May 31, 2020

Face-to-face training has wriggly mortis

Seal on rocks in aquarium

I remember a long time ago in a land far away I visited a marine park and watched a performance by the resident sea lions and their trainer. He made the usual gags such as explaining why they are so hard to spot in the wild (by the way, it’s because their colourful beach balls are usually packed in their bags).

In one section of the show, he was telling a story which the well-trained sea lions were acting out using various props. It was a story of love and piracy on the high seas, and at one point, the pirate sea lion pressed the lever on a canon and shot the hero of the story, who immediately lay on his side and played dead. The hero, to the delight of the crowd, couldn’t maintain this pose for long and started twitching. It is one of the enduring memories from my childhood – I can still hear the handler saying, “It’s okay, he only has wriggly mortis”.

I am reminded of this hero sea lion when I think of the current state of face-to-face training. Despite rumours to the contrary, it certainly isn’t dead. It has wriggly mortis.

Our hero will come back to life, but the question is whether this will be a resurrection to better things, or some zombie undead thing. Maybe I watch too many movies!

We are in the middle of a huge enforced experiment and learning a lot about remote delivery of learning. Change is here; some of it is valuable change, and some of it is not. One large organisation I have worked with in the past are doing what they call “emergency remote training”, but they know full well that this is only a stopgap measure and they will have to revisit these courses for a more thorough redesign process. We need to notice what changes are working well, and then fight to keep them. The ‘masters of the old order’ will soon be pulling us back to the old ways of working. We need to fight to keep what is good about the new.

I have asked many people how much face-to-face training they think will come back in our new normal as some social distancing rules continue and many organisations seek more virtual business models. I get figures ranging up to 50% but so far no-one who I would deem credible, as opposed to hopeful, has said more than that. That has got to be a very scary prospect for a training company that does not want to diversify its delivery model. It is also scary for in-house L&D teams who are going to need more in the future than their expertise to design and deliver traditional training.

I think there will be a ‘fight’ between those who are embracing the new and those who, for one reason or another, are scared of the new. Who will win?

It won’t be a knockout victory. It will be a split decision, so asking if face-to-face training is dead is perhaps not the right question. Better to ask what we are really trying to deliver to our customers. Behaviour change? Memorised facts? Compliance exam pass mark? Attitude? A specific mindset?

Then we should think about what the optimum way would be to deliver this outcome (considering both efficiency and effectiveness), and if any components of the delivery absolutely require synchronous instructor time. Then we can decide if that synchronous time needs to be face-to-face, or if it can be remote. To me, there is a logical approach to the thinking and design process to move our traditional face-to-face training courses into a remote delivery model. Notice that I used the phrase ‘remote delivery’ rather than virtual training. There is a big difference which is vital if you are going to get training/learning in the new world right.

Over the last few weeks, I have developed a tutorial on how to approach the redesign of face-to-face training, so it is fit for remote delivery. I have run this tutorial for a few organisations and in one case they already had a team working on training redesign for the ‘new normal’. They changed their approach after my session with them.

If you want to know more, here is a simple flyer with more information.

My best wishes, Paul

Paul Matthews

CEO and Founder of People Alchemy

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