Virtually, Overnight:

The 2020 Course Correction


From business trips to dream destinations, the year 2020 changed our itineraries. And our live training events got caught in that wave of grounded flights and indefinite delays. So what did we do? We moved our learning online, and we did it virtually (pun intended) overnight! 

After some hurried packing, multiple red-eyes, and occasional turbulence, our virtual training has landed. That’s a major accomplishment, and we should feel great about this testament to our agility.

Now you’re probably starting to see some opportunities to improve your virtual learning plan. Maybe your content lives in different places, and you’d like the learning experience to be more cohesive. Maybe some of your material hasn’t made it online yet, and you’d like to offer your learners a more robust collection of resources. 

Either way, the main item on your bucket list is a better learner experience (LX). And now that we’ve completed our pivot to virtual learning, we have some space to think long-term.



Survival Phrases:

Virtual Learning Vocabulary for the Perfect Training Mix


Let’s start with a level-set: We hear the following terms virtually (ha!) everywhere, but they can still be ambiguous or confusing. Clare Dygert, Director of Instructional Design at SweetRush, helps us break them down: 



Curriculum Design

Curriculum refers to learning topics and content; design focuses on how they’re organized and presented. If we think of virtual learning as a guided tour, deciding that you want them to know the local artists, history, and culture of a city counts as curriculum. Deciding to tell them that the city began as a fort, and then have them explore the cannon and lookout before they head over to the history museum? That’s design. Put them together, and you’ve got curriculum design: your entire itinerary and its sequence.

You don’t need to create all of this content yourself! Curation can be your best friend, especially when your material is updated frequently. The art here is in both selecting the right curated resources and indexing them so that the learner understands how, when, and why to use them. On your tour, indexing means that learners move from the fort to the nearby museum, rather than across town to the art gallery. 


Blended Learning

Blended learning refers to the training mix—or modalities—you use to deliver information to learners. On your tour, this training mix might include a video for your learners to watch in advance, an on-site lecture, individual audio guides—and maybe even a scavenger hunt. 

Variety and choice are key: preferences vary among learners, and preferences can change. On your tour, you’ll have a few art lovers who want to know the backstory of every artifact; you’ll also have a few who breeze through exhibits in favor of the gift shop.

A good training mix ensures you’ve got something for everyone. It doesn’t mean that you compromise on the learning design or relax the requirements. It’s an exercise in creativity and reflection. How might you leverage the gift shop as a learning tool or get extra information to the art lovers without adding hours to the day? If learners’ needs and preferences diverge dramatically, should they be on different tours altogether? 

Clare explains that a great learning experience is a surprise—in a good way. The learner thinks, “The learning feels like it was made just for me.” What would it take for your learner to walk away with that feeling?



Learner’s Journey

The learner’s journey is the whole itinerary. It begins before learners ever sign up, when we conduct our research on what they need and want—and then market the journey in a way that speaks to them. 

Once you know what your learners want, you’ll need to map out the landmarks and points of interest your learners will experience with you. That’s what we call a learning map. 

One caveat: We tend to focus on destinations, i.e., learning outcomes or objectives. A clear sense of direction is important, but we also want to offer great LX throughout the journey. Consider how hospitality professionals anticipate our needs: a reliable Wi-Fi connection here, a cool bottle of water there. How might we offer our learners comforts and conveniences during their stay with us? The best way to find out...is to ask! 



All Roads Lead to Great LX:

Designing Virtual Learning Journeys with Your Travelers in Mind


Learners are often happy to tell us what they want—and don’t want. They can give us a window into their workday and tell us the best time to deliver quick hits via chatbot and how much time they have to tune into podcasts.

Learners aren’t a homogenous group: they have a wild and wonderful collection of traits that differentiate them, from job role, to personality type, to seniority. When we observe larger patterns, that’s a great time to create a persona for each learner type.

No persona will be a perfect description of any individual learner, but a high-level persona helps us visualize the person at the receiving end of our designs. Just as our friends in the travel industry differentiate travel experiences, we must differentiate our LX. That means being a great host to both the adventurous, outdoorsy individual and the museum-hopper—on different tours, of course. This is the warm, fuzzy side of LX: making learners feel cared for with their needs anticipated.



Are We There Yet?:

Visual Maps for the Virtual Learning Journey


Learner-facing benefits of visual maps
Being great hosts to our learners also means that we share our view of the odometer—and the GPS. We can do that by creating a visual map for our learning journey that previews the final destination and the stops along the way.

Knowing the tasks they’ll need to complete at each stop helps learners prepare and pace themselves. Whether they need to set aside time or ask for support, seeing what’s ahead helps them pace themselves and plan around other priorities. 

When a topic is new, a visual map also previews related vocabulary and concepts—and provides insight into what they don’t yet know. That helps them to construct a 20,000-foot view of the content—much as zooming out of a map helps us anticipate where we’re going and revel in how far we’ve come. 

Internal benefits of visual maps
A visual map benefits your learning journey before it ever reaches the learner. In the early stages, it can be a great reality check. Clare notes, “Breaking the curriculum down into really small chunks might be ideal for the learner, but how easy or difficult will it be to manage from a logistical standpoint?”

There’s only one way to find out: share the visual map with your learning administrator and make sure it’s something your team—and your LMS—can get off the ground. Once you’re cleared for takeoff, the visual map helps your internal team stay aligned during development by reminding everyone how each piece connects to its neighbors. 

The visual map is also a great tool to support stakeholder conversations. Use it to level-set on the learning outcomes addressed by each piece and how each deliverable intersects others in the training mix.



Beyond the Satisfaction Survey:

Evaluating the Virtual Learning Journey


Level 1: Did your program get off the ground?
How can you tell if your virtual learning journey is successful? We’ve all received those post-flight surveys asking us to provide feedback on everything from staff members’ courtesy to seat comfort to in-flight meals.

That’s what we call a Level 1 evaluation: it focuses on satisfaction, comfort, and enjoyment. This is where we can ask learners if our content is well indexed and intuitive to find. We can also ask about the warm, fuzzy stuff: Was the program interesting and enjoyable? Did it speak to them?

We can go a step further and ask learners how our content applies to the work they do. Was the material relevant? Did the examples feel authentic?

These data are self-reported, so they won’t provide a complete picture. But a well-designed Level 1 assessment can help us identify areas to focus on in the future. Clare recommends taking the time to “prepare questions that require the learner to provide a detailed response.” 

Level 2: Can your learners lift off?
Level 2 evaluations measure whether learners have mastered knowledge and behaviors. If Level 1 focuses on whether learners loved their flying lessons, Level 2 is the written pilot's exam. Level 2 assessments have applications for learning outcomes related to knowledge or attitude. 

Level 3: Will your learners stay aloft?
A Level 3 evaluation measures whether the new learned behaviors have translated to the workplace. For our pilot, it might take the form of the flight exam at 36,000 feet. You might deliver a Level 3 assessment at the end of the learning journey, but you should also assess your learners’ ability to apply the content throughout the journey. 

Copiloting: No evaluation flies solo
Content should determine the format of your evaluations. If you want to know if your learners can land a plane, there’s nothing like putting them in the cockpit and having them try. Asking them to make a presentation or take a written exam—a Level 2 assessment—wouldn’t be of much use.

Level 2 and 3 data are deeply embedded in the content, but they don’t provide a full picture, either. They tell us whether learners have mastered the knowledge and behaviors we laid out as part of the program, and whether they can apply them at work; they don’t tell us how intuitive or relevant learners found our program.

Well-designed Levels 2 and 3 evaluations can tell us where learners succeed—and where they struggle. Supplementing with Level 1 data may shed light on logistical or system issues, such as user interface (UI) issues or bad URLs that prevent learners from accessing content. 

In short, no evaluation flies solo: Levels 1, 2, and 3 are copilots.



Ready for the Runway?

Start Your Own Virtual Learning Journey


A great virtual learning journey is mission-critical, but it should also be enjoyable. And as with all journeys, you might encounter occasional bumpy air.

When that happens, trust yourself—and your team—to make the necessary course corrections. If you’re ready to upgrade your virtual learning program from “pulling it off” to “propelling it forward,” we’ve got a map for you. Our eBook, Virtual Training—SweetRush Style: 5 Inspiring Case Studies for a Learner-Centered Approach, is full of stories, challenges, and creative solutions from five organizations with five very different learning needs. Let them inspire you as you skywrite your own virtual learning journey.