Distant But Engaged: Transitioning to Virtual Training

By Bryan Horveath, MS |

Is virtual learning the new normal for field-based teams?

Reading time ~4 minutes

Training that keeps sales forces sharp or helps providers navigate reimbursement plays a critical role in patient access—perhaps now more than ever before. And as healthcare policy and care delivery change amid the COVID-19 pandemic, effective virtual training will be essential.

As social distancing becomes the norm, the examples of not-so-seamless transitions from in-person meetings to virtual connections are ever increasing. How can manufacturers make the needed shifts to ensure both internal teams and external partners are engaged and supported with training?

Fortunately, the infrastructure is already there. Virtual classroom training began to take hold in online environments long before the pandemic, yielding many videoconferencing tools, interactive modules and fresh ideas to engage remote audiences.

But those programs were built to be virtual from the get-go. Many manufacturers now find themselves with a different need: to successfully repurpose a robust portfolio of effective in-person trainings into virtual ones.

The solution requires high-level learning strategy combined with tactical instructional design expertise to quickly establish an effective program despite the chaos of current events.

Here's how one manufacturer did exactly that.

Virtual learning at work (from home)

One biotech company put an effective live-to-virtual program into motion when they digitized their Coaching for Improved Performance session, a training session aimed at helping team leaders manage Field Reimbursement Specialists (FRS), Xcenda associates who educate healthcare providers on the reimbursement and access channels for manufacturers' therapies.

As the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, the manufacturer swiftly pivoted to salvage the critical in-person training program, engaging Xcenda Learning Solutions (XLS) to redesign the training into a virtual learning experience. Rather than converting existing materials into an electronic format, however, XLS and the manufacturer repurposed them to ensure audience engagement.

That new approach infused more interactivity into the training—for example, chat and polling functionality that facilitated real-time feedback and questions to help instructors periodically gauge participants' comprehension. Also important were the smaller and subtler features, such as the ability for participants to use emojis. In the absence of eye contact and body language, a “thumbs up" quickly conveyed recognition without the need to interrupt the session's flow.

Trainers and trainees tuned in from coast to coast, in states as far-flung as California, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Despite their geographical distance, the solution united everyone under one virtual roof, helping the manufacturer to keep its stakeholders active and maintain business continuity.

Factors for more effective virtual instructor-led training sessions

Any manufacturer can replicate this manufacturer's approach to a virtual training platform—even when resources are limited and time is tight. The key is to transform the challenges of distance learning into new possibilities.

Training shouldn't just be a re-telling of program instruction. What works about live training isn't just the slide deck. It's often the exercises that encourage participants to apply their learnings and many other components of adult learning theory that make a training session work. In a virtual session, you don't have the benefit of physical presence. There are a host of factors that go into preparation, engagement and design, including:

  1. Platform selection
    Some tools work better than others for certain environments. For example, services such as Adobe Connect provide more interactivity—including the ability to use a whiteboard, exchange resources or divide a session into small breakout groups. It also offers an engagement meter to see whether the group is generally active or idle as the session goes on.
  2. Practice
    Even for live events, retention requires practice. Consider how your virtual training can incorporate role play or simulated tasks to give trainees the opportunity to apply what they are learning. Trainers should practice, too: Do a few trial runs of conference software and test out functions to ensure it works as intended for all participants prior to conducting the virtual event.
  3. Content length
    Heaps of text on a slide can bore attendees even for in-person events, but the risk is much higher when remote participants have the distractions of multitasking or children, pets and spouses at home. Pay attention to the number of words used and ensure each one serves a purpose. When in doubt, edit it out.
  4. Optimal imagery
    Pictures and graphics should enhance the training material, not distract from it. Walk that careful balance by selecting relevant images that complement the text without overpowering it. Consider cool tones over flashy or bright images.
  5. The post-training action plan
    Maintain the momentum after the session ends by encouraging managers to follow up with participants, answer questions or clear confusion. A post-training plan—tailored to each attendee or designed for a small group—can help participants retain the information at a pace that works for them.
  6. A proven partner
    Manufacturers will find the most success when they engage with a training and learning partner who that has the expertise to follow through. Look for organizations that not only understand your therapeutic area, but also the intricacies of health economics and outcomes research (HEOR), market access and reimbursement, along with scenario-based instructional design.

The next frontier for virtual learning

As healthcare stakeholders feel the pressures of COVID-19, virtual training could become all the more important in the future—long after social distancing ends.

By eliminating training expenses such as food, travel and lodging, virtual learning affords new opportunities for teams to more affordably and accessibly learn about other topics beyond the standbys of health economics, market access and reimbursement. In fact, more and more organizations are looking at virtual training for soft skills such as communication, presentation and leadership skills so that teams can make the most of their quarantine downtime.

Given the ease with which teams can now learn and collaborate virtually, those trends may stick around for the long-term—and that's not a bad thing. More education, in whatever form, will no doubt impact stakeholders across healthcare for the better.

Learn More

Find out how Xcenda's training solutions can help you maximize the effectiveness of your field teams.

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About the Author

Bryan Horveath

Bryan Horveath, MS

Senior Director, Training and Provider Education
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