Instructor-led training during “the transitional normal”

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Converting classroom to virtual training

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A brave new (remote-learning) world

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Silhouette of people at a race track

Instructor-led training during “the transitional normal”

The Long Road Back from Isolation

After a year of masking mandates, rigorous social distancing and virtual everything, vaccinations are rapidly available to all who want them. And training organizations are ready for their own shot in the arm—specifically, a return to the classroom.

While everyone is anxious to address a year-plus backlog of instructor-led training (ILT), a return to the “old normal” won’t—actually, can’t—happen all at once. For starters, various state and local mandates will remain in place for the foreseeable future. On the learner level, it will be a little while until everyone is physically and emotionally prepared to return to table teams, triads and trust-falls.

This will make for a lengthy transitional period—likely into early 2022—that we’ll call “the transitional normal.” In this e-mail we’ll share what Pro-Active is doing, seeing and hearing as the automotive learning industry begins rounding the final turn of Covid and re-accelerating into the fast lane of classroom training.

How Are We…

This article poses questions and provides considerations related to non-technical Instructor-Led Training, for automotive OEMs and importers to consider and plan for during this upcoming transitional time.

1. Encouraging dealership personnel to board airplanes and fly to instructor-led training classes (and encouraging their managers to permit them)?

– Ensure all aspects of training venues exceed the latest public health standards for safety and hygiene. Communicate this clearly to trainees and dealership management ahead of traveling.

– Offer training “in-market” at locations where a majority of attendees can drive.

– Consider (and fund) creative ways to offer virtual options for certain ILT activities. For example, some participants at an upcoming launch event might shy away from an extended paired street drive, so we professionally videotaped a full-day “competitive drive documentary” (including professional drivers, vehicle SMEs, in-car GoPro cameras, drones and a chase car) that these participants can watch on their iPads…including a challenging test to validate viewing.

– Reduce multi-day programs to shorter durations decreasing “exposure time” for participants.

Pro Tip: Survey dealers on their willingness/desire to board a flight, stay in a hotel, attend in-person training, participate in a group meal, etc. (They may surprise you!)

2. Preparing the ILT classroom environment to ensure hygiene, safety, and a sense of security for trainees and staff?

– Adapt classroom space and seating to effect social distancing. Plan for additional meeting space (perhaps 2x-3x your “previous normal” square footage) as needed to adapt for socially distant theatre seating, 4 vs. 6 participants per table team, etc..

– Provide hygiene amenities in the classroom and for participants(hand sanitizer/gloves on tables, branded face masks, personal “amenity kit” for participants, etc.)

– Temporarily halt organized group dinners in favor of prepaid debit cards, hotel F&B credits, per diem expense allowances, etc. Let participants make their own decisions on after-hours social gatherings.

Pro Tip: Communication is everything here! Tell participants and their managers what you’re doing to make classrooms safe, clearly and well in advance. Help them picture what class will look like, long before they walk into the room.

3. Implementing instruction to accommodate classroom environment changes?

– Adapt curriculum/learning activities as needed to be effective in a “socially distanced” environment.

– Mark areas on the floor with tape and provide other “nudges” for social distancing.
Ensure facilitators and staff model appropriate behaviors.

– Adapt common “active engagement” activities to the new awareness (e.g., a ball toss becomes a “point to the next player.” Pass the charts becomes “send a delegate.” Shout-outs become Kahoot! quizzes. Group puzzles and other tactile exercises might be out of bounds altogether…at least for a while).

– Incorporate more 1:1 coaching (in-person or virtual)post-training to help participants reinforce and apply knowledge/skills learned.

Pro Tip: Give every participant their own marker when they arrive. It’s a nice touch, and one less thing to pass/share/sanitize as class commences.

4. Adapting curriculum/ content?

– Review all ILT curriculum for context, scenarios, and examples that reflect the “transitional normal” retail environment. (For example, instead of “A customer comes into the dealership…” pose more situations like,“A customer has requested you Facetime her to explain…”)

– Consult with Dealer Council and dealerships to understand and provide training on their emerging and ever-evolving best practices, situations and challenges.

– Add/emphasize content on digital-based communications skills.Provide opportunities in class to develop digital messaging and skills that can be immediately applied on the job. For example, teach basic “do’s and don’ts”that raise the quality and professionalism of “selfie videos.”

– Teach skills that help participants successfully conduct in-dealership business with clients in customer-centric, yet lower-contact business environments (e.g., larger circle of “personal space,” no handshakes, simple amenities like handing over a bottle of water, etc.)

Pro Tip: Take this opportunity to turn legacy classroom programs into blended learning journeys.Leverage the unique strengths of web-based training, remote learning, chatbots, virtual sessions and more to focus the classroom on what it’s best at…collaborative, application-based learning.

5. Communicating all aspects of our strategy, plans, and tactics?

– Get all stakeholders (trainees, dealership management, field teams, executive management, etc.) involved early.

– Develop a communications plan—and continuously update/ adapt it to changing conditions. (Hint: with millions of Americans being vaccinated every day, the landscape changes weekly)

– Begin with general announcement to the entire learning network(e.g., “As life begins returning to normal and BigCo University resumes classroom training, here’s what we’re doing to keep everyone safe and healthy...”)

– Prepare program-specific messages as needed (“Regrettably, we have temporarily suspended the Celebration Barbeque at the end of Day 3. We know this is a highlight of Training Program X, however your health and well-being is our primary concern. In its place, we will...”)

Pro Tip: Produce a promotional/explanatory video to inform participants and their managers of what they can expect from the training experience. (“Whiteboard” videos are great for this!)

6. Preparing our training staff/team?

– Recognize that your trainers are “getting out there” again. Seek their input from the front lines. What best (and worst) practices are they seeing?

– Train-the-Trainers on best practices (for safety/hygiene as well as curriculum/ content) and share insights/updates among the group regularly.

Pro Tip: Make it very clear to your facilitators that they are “behavior models.” If they mask, participants will, too. If they’re engaging while remaining at appropriate distance, participants will mirror that.

Image of laptop, planner, and coffee

Converting Instructor-led training to virtual training

Moving from ILT to VC

Instructor-Led Training (ILT) programs have proven highly effective in providing and sustaining knowledge and skills among retail personnel. The challenge is to deliver a Virtual Classroom (VC) program that is just as effective, but in a virtual environment. Here’s what we need to consider.

Intimacy. Large face to face sessions allow a lot of time for smaller interactions to get to know other participants and the facilitators. How can we maintain and grow the connections of participants when we eliminate the F2F and networking time between modules?

Active Participation. In a personal setting, we can control and manage access to the training and the completion of the program. How do we ensure successful completion of the modules when participants are on their own to consume the learning? Specifically, how do we ensure they are the ones behind the screen and that they are actually engaged?

Engagement. Pro-Active has designed ILT programs with performance objectives in mind and created the components to achieve those goals. Many times, these face to face programs have a physical activity component. How can that be replicated in a virtual classroom?

This article explores ways to address the above issues through the curriculum conversion and delivery process.


The ideal approach is to create a blended training program using virtual classrooms, videos, WBTs and a variety of participant engagement tools to give the virtual program similar learning value to the face to face program.

Using a platform like Zoom, most of the facilitated learning portions of an ILT program can be replicated online. It is recommended that the class size remain small enough to allow all participants to interact with the facilitator and each other.

Further, it is best to divide learning content into 90- to 120-minute modules that are delivered over time. This spaced learning will help participants reflect on (and apply) content between sessions. Participants can join sessions via computer, tablet, or smart phone.

Finally, presentations must be modified to help ensure participant engagement by using the tools within the classroom and external to the classroom. The best practice for virtual classes is to offer some form of constructive engagement every 5 minutes or so.

Virtual Classroom Tools

Here are some examples of virtual classroom tools.

Webcam     Ideally, both the facilitator and participants should use their webcams. While they do not need to be on each moment of the program, this best practice increases engagement and participation.

Chat     The chat feature allows participants to respond to a question or brainstorm ideas. Additionally, they can ask questions and interact with the producer as needed. The host can save the chat history to create a FAQ document as required. The chat feature can also be done privately between participants for an activity that would require partners to share details or brainstorm. Using chat will allow engagement points throughout the facilitated sessions. Finally, chat activities break up the presentations to keep the audience engaged.

Whiteboard/On-Screen Animation     The whiteboard (annotation) feature replaces the classroom flip chart. Each slide in a PowerPoint can be written on by the facilitator and participants. A blank slide would allow participants to brainstorm ideas on potential risks when talking about competitors. A slide that has details would allow participants to claim one of the topics (with their initials) to explain that topic further.

Polls     Multiple-choice polls can be built into the platform to test knowledge or start a conversation on a topic. (NOTE: Results are anonymous.)

Breakout Rooms     The breakout room replaces a small group/table discussion. Participants can be divided into small groups to have a conversation or create content that can then be reported in the main room discussion later. For example, in product training each group could be given one competitive brand and assigned to create a whiteboard or slide with the discussed challenges and opportunities. Each group would then present findings back in the main room.

Hand-Raise     The facilitator can engage learners verbally as well. Using the raised hand to respond to a question (or ask a question) encourages participant input, ideas, and engagement.

Feedback Tools     The platform allows for other feedback tools like a green check or red X for informal voting or responding to questions.

Attention Tracking     When enabled, the room host can see if participants have the classroom as their active screen. This is only an indicator of engagement, as a participant could be taking notes or looking at documents for the program on another screen. Between the attention-tracking and seeing who is using the various tools to participate in the activities, the producer can get a picture of attendees who are actively participating in the webinar.

Mentimeter/Kahoot     External programs such as these can be used in the F2F program and could carry over to the virtual classroom as well.

WBT/Infographics     Knowledge-based content can be converted into short Rise (WBT) modules. These would be used with independent work time to mimic the self-exploration activity.

Pre-Recorded Video Segments     Pre-recorded segments allow participants to watch, comment and chat live with all the others involved. While a bit more complex, video can be recorded in front of a live audience to increase the “you are there” feel.

Futuristic walkway

A Brave New World

By Michael D. Schmidt

With apologies to Aldous Huxley, author of that title, the automotive industry—like all industries in these unprecedented days of “distancing,” has changed. I can still only speculate on the full nature of those changes, their permanence (or not), and how we’ll respond as an industry.

Several takeaways from March/April2020:

Blinding flash of the obvious: The automotive business will come back. Many of the new (and pre-owned) vehicle sales "lost" to COVID-19 will prove to only be deferred due to the outbreak. Better days are coming again for the auto industry and once most consumers are again fully employed and feel secure in their jobs, there will be a surge in sales and service business.

Maybe not so obvious: It will not be business as usual. The nature of the business will be fundamentally changed. There will be a marked shift to digital retailing in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. The move to digital retailing, that has been developing at a glacial pace, is here, driven, as is so often the case, by events beyond the control of the established manufacturer and dealership power/ownership structure. Progressive dealership groups are currently implementing digital sales protocols as a means of survival, including online car-buying platforms, virtual financing tools, and remote delivery. Consumers of all ages are demanding it as a condition of doing business. (Even “latent digital adopters” like me are ordering groceries online!)

What: The move to digital retailing for sales and service will require fundamental changes in how dealerships are structured, staffed, and operated.For example, online pricing transparency will have to become standard practice, sales consultants will need to become proficient helping customers work with online car-buying platforms, staffing will have to be shifted to perform remote sales deliveries and service pick-up and delivery.

So what: Now is the time for dealerships to be preparing to go digital in a comprehensive manner. That means now is the time for manufacturers to identify best practices and develop protocols and training to help their dealerships make the transition in an efficient and brand-centric way.

What it means for us: We need to develop approaches and tools to deliver digital training and sales support that is quick, efficient, and comprehensive. We need to begin doing it now—preferably with the full engagement and support of progressive manufacturers and importers.

Pro-ActivePerformance has deep and varied experience in helping our clients to effectively communicate and build client relationships through digital media and skills. We are ready to assist with this current transformation and beyond for our automotive industry clients.