How to Train Your Teams Remotely in an Era of Distraction

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5 tips for training and engaging remote employees in a time of constant notifications, social media scrolls, Alexa, and Siri.

In about five minutes, your cell phone most likely will ring or ping. In the next hour, you’ll have received a dozen or more e-mails, your browser will have sent at least one push notification, and your smart home system will remind you to water your plants.

Over the last few decades, our world has been turning into a distracting environment, and learning could not stay unaffected. In fact, research has shown that even the tiniest mobile notification can have a tremendous effect on students. Why would your employees be the exception?

Recently, TalentLMS talked with 11 Learning and Development (L&D) experts to discuss the best practices for training remote workers. With the rising trend of remote training due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with 7 in 10 remote workers longing for more courses, companies need to educate themselves on how to make the most of their remote employee training.

Here are five tips for training and engaging remote employees in a time of constant notifications, social media scrolls, Alexa, and Siri.

Tip #1: Ask questions to keep learners hooked

Let’s be honest. Distractions are not a one-way street, and learners might not be responsible for not paying attention to their training. To avoid this so-called learner fatigue, and stop your employees from scrolling endlessly on Facebook during training, you need to keep them engaged.

Stella Collins from Stellar Labs and Brian Washburn from Train Like a Champion told TalentLMS that the #1 secret to remote employee engagement is keeping the conversation going and asking questions. As they say, instructors shouldn’t just talk to people, but speak with them. They need to keep learners involved by asking questions and allowing them to interact with each other.

But, if for some reason, you don’t want anyone to jump in and interrupt the training’s flow, online training tools nowadays come with chat and poll features so employees can comment or vote in real time.

Tip #2: Make PowerPoint fun and sharpen your presentation skills

In 2010, a Slideshare deck went viral because it stated the obvious: Most people suck at PowerPoint. No matter how much technology has advanced, presentations still are one of the most popular ways to deliver online training. Since your remote learners will have to watch their screen when they’re taking their online course, you need to make sure that what they’re seeing catches the eye and is visually appealing.

Think of it as a compelling book that no matter what happened around you, you just want to keep reading. To create engaging presentations, instructors, according to PPT expert Jesse Desjardins, need to obey five simple design rules:

  • Avoid cluttered slides: When delivering an online course, you’re not giving a document, you’re giving a presentation. Keep your text concise, to the point, and relevant. If you want your learners to know more about something, just talk and don’t add too much text on each slide.
  • Add visuals: The reason Instagram became one of the most prominent social networks ever is that it’s based on images. People love visuals, and, to keep them engaged, you need to add fun and attractive artwork to your PPT.
  • Add good visuals: Forget about stock photos that have no inspiration. Make it fun and memorable.
  • Add fewer visuals: Now that we’ve talked about how much images can raise up a presentation, you might feel the urge to add as many as possible. Stop right there. Adding too many visuals will have the exact opposite effect, and people will feel distracted and confused. Keep it subtle.
  • Prepare in advance: Don’t just read slides. Deliver interesting information and get ready beforehand. Test punchlines before training begins, have a joke up your sleeve for when the time is right, and don’t be afraid to rehearse.

Tip #3: Don’t try to recreate offline, classroom training

Tim Slade, a freelance eLearning designer, says the most common mistake instructors make is to recreate the offline experience. Training on-site is an entirely different story because, first of all, it’s not that static, and second, you don’t have to add interactivity to your training mix — it’s there along with all these people.

With online learning, to engage remote workers, you need to rethink training activities and content, make the necessary adjustments, move it online, and take advantage of your platform. Also, according to Slade, content must be broken into shorter sessions and avoid exhausting hour-long Webinars.

Ashley Chiasson, an eLearning developer and long-time remote worker, agrees that chunking learning into smaller pieces is a wise decision. She suggests, “Break each concept down into their smaller parts (or chunks) and teach each chunk until you reach the greater whole so learners can fully learn the concept you are teaching them.”

Tip #4: Create stories learners can relate to

Learning experience design consultant Christy Tucker knows a lot about stories. As a sci-fi geek and an avid Dungeons and Dragons player, she believes that when people talk about eLearning engagement, they often refer to just clicking buttons. This approach, however, is not sustainable.

To ensure remote workers are fully engaged in their training, you need to achieve cognitive and emotional engagement. An effective way to do so is to use scenarios.

Create scenarios with relatable characters employees can see themselves in, and make sure they have the same problems your learners do. Narrate a story, stress problems, and ask your remote employees to solve them so they can keep the story going.

Based on these characters, you can use quizzes and exercises, discussion, or even real-life simulations, which, according to instructional designer Marina Arshavskiy, are enough to get learners to actively participate.

Tip #5: Engage remote workers by having them engage with each other

Connie Malamed, a popular figure in the eLearning community, told TalentLMS that learning should be a journey and not a one-time intervention.

Remote workers need to be exposed to opportunities to practice, get feedback, and discuss problems and challenges with each other. This will promote a concept of unofficial mentoring that will allow people to shine and become self-directed learners.

And the moment they become self-directed, you will know they’ve become 100 percent engaged.

The world is changing, and companies (exactly like people) need to adjust. The training industry is gaining momentum, and, as far as online training goes, it’s now or never.

Follow the tips described above and prove to yourself, your employees, and managers that online training is not only the best alternative for these once-in-a-lifetime events but the best way to go.

Aris Apostolopoulos is a faithful follower of the eLearning mentality and a cosmonaut in orbit around the latest trends in the eLearning solar system. After multiple, around-the-eLearning-universe tours, his spaceship has landed on TalentLMS. This is where he publishes articles related to eLearning, the continuous learning philosophy, as well as posts on the latest industry news and trends.