3 Secrets of Workshop Facilitators: Leverage Them to Author eLearning Rapidly

Lecture at university.I personally love facilitated, in-person training workshops. I relish the idea of taking a break from work and life (particularly if it’s at an exotic location or a posh hotel) and to sit back and absorb learning away from the fires of daily life. In-person workshops also provide the opportunity to congregate with peers in a casual setting and to grow professional networks.

Unfortunately, I usually can’t justify the expense of such workshops, nor afford the luxury of extended time off from work. For these reasons and more, online training is replacing traditional training.

Fortunately, as an instructional designer, you can leverage the secrets used by expert workshop facilitators to rapidly create talked-about content for your online training. And, the technology embedded in online training tools makes it easy to duplicate the positive parts of facilitator-led workshops while removing the not-so-positive parts.

Here are three secrets of expert workshop facilitators and how you can adapt them to rapidly author online training experiences that rival, or surpass, facilitator-led workshop experiences.

SECRET#1: Make the Learners Do the Bulk of the Work

Facilitators can sustain a training workshop for hours, or even days, at a time because the participants pretty much do all of the work during the workshop itself. Good facilitators know that the bulk of the material in a training workshop is created by the learners during breakout sessions, group activities, and other learner-led assignments. That’s a fortunate fact, because it’s impossible—and mind-numbingly boring—for a facilitator to be “the sage on the stage” for extended periods of time. And luckily, people are more engaged when you give them fun, in-class assignments anyway. So, it works out for the best for everyone if the facilitator plays the role of the “guide on the side” who facilitates experiential learning among the participants.

So how do you leverage secret #1 to rapid create online training courses?

Don’t waste time creating hours of detailed content for online training. Create brief overviews of the main topics. The more targeted the module is to the learner’s daily job, the more context the learner will bring to the training.

And, create fun activities that result in learning. For example, do your learners need to know how to complete a task step-by-step by the end of the learning module? Include an activity where small groups of learners create the steps themselves (or videotape a subject matter expert completing these steps), and post the resulting file to a share site. If the steps change over time, an activity to update the existing file can be incorporated into a follow up learning module.

Don’t spend weeks or months creating detailed learning content. Shorten the design lifecycle by creating activities where the learners develop and share the learning content themselves. Your learners will learn more from doing actual work during training than from reading detailed text telling them what they need to know.

SECRET #2: Use Pre-Packaged Content & Templates

Many facilitators pay to become officially certified by niche training vendors to facilitate workshops using these vendors' canned content. Using pre-packaged content allows facilitators to deliver a workshop with only a few days’ to a few weeks’ notice. It’s a very cost-effective way to deliver training workshops repeatedly.

The downside is that canned courses are highly generic, with no specificity to the work situations of a particular company's work environment. Never underestimate the power of a customized workshop (which only the best facilitators bother to create).

So how do you leverage secret #2 to rapid create online training courses?

If you create online training programs you are in a unique position to use pre-packaged content. And especially if you used cloud-based authoring tools, you can easily customize content for each learner audience.

First, investigate if any pre-packaged content or templates already exist that you can leverage. Often, the answer is in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with uploading PowerPoint into your LMS and using that content as a basis for your online training. It’s fashionable these days to denounce PowerPoint as boring. To those people I say, “Don’t blame PowerPoint. Blame the person who created that awful presentation.” So by all means, reuse those materials. Just remember to remove unnecessary slides that get lost in the translation between a live presentation and online. Add narration, keep it short, use appropriate graphics and don’t make it text-heavy. But most importantly, be resourceful and reuse existing content.

But, don’t use generic content. Trust me, if you make the examples in your content or activities based on the actual work that your learners do in their own jobs, the learner mind shift towards positive engagement with your training content will increase exponentially.

SECRET #3: It’s All About Break Time

Attending a live training workshop gives you the ability to meet peers face-to-face. Social networking and informal learning often happens during in-class breaks and evening social events at multi-day training events. The networking opportunities help to keep the buzz around the training session high, and encourages post-training conversations.

So how do you leverage secret #3 to rapidly create online training courses? When creating online training, enable live conversations to occur before, during, and after the training. Fortunately, it takes very little time to design learning experiences that enable such conversations. You just have to provide the opportunity and the incentives for people to want to take part in these conversations. If you do it right, the participants will do the rest.

Some ideas for fostering social collaboration during online training include:

  • Create buzz by sending pre- and post- training surveys, videos, or links to relevant articles and documents.
  • Organize online discussion groups using Yammer to keep the conversations going.
  • Ask key participants to create follow-up training modules. These can be short (two to seven minutes) that hone in on a single aspect of learning needed on the job.
  • Ask learners to submit short videos of people completing important tasks on the job. Assemble these “how-to” videos into a follow-up training module(s).
  • Design breaks into online training modules, where the learners must walk away from the computer and go and talk to a colleague or create a job aid or any other relevant assignment, before training can be resumed.

Use Content to Spark the Conversation, Not to End All Discussion

Think about the in-person training workshops you’ve attended (the good ones). How much time was spent teaching content, and how much time was spent on experiential group learning activities? How much time did the facilitator talk, versus how much time did the participants talk while the facilitator simply asked leading questions from the side of the room?

Spending undue time creating content is a waste of time and can be overly didactic and controlling. Learners need to experience the learning, and that doesn’t necessarily mean experiencing one-way lectures. To fast track content creation for online training and to get your online training deployed instead of stagnating in the design phase, exploit these three secrets of successful workshop facilitators:

  1. Leverage your learners to create useful and relevant content for you via engaging activities.
  2. When possible, re-use existing organizational content, or pre-packaged content.
  3. Start the buzz before and extend it past the online training course itself, encourage people to talk, learn, apply knowledge and skills, and contribute to the organizational knowledge base.

What tips can you share to help instructional designers fast track content creation for online training?

Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

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