback. Present learners with realistic, challenging dilemmas that don’t have a single right answer so they are forced to engage with one another, dig into the content, share experiences, and tease out best practices and common mistakes—all of which drive interaction and engagement. 

Use a team-driven model 

By leveraging the strengths and experiences of all team members, team-driven learning is well-equipped to develop skills more effectively than traditional talking-head formats, PowerPoint presentations, or e-learning experiences. Immersing and engaging hybrid and remote teams of learners in team-based learning experiences transforms the way that businesses build new knowledge and skills, and results in better learning outcomes. 

Incorporate gamification

Integrating game elements into non-game activities has been shown to maximize engagement and motivation. Using gamification tactics (such as point systems, leaderboards, and other game-based elements) challenges learners to apply newly acquired information in both familiar and novel situations, rewarding correct application, and correcting mistakes in real-time.

Put it in context

Creating real-world scenarios enables learners to contextualize information, think deeply about potential issues, and practice applying their new skills. Simulations and practice environments should mimic on-the-job applications as much as possible, using enterprise metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success. There’s significant value to be achieved in providing learners with a safe place to experiment in various contextual situations, determine the value of what they’ve learned, fail forward, and iterate to modify their approaches.

How to bridge the gap between employee training and desired on-the-job performance

Designing remote learning courses and pathways to development that improve learning experiences and outcomes requires a new approach. This was the inspiration for Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM, the digital design and delivery platform that provides an interactive environment for teams of learners to collaborate to solve real-world problems. The platform’s powerful simulations are created by Blueline’s team of front-end alignment consultants, simulation designers, and digital producers, who know how to leverage synchronous, team-driven, discovery-learning experiences to facilitate business transformation. 

Contact the learning experts at Blueline Simulations to learn more about our hybrid training and engagement solutions.

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