7 Things We’ve Learned From a Year (And Some) of Live, Online Training
For a company that has specialized in, and has prided itself on, delivering immersive in-person training (including our Android and iOS bootcamps), the last year and a half has presented unprecedented challenges. How would we keep going when we could not practice the craft we had honed for so long? Could we adapt when we could not rely only on the in-person experience we had created for our students?
At the time, it was an easy decision to shift our focus to virtual learning, but translating the BNR experience to live, online learning has required a lot of ingenuity, flexibility, and hard work. As I reflect on the journey, I’ve realized that we learned a lot about what it takes to deliver a great online experience. Here are seven things we have learned.
1. Our instructors and students are incredibly resilient.
I still remember March 13 of 2020 and talking to one of our instructors who was in the field trying to figure out if we should continue with the class. And March 15 when we were trying to figure out how to get another instructor back to California before it shut down due to the pandemic. At that time, we were running all of our training exclusively in person. There were a couple of small exceptions where we had done a live, virtual workshop, but we had not done it at any kind of scale. The fact that we were able to pivot to live, online training and continue serving our students and clients with high-quality training was amazing to see and has been a testament to how hardworking and dedicated our instructors are.
2. Teaching online has opened some surprising doors.
If you had told me that having to pivot to live, online training would actually open doors for BNR in 2020, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. What I have seen has shown quite the opposite. Training students virtually has allowed us to serve some groups which we have not historically been able to help. Specifically, we have been able to train teams overseas where the cost of having an instructor travel to their location would have been prohibitive. We have also been able to serve distributed teams where in-person training would never make sense because it would be cost-prohibitive to require all of the team members to travel to a specific place.
3. Students appreciate the investment in their development, especially in a difficult time.
Over the last year and a half, everyone has struggled. Our struggles have not always looked the same, but life has been more isolated, disconnected, and draining for all of us. A lot of employers decided to “tighten their belts” when it came to expenses such as training, which can be perceived as a luxury. The reality, though, is that employers who invested in training within the past year will reap dividends from it for a long time to come. We have seen employees really appreciate the investment in their development and the chance for them to learn a new set of skills. Providing live, online, immersive training for employees even in a pandemic showed that the organization really cared for and valued them with a willingness to invest not just in good times but also in difficult ones.
4. It takes even more energy from the instructor to create a successful learning environment.
This feels like a distillation of the entire COVID-induced working and living environment we have all found ourselves in. The truth is, there is something about human contact that creates energy. Being in a room with your peers and with an experienced instructor, having the chance to interact both formally and informally without the friction of technology, and the spontaneity that comes from such an environment, are difficult things to recreate in a virtual setting. We have found that our instructors have to be extra diligent and bring their very best in terms of positive energy to get the best out of themselves and their students.
5. Students can learn (and learn a lot) in a virtual environment.
We have seen time and again that our students are still learning from our classes and are learning at a high rate. This showed up in one client who reported that their devs were working on and contributing to a new iOS project just weeks after taking their training. For another client, it was another manager noticing “you guys have a mobile team now?” after their teams had taken iOS and Android training with us. For a course we taught for some recent college graduates, it was them being able to ace job interviews for junior programming positions. And for a React training client, it was having a team that could use modern frameworks for front-end development.
Our student survey results have borne this out as well. Students have told us overwhelmingly that the Virtual Class Environment has met or exceeded their expectations. Stories like this have shown us that live virtual training in an immersive environment can be just as effective as in-person learning
6. We have to get creative with ways to gauge student progress
It is still very important for us to know where students are as we progress through our courses, so we have had to get creative with how to determine that. We use a variety of techniques to do this. Some of our instructors have used quizzes or self-assessments to help both them and the students know how they are doing. Others have used Slack polls to better understand what students need at various points. Still, others have used things like Slack emoji to have students indicate when they are finished with a certain section and are ready to move on. And we have also taken more pains to meet one-on-one with students throughout the class, even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes so that we can make that personal connection that would have been more natural in a live classroom setting.
7. Framing, pacing, and positivity matter even more.
Given that daily stresses have been amplified tenfold over the past year, how we talk to students about the training experience has mattered even more. Student empathy is one of the cornerstones of our training approach, and our belief that students may have zero prior knowledge but that they have infinite intelligence or the ability to learn something new fuels our drive to deliver great training. So, we have had to be even more conscious of how we talk to the students about the training. Making sure that students continue to understand that they will make progress no matter where they are starting from and that we are there to support them in their journey has taken on even greater importance.
Online training is our new normal and we’re ok with that.
Ultimately, what we’ve learned is that live, online training is here to stay and will now form part of our training business going forward. While we continue to believe that immersive, in-person learning is special and can do special things, we realize that you (our students and clients) will have legitimate reasons for pursuing live, online training. Whether it’s that the team has members located in different geographies, the training is too short to make the cost of travel worthwhile, or the team actually prefers having a live, virtual environment, it is important for us to continue to meet you where you are. Hang in there and stay safe. And we wish you happy coding.
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Big Nerd Ranch
Eric joined Big Nerd Ranch in the spring of 2019 to lead the training initiatives and brings a wealth of experience in both training and consultancy work.