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Mark.Jones(VirtualTrainer)
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Getting Learners to Return to their Systems On Time During Virtual Training Sessions

 

Introduction

Having worked with the Cisco WebEx product suite for more than a decade, I've found the WebEx Enterprise suite to be an incredibly intuitive solution, capable of catering to all audience types, both large and small.   Cisco WebEx TrainingCenter is by far one of my personal favourites and when it comes to delivering high quality online learning engagements, I've aspired to deliver training programmes that are nothing less than being worthy of world-class.  However, during the delivery process, I encountered a flaw.  Learner Human behaviour and their penchant for distractions:  Telephone calls, fellow colleagues, emails, text's, social media to name but a few.   When it comes to getting your audience to return to their terminals on time to restart the session, learners who returned late, would often put a fly in the ointment?  

The Problem

During a half day workshop I would of course release my learners for a short break, nothing extensive just enough to rest the mind a little, stretch the legs, grab a tea or coffee before reconvening.   The problem occured when learners needed to return.   More often than not, they would return late and then express their deepest apologies, before explaining the reason why they were late returning? "My boss stopped me in the corridor", "My best friend called and I just had to take the call", or "I simply lost track of time".

As a result of other people returning late, and my wanting to be respectful to the other learners in the program who returned on time, I would often delay the session slightly, waiting a few minutes for everyone to return.  The side effect of this action; subject to the length of the delay, however, is that you run the risk of finishing your session later than expected, or you have to repeat yourself perhaps, and in some cases your session would compromised to the point that a topic or two, would need to be shortened in order to get back on track. 

I sat down one afternoon and thought to myself, what could I do to differently to rectify this issue.   I brainstormed for a while and did a little root cause analysis, I asked myself "Why aren't candidates returning to the session on time?", "What are they not seeing? or doing?" and then it hit, me.  What if I could display a visual on screen timer that people could see clearly, from the other side of the room, that told learners when they needed to be back at their computer terminals, rather than I having to rely on them. 
To my knowledge the Cisco WebEx TrainingCenter doesn't possess any kind of countdown functionality, which is learner facing, and large enough to inform attendees of when to return in order to reconvene a session, other than what resides inside a breakout session but breakouts are supervised, so this functionality doesn't really apply.   
No ... this had to be big and visual.          
The Solution

After about a week of wrestling with complex animations in PowerPoint, I developed several presentations (one analogue and a couple of digital) that provide an on screen countdown timer from 60 minutes.   The other consideration if I were to share this idea, was that setup and application of these presentations during a training session, had to be quick and easy, taking less than a 1 or 2 minutes to configure.    
As you can't upload complex PowerPoint animations in to Cisco WebEx TrainingCenter, as most animations are stopped instantly, the only option available to the Host of a training session, would be for them to share their screen, which is running the PowerPoint animation in full screen mode.  (Example's shown below)

 

Clock Timer Style 1.png   Clock Timer Style 2.png   Clock Timer Style 3.png      

The Results (Priceless)

To see if my solution to the problem would work, I ran more than 30 sessions for various clients, with an attendance of 10 -15 people per session.   I placed a 15 minute hard break in the middle of the 3 hr workshop and monitored peoples return.   Across the board, all of those sessions finished on time bar three (10%) owing to learner audio and bandwidth issues, the other 90% of those sessions finished on time, owing to all learners being in their seats when requested, as a result of the timer coming to an end and then stating "Welcome Back - Lets Get Started". 

The beauty of this solution is its simplicity.  The fact that you are broadcasting to everyone's terminal who is attending the session, regardless of their location globally (Hotel Room, Office Space, Home Office) everyone receives the same message, at the same time.  
My reason for sharing this story with you, is because as an educator who takes great pride in delivering high quality training sessions, there are no doubt thousands of other training professional / educators like myself the world over, who may and or still do, face this very same issue on a regular basis. 
The files I have attached to this blog are for you.  I still use these files today, during my training sessions and other meetings that warrant a break.   I'm hoping that in the same way these files helped me, that they may also aid you.   
If you have any questions at all or require any support in the future, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  Instructions for the use of these files has been provided on slide one. 

 

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