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VILT or Bust: An Interview with Brent Colescott

COVID-19 has forced all of us to re-evaluate what working from home means—it’s also making us realize that some aspects of work, may never be the same.

While office floor plans are being reconfigured to promote social distancing, what about the training centers and classrooms? […]

COVID-19 has forced all of us to re-evaluate what working from home means—it’s also making us realize that some aspects of work, may never be the same.

While office floor plans are being reconfigured to promote social distancing, what about the training centers and classrooms? Is this pandemic showing us that in-person training is a thing of the past? It would certainly be difficult to reconfigure conference centers and classrooms to accommodate social distancing. Can you imagine a conference center with seats six feet apart?

Much like public, private, and higher education institutions, organizations are getting a crash course in not just remote work, but Virtual Instructor-Led Training as well.

Not all VILT is created equal

Virtual Instructor-Led Training—VILT—is not a new concept. The challenge that has been at the core of VILT adoption is not necessarily a technical one. VILT’s success and failure lie more in the delivery and learner experience.

Unfortunately, the concept of throwing PowerPoint slides up on a screen and speaking to them virtually “passes” as VILT. This could not be further from what a good VILT program should and can be. Good VILT programs engage their attendees and understand the environment.

I spoke to our very own Brent Colescott—virtually of course, to talk to him about VILT. We talked about not only the importance and benefit from utilizing VILT, but how it can used as a valuable element of your learning and development strategy. Brent Colescott is no stranger to standing up VILT programs:

Ryan Tidwell: Thanks for chatting with me today, Brent. So, let’s set some context—why is VILT so important today? Why is it relevant?

Brent Colescott: VILT is part of business continuity that is happening right now in a distributed/virtual workforce. While the pandemic has halted a lot of live training, the need to educate has not stopped and the pace at which change is occurring is unprecedented. Employees still need “just-in-time” knowledge and VILT is a way to capture the connections sought after for a remote workforce.

RT: Interesting—can you explain the importance of VILT given today’s changes?

BC: VILT is a proven alternative to the on-site training event. In today’s business environment, travel is near non-existent due to the risks of the pandemic, along with the temporary shuttering of travel and hospitality providers. This prevents gathering together for traditional classroom events. VILT can accommodate most—if not all—in-person training.

RT: Sounds like organizations could save a lot of money on travel expenses if they switched from all in-person training, to VILT.

BC: They could, and many companies do. Plus, more people could attend.

RT: What are you hearing in the market related to VILT as an L&D strategy moving forward?

BC: VILT has really become an overnight success 15 years in the making. It’s been around for at least that long and has had various levels of success in organizations. As the world switched to remote work and virtual gatherings due to the COVID-19, we’re seeing a significant rise in the interest volume of VILT events.

With all being said, VILT has not been as well-known as it should be due to poor delivery or less than effective delivery strategies. A large portion of the success of a VILT event is directly tied to how the material is developed—specifically for the delivery and how prepared or experienced the instructor is.

RT: Do you foresee an increased demand for experienced, virtual instructors?

BC: Absolutely, those with the skillset to successfully deliver content in a virtual event will be in great demand over the next year.

RT: So, from what I’m hearing, the learner experience might be the most important aspect of standing up a VILT program. Would you agree that it’s crucial for organizations to get this right?

BC: It is vital. What’s the saying, “you never get a second chance at a first impression”? That probably explains why VILT has not been as successful. Too many VILT sessions have been done poorly. You have to look at VILT programs as their own discipline and approach it as such.

RT: Makes sense. I’d like to dig into the strategy aspect of things. What does an HR organization need to be thinking about in order to execute a successful VILT strategy?

BC: Any organization needs to understand that this is not just delivering a “WebEx presentation.”  Successful VILT programs look to the needs of the learners but also the methods that must be incorporated to ensure successful delivery.

In fact, there are online certifications specific to the presentation/delivery of material in a virtual classroom in addition to certifications for VILT Instructional Design. The core focus for both approaches is to ensure virtual learner engagement throughout the event.

RT: Are there any resources you’d recommend?

BC: I would definitely recommend doing some research on virtual instruction. Over 15 years, the discipline has evolved along with the technology. There are several organizations that have curated this knowledge and can offer training or guidance around developing a successful program. Some organizations go so far as offering certification in the skill of presentation or instruction design for virtual training. I would highly recommend seeking this type of training for anyone serious about a sustained VILT program.

RT: It’s great that we have such a wealth of knowledge that’s been tested and developed over the years. We touched on it a little earlier, but I’d like to know, what are the benefits of VILT?

BC: Initially, VILT was seen as a cost-savings alternative to travel and overhead for training on-premise. Consider the rollout of an initiative or compliance need where the audience is vast and dispersed. Not only is VILT more cost-effective, but is also vastly more efficient and scalable—especially when dealing with larger audiences and shorter timeframes.

RT: Can you share some insight about the integration partners you work with that allow users to support VILT?

BC: At SumTotal, we have focused on integrating with the primary providers in the web conferencing, virtual meeting space—WebEx, Zoom, Adobe Connect, and so forth. By doing so we cover over 99% of the platforms our customers utilize. Familiarity with the virtual training platform is important, so users see a more transparent experience. We will continue to look to our customer base and their needs to drive future integrations.

RT: Very good to know—being seamlessly integrated with other platforms is so valuable. For an organization making the transition from traditional, in-person ILT to VILT, what are some key items to keep in mind?

BC: There are two areas that need to be evaluated and understood for the success of any VILT initiative. The first is of course the technology. You must leverage your platform in a way that ensures the trackability of delivered VILT sessions.

The second is the content and delivery. Learners will not sign up for a PowerPoint being read to them. Engagement is critical—there needs to be a level of engagement for each learner that is more than in an in-person event. A successful VILT session needs:

  • Clarity in the registration and access to the event.
  • Content that has been developed for the sole purpose of virtual delivery.
  • A presenter who understands how to present and engage remote learners.
  • A “producer” who manages the virtual room. This might entail troubleshooting, answering chats or changing slides.

RT: What can you say about the evolution of VILT as part of L&D strategy?

BC: What has evolved over the years is not only a cost-savings approach, but a more efficient and scalable way to train distributed audiences in a shorter timeframe. This has provided organizations an alternative medium to their audiences that couldn’t find a way to attend an on-premise meeting or do not feel comfortable with an eLearning course.

RT: Any other topics we should be addressing related to VILT that we haven’t yet discussed?

BC: Test, Test, Test, Test… The fastest way to kill any VILT program is if your learners cannot even access the environment. Review the steps necessary to register and attend a VILT event.  If your attendees cannot overcome the technical challenges to attend your online event, you’ll burn up all your time and effort just getting people into the session. That will frustrate both the learner and presenter.

Multiple VILT events can be scheduled and done more efficiently since the traffic is virtual. However, schedules can fall apart like dominoes falling if attendees cannot join. Consider job aids, follow-up emails, or test sessions to overcome those issues.

And lastly, my shameless plug, SumTotal is already VILT capable. The connections between a robust learning platform needed for classroom management is already integrated with the various delivery platforms. Our clients can schedule VILT sessions, just like their ILT sessions. Once they have made the connection between the two platforms, they can quickly stand up and track Virtual ILT sessions just like they did for the in-person sessions.

Interviewed by Ryan Tidwell who is a content marketer at SumTotal/Skillsoft

This may be a good time for an HR makeover

Most departments of most businesses have asked team members to work remotely. If you’re an HR professional, this has probably added to your workload—it’s your responsibility to guide a concerned, confused and probably displaced workforce forward. Any issues with your HR or Talent Development program may come to the forefront and it may be time to consider an audit and overhaul. […]

Most departments of most businesses have asked team members to work remotely. If you’re an HR professional, this has probably added to your workload—it’s your responsibility to guide a concerned, confused and probably displaced workforce forward. Any issues with your HR or Talent Development program may come to the forefront and it may be time to consider an audit and overhaul.

If you’re familiar with Chef Robert Irvine, you’ve probably seen his restaurant make-over show “Restaurant Impossible.” The show is a bit of a mash-up of Dr. Phil, Extreme Makeover and Restaurant 101 for restaurants and their owners. Over the past few years, I’ve met a few organizations, particularly the Learning and Talent teams, that could benefit from an intervention of this type. I’m not saying I’m the Robert Irvine of Learning and Development, but many organizations could stand to have an outside opinion to truly break out of their comfort zones and make needed changes.

The sequence of events for each show is essentially the same. In the beginning, Chef Irvine meets the restaurant owner and assesses the décor, quality of the service and, of course, the food. Later in the show, he analyzes the profit and loss to see how the restaurant is managing cash flow. The whole process from mess to amazing happens in 24 hours with only ten thousand dollars.

Many HR and Talent Development programs need an intervention

Of course, with today’s challenges, the need is greater than ever to have a sober look in the mirror and be open to making changes. What are your employees telling you? Are they able to find the information and content they desire? Is the content fresh and relevant? Find a feedback channel to get an employee’s honest reactions to what is being offered.

Mixing metaphors below, let’s look at the criteria for change that Chef Irvine reviews:

1. Décor: User-Interface

What does your site look like? What is the employee experience? Could it use a make-over? If you’ve heard feedback that your site(s) are confusing, busy or not intuitive, it may be time for a makeover. The rise of the employee experience and consumer tendencies has made the job much harder for HR systems to get by with a poor interface. It’s time to find a way to revamp, redesign or purchase a new platform. Keep in mind the 24-hour/ten-thousand-dollar budget for the show. You may not need to make a huge expense or even replace a system. Look internally, there’s probably someone already on your team or in your organization just waiting for the chance to redesign the site.

2. Service: Career Development

Similar to the employee experience, what is the expectation or reality of getting help, advising or guidance for employees? Employee expectations today are much different than just a few years ago. Employees want to feel a purpose and are looking for coaching/mentoring/advice; they need to see a path for them in an organization or they’ll leave. What resources can be allocated/re-aligned or developed to help support learner needs or career aspirations? Hint, it won’t be the LMS Admin.

3. Profit & Loss

Like Chef Irvine, I’m so surprised at how little some restaurants understand their costs when it comes to the budget. One of the questions asked upfront is, “what is your food cost?” Shockingly, many do not have a clear idea of how much they are losing per menu item. A similar parallel is to ask organizations what their annual spend is for employee talent development programs. Training Magazine’s 2018 Industry Survey indicates the following:

Overall, on average, companies spent $986 per learner this year compared with $1,075 per learner in 2017. Government/military organizations spent the most per learner this year ($1,433), followed by nonprofit organizations ($1,360). Midsize companies spent less ($858) than large ($1,046) and small ($1,096) companies. This should be at least a benchmark/baseline when it comes to determining the spend for many Learning & Talent Development programs

4. Food: Content

What are you serving? Is it stale day-old bread or just bland and boring? Content operates the same way. Too often I see a buffet of flavorless content with a few dishes/courses being consumed while the rest languish. Consider your personal tastes and expectations. Would you frequent a restaurant that had a plentiful, but poor selection of dishes, or do you want to go somewhere where the dishes are fresh and well-prepared? Right-size purchased content that’s quality and retire bland outdated content. Again, I’m mixing metaphors, but consider this approach in the current environment.

5. The Owner: Internal Stakeholders

The most frequent and difficult part of any makeover is getting the buy-in of the restaurant owner. Pride, money, lack of knowledge or a perfect storm of events, are many of the reasons the restaurants are in their current state. The same can apply to Talent Development programs and the departments that oversee them. Of course, as a department within a larger organization, more environmental factors may be at play, but there’s usually a considerable amount of room to make changes. This is where Vice Presidents, Directors or Managers of these programs need tough love to make a change. It’s not easy, and unfortunately can’t be done in 24 hours.

The point to all this is changes can and should be made. I know because I’ve done this a few years back. The show actually inspired me to take many of the steps above to confront a dwindling program. Following a similar approach to Chef Irvine’s—with some creativity and adjustment—I was able to turn around a platform and program that many had come to dislike.

Changing the perception of a Learning and Talent Development Program is not easy, but under the current circumstances, it is imperative to have a program that, much like each show’s reveal, will get everyone excited and energized. If you can take away anything from this, it’s that you don’t need a ton of money, consultants or a new platform to make the change, just the will to take the first step.

9 Indicators of Workforce Success

The modern workplace is in a state of constant change. Successfully managing this perpetual motion is a challenge. What is becoming evident is that to do so requires giving talent management the same level of attention as operations, finance, and strategy. […]

9 Indicators of Workforce Success

The modern workplace is in a state of constant change. Successfully managing this perpetual motion is a challenge. What is becoming evident is that to do so requires giving talent management the same level of attention as operations, finance, and strategy.

Leveraging talent management to achieve better business outcomes

To win, organisations must integrate learning and talent management. If you can align with business goals, increase communication, and share these priorities across these three functions, you will enable employees and organisations to achieve strategic results.

How do you know if this collaboration is achieving the result you want? Easy. Here are nine key indicators that companies can use to establish where they are now and how to reach higher levels of excellence.

1. A people-centric culture

A “people-centric” culture plays a fundamental role in getting the best out of employees and can impact employee tenure. Easy to overlook, culture determines both the way employees interact with one another and how well the organisation functions collectively. Enterprises that foster a healthy culture recognise it directly correlates to employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. Plus, employees today often seek out employers for their culture, ahead of pay and benefits packages.

2. HR plays a critical role in the company’s people strategy

Many HR departments struggle to connect with their employee base fully. Often, they are left feeling like they’re pushing boulders uphill to encourage participation in HR programs.

To redress this attitude, organisations must analyse the employee lifecycle and address each member of their workforce as a unique individual. If possible, utilise the Chief People Officer (CHRO) to position the learning and talent functions and promote them as critical contributors to the company’s success.

3. Curation strategy aligns with organisational needs

Learning and development (L&D) is shifting from internal programs aimed at training people to innovative environments that encourage employees to develop themselves. In more advanced organisations, employees are motivated to take active and proactive roles in their professional development. In some instances, organisations are even allowing employees, not just subject matter experts, to contribute to the development of learning content.

4. A sharp focus on the user experience

Today’s users expect more from HR, learning and development, and the user experience (UX) they deliver. Ideally, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art design principles should equate to next-generation, consumer-grade learning experiences that are simple, effective, and enjoyable. HR and L&D must explore and implement learning technologies that compel employees to explore more of their capabilities. What sort of technologies? Ones that improve decision making, save time through automation, reduce the potential for errors, and deliver personalised value to each employee. The use of robust employee profiles is essential to driving personalisation and relevance to the platform experience.

5. An advanced technology infrastructure

When an organisation interweaves rich employee profiles with intelligent learning and talent management software, the results are extraordinary. High performing organisations, i.e., those that are getting results, use their learning platforms to exploit the advantage big data algorithms provide. They build out ‘smart systems’ that get more intuitive over time. HR and L&D can then leverage insights into workforce capacity, and capability to maintain organisational agility. This ability is crucial as it facilitates adaptation to changing industry dynamics, regulatory laws, and information technology standards.

6. Elective participation

An organisation can gauge the level of support for its talent and learning strategy by the degree of elective participation it receives from learners. Ideally, organisations will benefit from advocates who turn toward the HR experience to continue to grow capabilities and cultivate careers. There is more employee “pull” because the value of HR programs and applications is contextual and accessible in the employee’s moments of need. More mature organisations also leverage engagement tactics fuelled by big data to encourage more voluntary participation.

7. Solid governance

HR’s ability to instil authority is a clear sign of its maturity level. At an earlier stage of maturity, it is common for organisations to establish steering committees of key stakeholders from across the business, which eventually transitions into formal command structures. In fully mature organisations, the oversight for learning and talent management jurisdiction is clear and intuitive. These organisations also operate from a fact base of data to optimise efficiency and continually enhance their effectiveness.

8. Getting funding is painless

As an organisation’s funding strategy improves, it becomes easier to work collaboratively with those in charge of procurement and other stakeholders. More evolved companies recognise talent as a critical investment that directly influences the organisation’s strategic success. Therefore, at the higher levels of maturity, investment in learning and development programs often exceeds industry benchmarks.

9. Higher utilisation of reporting and measurement

Data is everything. Data-driven decisions are now more prevalent everywhere, and HR is no exception. As organisations transform beyond traditional HR practices, it makes sense to define a clear and comprehensive measurement strategy for all L&D programs and initiatives. Be sure to stress the importance of making the business impact a key performance indicator of success.