Teaching and Training in Times of Uncertainty and Change
By: Kevin Beisser, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
As a recent 2021 NAFSA Trainer Corps Inductee, in the middle of a pandemic, I was given unique perspective on training and teaching in times of uncertainty and change. We all have been thrust into a world of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, but for me, as I am sure for many of you, the transition was so fast and so sudden that we really did not have an opportunity to reflect on the effect this has had on global learning and our industry as a whole. Will we ever return to old school ways of doing things? Probably not, but no pun intended we will probably transition to a hybrid method of doing things: picking the positives and expelling the negatives along the way. In the past one was able to “leave well enough alone” and keep on doing what they have done for years. In the span of a year and a half our industry and all of those around us were pushed forward ten years technologically, those who refuse to adapt will simply be left behind. In the next few paragraphs, I will look at how training has been turned upside down in the last 18 months reflecting on the good and bad along the way.
Before we even start to reflect on the mediums that have changed one must consider the effects of access. Taking part in a training prior to March 2020 for the most part was something we did at a conference in a big room with ten to fifty of our colleagues. Now we sit at the comfort of our desk or couch with those from around the country and world sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Getting training was expensive because it often required the costs of travel and accommodations. Now with access to literally the whole world, companies are offering more and more trainings at lower and lower prices. As a whole, this is probably a positive, offices are able to get more “bang for their buck” allowing more people to be trained on more subjects. The danger however is training overload. I am not sure about you, but I have attended more conferences and trainings in the last 18 months than I have in years combined. In a time of uncertainty, it was comforting to share with those who “Get Me” but is it sustainable? While often more expensive, the positive part of going to a training in person was you were away, you were there to focus on the training at hand without the distractions of day-to-day work. When doing a training in your office you can’t pull away as easy, you are there and ultimately available. You can’t ignore the knock on the door or the inevitable “Just one quick question” or the Teams Chat that keeps on going. As time goes on, I see a time where much more is offered virtually but attendance declines as people have more demands on their time and their ability to truly be engaged. That doesn’t mean virtual trainings will go away, they are here to stay, people will just become more thoughtful when choosing what to participate in. As trainers this will require us to always offer truly meaningful trainings with the most up to date information.
As a result of COVID 19, institutions and trainers were forced to adapt and immerse themselves in new technology. The circumstance demanded that we look at new ways to share knowledge virtually, utilizing technology that many of our students were already accustomed to using. We were essentially compelled to get with the times. That being said, the “times” are fluid and ever changing. The pandemic has also created a boom in the development of new technology. It can be a job in and of itself to keep up with the new technology available to us as educators and trainers. From Quizlet to Mentimeter and everything in between there are endless ways to engage our audience as trainers. The trick is finding that balance as using these mediums takes time and effort. No matter the medium, the one thing that has not changed in training is time constraints and while using these new technologies are super helpful, utilizing too many of these “gadgets” can ultimately take away from the amount of knowledge you are able to provide your audience. Trainers must pick and choose between engagement and time. As with anything else in life finding balance is what is essential. Embrace technology but don’t overuse it. The tools at your disposal should enhance your presentation not take away from it.
Lastly, one cannot discuss training in times of change without discussing the needs of your audience. Remember your audience in every decision you make as ultimately your presentation is only as good as your audience thinks it is. Try to find out as much about your audience as you can in advance. Ask them about technology. Do they feel comfortable using new technology? Do they prefer a more classic presentation? If you are planning to use a certain technology let them know as they may want to look at it before the presentation, maybe even use technology to ask these questions as it will allow them more time to get used to it. Knowing if your audience has experience with a technology will allow you to also plan your time as you will know if you need to spend more time explaining and getting the participants on the program itself. Also remember your audience may have things like zoom fatigue. Leave ample time for breaks. Always have a back up plan, you may not have to worry about the overhead projector or laptop connection but there are other complications that may arise that you have not thought of. If you get frazzled your audience will too.
As you all know by now teaching and training has changed immensely in a very short time, the success of the trainings we offer must change as well however if we are going to be successful, we will need to find a balance with what has worked for years in combination with all we currently have at our disposal. As long as we are open to new technology and always keep informing our trainees in the most efficient and successful way at the forefront, we will be successful!