When the pandemic first hit, we saw a massive spike in traffic to Planful Academy. That was great, because we knew it was helping our customers quickly transition FP&A to the remote style of work that everyone was thrown into. The faster they could expand their team’s Planful expertise, the faster they could get to work rebounding from the pandemic’s impact on their business.
We quickly realized, just as with every other face-to-face activity, that our on-site, three-day boot camps had to go virtual. And, as students across the world now know all too well, online learning isn’t great if you just move everything to Zoom without thinking it through. So we needed to make sure our Structured Planning & Reporting and Dynamic Planning boot camps would continue to help customers during the pandemic.
Since we already had experience creating other online training courses for Planful Academy, we had a successful model to follow. But it still wasn’t a seamless transition and we learned quite a bit along the way. Now, having successfully transitioned our boot camps, here are 4 things that helped us move our in-person courses to an all-virtual learning environment.
#1 – Reimagine everything, not just the delivery model
From the start, we knew the biggest hurdle would be the translation of the in-person learning experience to online. Some learning techniques that work well in a live classroom simply do not translate, or, at the very least do not translate well, into the virtual world. One example of that would be a lesson that requires students to work together, or a lengthy exercise that we work through as a class. That’s tough to do over a video call.
We knew this new paradigm of working virtually required us to reimagine everything from the ground up, and that we couldn’t just copy-and-paste the in-person experience to a virtual platform. Within the learning design world there is a strategy called ADDIE, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. We follow that strategy at Planful when we create any new learning course. But transitioning from in-person classes forced us to go back to square one: Analysis. For this phase, we defined the instructional design problem and our goals and objectives for the “new” courses. We already knew who our audience was (our amazing customers!), but we needed to identify potential learning constraints and sort through the various content delivery options. Finally, we set our deadlines. These were tight because we wanted to have limited downtime between the in-person boot camps and our new virtual courses.
#2 – Adjust for the lack of face-to-face guidance
Jumping into the Design phase, we knew which courses had the most interest from customers, so we prioritized those to transition first. Luckily, they also had the least amount of new content to create. That would speed the transition and get customers back in class faster.
The in-person boot camps were structured around a typical workday, with mostly lecture, exercises, and group discussions. But the virtual courses wouldn’t have a captive, focused audience, and students would be easily distracted during the day, so the program had to be broken down into manageable lessons. Our previous experience creating virtual courses really gave us an edge here. To help students focus, we built checklists, quick reference guides, and self-study classes with guided exercises. We then added virtual instructor-led classes with accompanying guides, workbooks, lectures, and exercises. Some content from the boot camps was repurposed, but we needed to create a great deal from scratch.
The Development phase of ADDIE is where all these pieces come together and we didn’t waste any time assembling the new courses. Instead of three all-day, in-person classes, the new virtual courses would consist of four to five parts. Each course begins with a “Getting Started” class to introduce students to the fundamentals of the product, and then progresses through a series of lessons delivered in a mix of formats. It begins with self-study and students can work at their own pace. But, it ends with a live, virtual instructor-led class to wrap it all up and answer questions.
Once the content was created, and because we spent so much time really thinking through the learning experience, the Implementation phase was easy.
#3 – Continuously evaluate and improve
The final Evaluation phase of ADDIE is both summative and formative, and it really never stops. In other words, the launch of the course is merely the basis for future improvements. So it’s critical to get feedback from every student on every aspect of the course to understand if your training goals are being met.
We get some of this information from our post-course feedback surveys, but those insights are just one piece of our overall evaluation. We want to understand where students easily grasp concepts and where they stumble, which exercises resonate and which do not. We look at the questions we get during office hours and even the response to the final exam and how they mesh with what the course is teaching. As we gather more insights, we iterate everything in a never-ending process to continuously improve the courses.
It’s a never-ending process, but it’s one that helps us constantly increase the value our customers get from these courses. And, it applies to all of our courses.
#4 – Get in front of virtual distractions
As we all know, it’s difficult to stay focused amid the constant noise and interruptions of email, Slack, texts, and every other work and personal notification we get from our devices. We like to say that the most valuable resource in any classroom is the attention of the student. Even in an in-person classroom setting, keeping the student engaged is a challenge. But, in a virtual environment, that challenge is magnified due to the many available distractions. The solution was to incorporate more checkpoints.
Instructors can’t read the room in a virtual classroom, so it’s hard to tell if students are absorbing the content, confused, or are simply distracted. Adding checkpoints along the way, like polls, quizzes, and questions that require more than a yes/no answer, helped us assess whether the content was being absorbed and maintain student attention. Most video meeting software has emojis or other interaction features, such as checkmarks, thumbs up or down, and other fun responses students can respond with when asked questions. It makes lessons more interactive.
More value and more opportunities
The move to a 100% virtual Planful Academy wasn’t planned. But moving to a virtual classroom has opened the benefits of Planful to more people in more companies. That’s good for us, obviously, but it’s fantastic for our customers, since they get to maximize the value of Planful. Being Planful certified is also an accomplishment for the individuals, too, and something that can help people grow professionally.
Our goal is to help more customers get more value out of Planful. Now, it’s easier than ever because you can get a Planful certification from anywhere and at a pace that fits your schedule. If you haven’t checked out the available certifications, or if you’re interested in signing up for a certification course, login to the Planful application and visit Planful Academy today. It’s a great way to expand your skills and add to your resume!