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Online Teaching and Training in the Post-Pandemic World

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
August 14, 2021

Barring any dramatic changes wrought by the Delta and Lambda variants of COVID-19, a colleague and I will present at the 2021 Association for Talent Development International Conference and Exposition. The conference will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, with remote options available for participants. Dr. Dana Sims and I will present in person in Salt Lake City on our experiences in rapidly preparing government organizations to shift their training to 100% online.

At the same time, I was moving most of my organization’s training online. I helped with the transition to online teaching at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. I have an advantage because I was an early adopter of online teaching since 2002. I have seen the technology evolve to be more engaging and effective for the students in that time.

In our presentation, Dr. Sims and I will address the top four challenges to moving 100% online.

  1. Technology flexibility and acceptance.
  2. Standards for online training.
  3. Attitudes towards online training.
  4. Online training skills of the training and teaching staff.

Before the Quarantine

In our experience, online training in government agencies was considered a weaker alternative to face-to-face training. Online training was only used if it wasn’t possible to provide in-person training. There are examples of innovative online training, but these examples are rare because there was no real pressure to improve. In most cases, online learning was like early movies where moviemakers just filmed live stage plays. Only later, filmmakers experimented with new filming techniques such as special effects, lighting effects and artistic camera angles to tell unique stories with cinema.

At a previous government training department where I worked, I led the project to help the trainers become certified in online training facilitation and production. Most of the staff were eager to take the training except for two training professionals who opposed any attempts to give up in-person training. One staff member left the agency for another training job so they wouldn’t have to do online training. I wonder how they coped with the rush to online training in 2020.

Immediately After the Quarantine

In terms of the top four challenges, Dr. Sims and I found that the attitudes toward online training dramatically improved as learners became quickly accustomed to the online environment. There may be several reasons for the increased acceptance of online training, including how fast the online meeting technologies adopted to the new online world. In addition, it seemed like new technological enhancements were being introduced continuously as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx and other tech companies were trying to grab more market share.

The skills of the training and teaching staff also improved significantly. Universities and government agencies provided numerous opportunities for helping trainers and university faculty become adept at online teaching and training. However, Dr. Sims and I found that the standards for online training remained the same. Online training standards showed no improvement because trainers and teachers tried to replicate the complete in-person experience in the online environment. One example is the overuse of breakout rooms as a way of making the online experience engaging. It was when Zoom fatigue became a significant concern.

One Year into the Quarantine

A year after the quarantine, there has been little change with the top four challenges. Learners still have highly favorable opinions of online learning, although attitudes have declined because of Zoom fatigue. You may have heard online learners refuse to turn on their cameras, ask if they could view the recording rather than attend the live session and complain about being in “another breakout group.” And Zoom fatigue has now become the Zoom Gaze—in the online environment. We can now watch ourselves as just another participant in the training while we are simultaneously presenting. The Zoom Gaze has dramatically changed the power dynamics in the classroom.

Trainers and teachers have become better at online instructional design and delivery. Online training and teaching technology have also become more sophisticated. However, standards for online training have changed little. Dr. Sims and I believe that this is because many trainers and teachers consider that the current emphasis on online training and teaching is temporary. Soon, things will return to the “normal world” of in-person training and teaching.

Back to the Workplace?

But will training and teaching return to what it was like before the quarantine? According to a 2021 McKinsey Global Survey, “Skill building is more prevalent than it was prior to the pandemic, with 69% of organizations doing more skill building now than they did before the COVID-19 crisis.” These organizations are using a blend of digital learning and in-person teaching techniques to bring about skill building for the new post-quarantine world. Is the hybrid model of teaching and training the new reality?

Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Navy’s Inspector General Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.

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