One of the big problems with the Waterfall (or traditional) model is that it is not based on reality; it assumes that it’s possible to finish each phase completely and then pass the baton to the next team to do their part, and so on, until the end. But we already know the results of this way of working…
Likewise, many trainings also have a linear approach to teaching content. The topics are developed in a strict sequential order, one after the other without going back. Each block is a complete unit: “We have finished with point 3… now we can start with 4.” It is like a train that only moves forward, stopping at each station and unable to go back.
This approach usually has several problems. One of the most obvious is the cognitive overload for students, who generally disconnect during class. But in addition, the linear model is based on the approach, “We are going to cover this topic once, so pay attention!”, and it assumes that students effectively learn when they are exposed to each point on the agenda once.
What if someone has not understood all the points of a topic? Are you really in a position to move on to the next one?
These two problems are compounded in virtual training design due to technology and tool limitations, which usually lead to a degrade communication and interaction between all participants.
The Spiral Model for Virtual Training Design
User experience (UX) designers, especially in video games, apply a spiral model to keep users engaged and motivated through the stages. In this approach, each new unit of knowledge is the key to “go to the next level”. Users iterate through the topics, reviewing each block from different sides, integrating them, and putting in context the points seen before. Iterating through the topics allows users to quickly obtain knowledge in detail, integrate it, and draw conclusions.
We also know that the spiral model comes closest to the way we learn, and yet the designers of learning experiences (instructors, teachers, authors of technical books) often do not apply it nor take it into account. How many of us have finished a course with the feeling that we have been exposed to a lot of content but were unable to do anything useful with what we “learned”?
A good way to address the challenges of virtual sessions is to change the linear approach to a more iterative one (spiral), which allows students to maintain the level of interest and to participate in activities that help them to fix their knowledge. This model is more flexible and tolerant than the linear one because it allows students to progress incrementally through the content.
Virtual learning should take this spiral approach just like video games. If we also combine the iterative approach with the ideas of gamification, we can design a unique, human, and emotional learning experience for students. And if the experience is unique, human, and emotional, the learning is unforgettable. Bingo!
Gamification for Virtual Training Design
Gamification proposes applying the mechanics and techniques of the game world in other contexts. The purpose is to achieve goals – in this case, learning objectives – while having fun.
One of the principles of gamification is that the rules should be simple to understand. In virtual training design, this point is especially important when the ability to communicate directly is reduced. The students need a set of simple and visible rules that allow them to understand all aspects of the training: scheduled itinerary, break times, instructions for activities, how they should interact, etc. Simplicity and transparency help students maintain focus and interest. Simplicity is also a criterion that we must apply in the selection of training tools. And of course, it is important to test these tools in advance in different scenarios.
Another interesting concept of gamification is autonomy. How do we make the participants autonomous in virtual training? It is not enough to explain and show the instructions on the screen once. It is more effective, for example, to give each participant a document with all the instructions for the activities and games. That way, everyone has everything they need to resume the course thread if they get lost at some point… we already know that there are always interruptions, connection drops, and unforeseen events.
Without motivation, learning is impossible. Is it possible to increase students’ motivation in virtual training? In gamification, rewards and points are used to encourage participants and keep them engaged. It is important that the opportunities to obtain these rewards appear frequently and even unexpectedly – the surprise factor. Collecting “things” satisfies three central motivations of participants: it gives them a sense of healthy competition to achieve objectives (especially in teams), it gives them autonomy to decide when to collect them, and it encourages relationships among them by sharing and comparing their own collection of rewards.
It would be useful to design similar motivation mechanisms in virtual training design. We could start with something as simple as assigning points for punctuality and completion of activities. But we can also reward them by giving them the opportunity to adjust some aspects of the training as they go along. Today’s collaboration tools do not allow us to manage these rewards as easily as we do with face-to-face training, but it is only a matter of time…
Another interesting point of gamification that fits perfectly with the spiral model is the narrative (storytelling) in the presentation of the content. Creating an explanation that connects the topics to each other, that acts as a thread from beginning to end, allows for coherence in the content and improves the learning experience.
Tension Pushes Us Towards Change
Virtual training existed long before 2021, but it is obvious that the Coronavirus took it to a completely unknown level. A fundamental belief we have is that “nothing changes in the absence of tension.” The tension – that tinge of discomfort, even with a hint of panic, that moment of “Noooo!” – unsettles us all. But that agony of change, which we all hate, is also a great catalyst for creativity.
Virtual training design can be a challenge. In short, it means rethinking and revising a lot of things. But it also provides a great opportunity to reinvent formats and experiment with techniques and concepts from other disciplines, mix them up, and give them a spin.
If you are faced with the challenges of providing virtual training, our Training from Behind the Screen course can help you gain techniques and activities to connect with students interactively. We designed this course based on the concepts from Training From the Back of the Room, but adapted the content for virtual delivery.