We look at how moving training services online can be made to work for your charity.

Like many charities, we’ve been adapting our face to face offerings for online. That includes Design Hops, our free half-day service design training.

We’ve learnt a lot already from this process. In this article, we share our key insights and top tips for moving face to face training online.

Use your existing knowledge and skills — they are not wasted

Much of your knowledge around delivering and designing training still applies online. The following are as important online as face to face:

  • Catering for different learning styles
  • Making use of questioning to support learning
  • Balancing safety and challenge to help participants stretch and learn
  • Ensuring participants’ comfort — we know a good lunch and comfortable surroundings really do help in face to face training
  • Acknowledging that participants bring wisdom to the training

Understand what’s out there first

Don’t build or buy a JCB to crack a nut! There are systems out there that universities and big companies use to manage large numbers of courses and students. This is not something most of us will need.

There are other purpose-built platforms out there that you can use to host your ‘small-start’ course. These include options like Teachable, Udemy and Skillshare. Some have a free option, like Thinkific, which is what we used for our prototype. These platforms are fairly easy to use and for many, you don’t need to be able to code as you can operate them through drag and drop.

The platforms above have been built with marketing and ecommerce in mind. If you don’t charge for your training you can ignore this capability and focus on content only. They will help you make your course look attractive. And most will enable you to:

  • host quizzes
  • add videos
  • embed YouTube videos
  • upload PDFs (use DocHub, which integrates with GDrive, to create electronically fillable workbooks)
  • submit assignments
  • run forums.

Design for flexibility with small chunks

The first principle of better digital services is to start with the user needs in mind. That’s just as true with online training.

Users need to be comfortable to be engaged with your training. Many people have their children running around and / or partners present in the house while they are trying to work, and long periods in video calls on specified dates and times can be difficult. And working from home means screen time is up for all of us already.

So people need the flexibility to be able to fit learning in around their lives. The online learning space gives you the opportunity to design with this in mind.

What is the smallest chunk of learning within your larger course that you can design for?

You want to make it as easy as possible for participants to fit the learning in. It’s easier to access a five minute video while preparing lunch and complete a 20 minute exercise than listen to a two hour video call.

Treat video calling as your prime real estate. Bringing people together on a specific date and time takes a considerable amount of effort and resource. This counts for participants and trainers. To use this time for lecturing is a waste — you can share new knowledge in different and more sustainable ways.

Live video call sessions are best used for:

  • connection
  • community building
  • experiential learning
  • Q&A
  • processing
  • coaching
  • reflection

Use short pre-recorded videos and short bits of reading with infographics for lecturing and sharing new knowledge. People can access these when convenient for them. And you can reuse the content for a later course, making for more flexibility for you.

Design your course to be scalable and repeatable

The beauty of online training is that you can build for sustainability!

Replace your five-hour face to face training with five hours of video calls and you’ll have to do the whole thing again next time. You’ll want to design your course so that you can repeat and iterate it with least effort. Small self-serve training chunks are best for this. Ask yourself what participants can do without you being present in a live capacity. Short videos introducing new knowledge, short articles, quizzes and podcasts all form part of the self-serve toolbox.

Making part of your content self-serve also means it’s easier to reach more people — you’ll have to spend less time in live calls and so can do more of them.

Design for different learning styles — mix it up

Mix up video, text, audio, infographics, quizzes, exercises, forums, live video calls, etc to support different learning styles.

Limit text and audio/video length. For instance, have:

  1. a short video with new knowledge content, followed by
  2. a short text-based case study illustrating the point, followed by
  3. an exercise applying the new knowledge.

This way you repeat the content in different formats to make sure all learning styles are happy.

There are many tools out there to create videos. Personally, I find Loom useful — it’s free and easy to use. You can do screencasts with it and record yourself giving a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation, with or without your face in the picture. You can also use it to show people how to use a piece of software or your learning platform. It also has a setting to record only you without a screencast as well.

If you find this tough, maybe because you’ve never presented to camera, or you are missing an audience, try having someone in the room (out of shot) while you do the recording. It’s different talking to a person rather than the screen.

If possible, mix up presenters to make it more interesting for people, although do keep a main trainer as the face of the course. It’s especially good to include videos of guests presenting case studies or visiting experts of related topics providing bonus material.

Enable peer learning — have space where people can share, reflect and get input from their peers and their trainer. This can be through one or a combination of:

  • a forum
  • a comment or discussion facility
  • a shared Slack channel
  • A Facebook group
  • assignments to hand i
  • live video calls

Test your product by starting small and iterating

As with all good designs, take small steps and learn as you go.

Your first prototype can be as simple as a series of emails with videos and reading attached. You could add a live video call or two for peer support. To make this more scalable and repeatable use something to manage your emails for you — there are many options out there, a free one I like is Mailchimp.

We started with a three hour video call — social distancing began at the beginning of a week in which we had a face to face course planned. This left us with little time and the choice to either cancel, or replace the training with a live call. We decided on the latter.

We then iterated using the principles in this blog to design something more sustainable. We now have a prototype course that covers only the absolute essentials of digital design to help people do this in a time of crisis.

Want to know more about our online Design Hops?

We are testing our ‘small start’ online Design Hop with a limited number of people over the next few weeks. Iterations will be made with the user feedback we receive

Register your interest in joining the iterated Design Hop here.

We’ll publish what we learn as we go along, so keep an eye out for further blogs. And please feel free to comment with any questions — or to share any top tips you’ve learned whilst transitioning face to face content into online platforms. We’d love to hear from you!

Our Catalyst network - what we do

Support & services

Our free services help you make the right decisions and find the right support to make digital happen.

Learn what other non-profits are doing

39+ organisations share 50+ Guides to how they use digital tools to run their services. Visit Shared Digital Guides.