Online Training

How to Train People Effectively When You Can't Meet Face-to-Face

 Online Training - How to Train People Effectively When You Can't Meet Face-to-Face


Face up to the future with online training.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many teams to work from home for the first time. Essential training can't wait for the end of social distancing.

What's more, as many organizations adapt their approach to survive coronavirus, learning new skills takes on added importance right now.

With global teams working across different time zones, and flexible working on the rise, many businesses are already set up for online training. But don't worry if yours isn't one of them. Here, we explore ways to train people effectively when face-to-face isn't an option.

Types of Online Training

Online training lets organizations and managers teach people skills and knowledge over the internet via a computer, smartphone, or other device. It can involve:

  • Asynchronous training such as e-learning courses, videos, and facilitated discussion forums, that people can access when they want to.
  • Synchronous or live training where multiple learners take part at the same time, interact with the trainer and one another through virtual classrooms, webinars and online chat tools.

Online Training vs. Online Learning

With online training, you're training employees to understand and master the skills, processes and procedures they need to do their job. You can also help to instil the behaviors, attitudes and competencies that you and your organization expect.

That could be getting up to speed with the latest computer software, completing a health and safety course, or recognizing everyone's role in an inclusive and diverse workplace.

Not all learning requires someone to facilitate it "live," either online or face-to-face. Creative, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, for example, can be developed on your own with online learning. Our article, Virtual Learning, sets out how to maximize the impact of this type of learning.

How to Create and Develop Online Training

As physics professor Rhett Allain writes in Wired, "Lectures started in medieval universities where one person would read a book aloud so others could copy it. Yeah, we're still essentially doing that same thing – but we don't have to. So, if we are going to move everything online, let's at least do it right."

So, here are our top tips for developing effective online training.

1. Take Stock

Making your face-to-face training fit for an online audience is a great opportunity to revisit what outcomes it's meant to achieve for you, your trainees, and your business. So, consider:

  • What's the organizational goal behind your training? (To win new business, for example.)
  • What do learners need to do to reach this goal? (To improve their communication skills, for example)
  • What actions must they take to meet this goal? (Host a webinar on an area of their expertise, for example.)

Our article on Action Programs can guide you to ensure that your course content hits the mark.

2. Prioritize and Repurpose

You can't fit a whole awayday of training into one online session. But that can be a positive, as it forces you to think differently and prioritize the content that really matters.

For example, a 20-minute video, follow-up quiz, and group chat feedback session could replace that awayday, and avoid overwhelming your learners.

You can also repurpose the best bits from your face-to-face training. Can the PowerPoint be a branching scenario (interactive form of learning) on an e-learning course? Can your icebreaker be even better on a Zoom call? Why not redesign and email out that case study to your trainees?


You could also consider the "flipped classroom" model. This is where you provide learners with reading materials before a virtual class session. That way, they'll better absorb your training and have more fruitful discussions.

3. Involve Your Trainees

A recent Gartner study found that 70 percent of employees say they don't have the skills they need for their jobs. So, as part of your planning, if appropriate, ask your trainees what skills and knowledge they need to do their job better. You can also ask how they'd like to be trained online, and which apps they are familiar with.

4. Involve Managers

As you prepare your online session, it's a good idea to seek input from other managers and your L&D department. The U.K. Government's Employer Skills Survey found that organizations with strong online L&D capabilities are 19 percent more likely to involve managers in the design of their solutions.

This is backed up by McKinsey research, which found that 48 percent of organizations that reskill say having the senior management team sponsor the programs helped them to succeed.


Read our article on maximizing the impact of training to discover how managers can support trainers and trainees to deliver a more positive outcome.

5. Communicate Your Training Outcomes

Now you have clear goals for your training, communicate them to your learners and the wider organization. Even if your audience is obligated to do the training, explaining how it will benefit them will increase buy-in. So, what new skills or knowledge will they gain? And will these new skills make them feel more confident, energized and creative? If so, tell them!

And when you do communicate, ditch the "what you'll learn" bullet points written in the language of the trainer. Instead, speak to them like they're colleagues and highlight the benefits to them. For example, "We're here to help you hit your sales targets – and boost your bonus." Our article, The 7 Cs of Communication, outlines how to maximize the impact of your message.

6. Attract the Right People

Setting out clear training outcomes will attract the right people to your course. Unless it's mandatory training, they'll grab the attention of those who are passionate about upskilling or reskilling.

Conducting a Training Needs Assessment will help you to identify the right team members you need to train to meet your goals. That includes those who initially think "this isn't for me," and other managers.

Read our article on the 4Ps of Delegates to hook and engage the right people with your training.

Choosing Online Training Platforms

Once you know the content of your online course, you'll want to choose an approach or platform to best present it. Your options include:

  • A digital toolkit like Mind Tools, with on-demand, multimedia resources.
  • Online communication and collaboration platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Facebook.
  • A learning management system (LMS) – software that hosts content for self-paced learning.


Don't feel like you must jump in and subscribe to a sophisticated and expensive LMS. Together with your learners and colleagues, you can test out what works and what doesn't – finding and adding the best mix of tools to meet your training objectives.

Teaching Your Online Courses

Just because you're moving online doesn't mean you have to ditch the face-to-face training skills that you already have. According to a 2020 Learning Guild report, "A critical but sometimes overlooked aspect of an online learning experience is social presence – the feeling of connectedness among and between facilitators and learners."

The report points to "conversational tone, friendliness, smiling, quick responses, and opportunities for sharing/self-disclosure" as the key elements that contribute to social presence. So face-to-face training skills are not only transferable but also critical to delivery.

Here are six tips to get online training right.

1. Encourage Participation With Interactive Activities

No one wants to sit through an hour of PowerPoint slides. Whether you're hosting a live webinar or an e-learning module, encourage trainees to participate in the process.

A recent Gegenfurtner, Zitt, and Ebner study found that live webinar participants were most satisfied when they could consult and question the facilitator, and have interaction and support from other attendees.

On video calls, for example, you can invite questions as you would in the classroom. Smaller groups can use "breakout" features to brainstorm and present back to the class. And chat features also let people ask questions and offer opinions as you present.

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2. Enable Peer-to-Peer Training

Studies show that when employees want to learn a new skill, 55 percent ask a colleague. So, consider making peer-to-peer training part of your online course. That could be:

  • Encouraging employees with specialized skillsets to lead sessions.
  • Setting up a WhatsApp group, Slack or Teams channel for trainees to share, reflect and get feedback from each other.
  • Creating a virtual whiteboard using an app such as Stormboard, Miro or GoToMeeting for people to post their ideas.

Studies suggest that these informal activities can account for 75 percent of an employee's learning and training. Watch our video on the 70:20:10 learning model to tap into the 20 percent of learning that comes from social interactions.

3. Review the Basics

Not everyone, even trainers, will be totally tech-savvy. So, if you're hosting a video call, for example, familiarize yourself with the software, to ensure that you and your trainees can log in, turn on your cameras and mics and use the chat feature. And have a Plan B for any issues such as video buffering.

For more tips to get your online setup right, see our article on How to Run Effective Virtual Meetings.

4. Learn, Repeat, Remember

That book you finished last night, could you explain the plot to your friends over lunch today? The "forgetting curve" is at its steepest during the first 24 hours after you learn something.

The same goes for training. To train properly, you should help your learners to keep reviewing and practicing. For example, you can nudge them toward short, online resources or have multiple online sessions rather than just one.

That way, they can work at their own pace, and better understand and remember information. Studies show that this "spaced repetition" enables people to retain about 80 percent of what they learn after 60 days. What's more, this type of training fits better around workflow.

5. Make Training Part of the Job

To really make information stick, innovation expert Steve Glaveski recommends you incorporate training into people's real workloads. Do that and you'll "shorten the feedback loop, deliver business outcomes, and encourage 'aha' moments."

6. Getting the Right Blend

Emerald Works research found that 88 percent of "high-impact learning cultures" embrace blended learning. For example, your training could involve a live, virtual classroom; online resources for trainees to explore at their own pace; and an online forum for peer feedback.

This approach was supported by Professor Robyn Ramsden at Deakin University, Australia in a recent MTtalk on Twitter. She said, "I have always used a form of blended learning with my Ph.D. students. This approach involves some face-to-face meetings, combined with the use of video conferencing and email communication. In the future, individualized online sessions will continue to complement face-to-face learning and supervision for efficiency."

Challenges for Online Lessons

While experts recommend a blend of training methods, it's important to recognize that online doesn't suit all professions and skillsets. A video presentation, for example, may miss the nuances of body language that are so important for roles such as social work.

And a VR headset may have software that renders an oil rig in great detail, but it's not a substitute for hands-on training. Sensitive subject matter and security measures may also prevent some types of training going online.

Key Points

Even when classrooms open their doors again after the coronavirus pandemic, you may find that online training remains a crucial part of your program. Or that it's even better suited to your trainees. Don't ditch your face-to-face skills, though, as you may find they work even better when used online.

  • Online training lets you teach the skills and knowledge people need to do their jobs when face-to-face isn't an option.
  • Repurpose your face-to-face training for online delivery, and consult potential learners and other managers as you develop your online training to ensure it meets everyone's needs.
  • Online learning can incorporate virtual learning activities to help people enrich their careers beyond the technical skills required for their role.
  • Research suggests a blend of content types, live and asynchronous activities, formal and informal training works best.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (8)
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi khanjanl,

    Thanks for the feedback on the article. When well designed, online training can be very effective. In my organization we incorporate online training as part of a blended learning approach.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago khanjanl wrote
    Good insights on Online Training
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi Yolande,

    I love your the description of your training style. The idea of making the blend components both interactive and fun, as well as traditional, makes your classroom sound like a very healthy learning environment that is highly inclusive. Thank you for the feedback.
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