The emergence of COVID-19 has forced many Customer Education Teams to scramble to convert in-person training into virtual events. According to a recent industry poll from TSIA, over 70% of companies are currently canceling onsite training more than a month out. But companies aren’t just canceling their training, they’re moving them online.
Since January, Skilljar has seen the monthly volume of virtual instructor-led training (VILT) courses hosted on our platform double, while the weekly volume of overall student registrations has increased 3.5x. In my conversations with Skilljar customers, teams are reporting tripling and quadrupling the amount of VILT sessions on their training schedules to accommodate new customer needs and satisfy demand.
Welcome to the New Abnormal
As Customer Educators ride this wave, the question emerges, “Is this the new normal?” When will it be okay to start scheduling onsite training again? When discussing this, what I never expected to hear is a new sentiment relayed over and over again: “We may never go back.”
One enterprise customer that attributes the bulk of their Education revenue to onsite and classroom training shared that they are expecting a large operational shift. Their post-COVID training schedule will offer onsite training at 25% of their current volume. That’s right, they’re planning to permanently move 75% of their onsite training to VILT.
While only time will tell whether this shift is likely to become a trend across the Customer Education industry, our observations suggest that in North America, it’s likely that virtual training options will replace a large component of training that was traditionally delivered onsite.
So why would you transition to virtual training permanently and what factors will keep onsite training alive for years to come?
Organizational benefits of the shift to virtual training
- Reduced costs: Concur recently reported that on average, businesses dedicate 10% of their budgets to Travel and Expense (T&E). When it comes to onsite training, T&E typically makes up a much larger percentage of costs associated with running the events, driving up the price tag on your training programs while simultaneously destroying your margins. Time spent in transit also contributes to reduced productivity and limits the capacity of individual training team members. A shift to VILT completely eliminates T&E, allows you to reduce the cost of training for customers and increase your margins.
- Reduced risk: Travel also increases everyday health and safety risks for employees, regardless of whether that travel is international or domestic. Moreover, air travel delays and cancellations could result in major disruptions to your program, amplified by the fact that oftentimes remote employees at your customers’ companies have also flown onsite for your training. When schedules get changed or the unexpected happens, you may have a lot of logistics to coordinate to make things right.
- More availability/frequency: Onsite training is a grand gesture that may no longer align with the modern workplace. Virtual training allows you to offer more frequent availability, expand your reach and serve customers when they need training. Team members who may have traveled onsite in the past have more time to deliver training or design curriculum, allowing you to expand your offer and reach more customers.
Training timing and availability is key. Industry data suggests that customers complain that training often doesn’t align with their actual application of new skills. If training occurs before a product has been properly implemented, for example, new skills are forgotten before they’re ever used. With the volume of information that employees are expected to learn and the rapid shift in technology, it may make sense to spread training out, or provide more frequent opportunities to learn. The burden of onsite travel is often prohibitive here.
Another concern relates to employee turnover, and the need to provide regular training opportunities to new customer contacts. According to Zenefits, annual employee turnover has steadily increased 6 points over the past decade. After investing large sums of money into traveling onsite, the likelihood that the customers you trained will leave their role has never been higher. Online training offers ensure that you can accommodate these workplace shifts.
What would drive onsite training to return?
Benefits of virtual delivery aside, there are a few signs that onsite training, while it may be reduced, will be revived in the post-COVID world.
- Old Habits Die Hard: A 2017 report from Brandon Hall Group notes that 80% of companies do some sort of extended-enterprise in-person training. The longer the current situation lasts, the more likely a new normal will be established, but it’s hard to believe that such a large majority of companies will entirely abandon their traditional programs. In conversations I’ve had with Skilljar customers, it’s also apparent that many instructors who have taught in-person for their entire careers largely prefer it, and feel they are compromising by delivering instruction virtually.
Additionally, there is evidence that at least while people think that the situation will come to an end in the next few months, many are willing to wait until their onsite training can be rescheduled. This is especially the case internationally, where 33-46% of students are reportedly waiting for an instructor to come on-site. On a recent Skilljar webinar, Craig Jansen, Head of Product Education at Contentsquare relayed a similar sentiment, sharing insight that in-person trainings in France were completely canceled in favor of rescheduling, as their customers there were much more accustomed to onsite training than those residing in North America.
- Attention span and length: In Skilljar’s weekly customer virtual meetup, we’ve discussed appropriate lengths for onsite training versus VILT. While I haven’t been able to find any data to support or refute this, there is a perception among many Customer Education professionals that learners aren’t interested in full-day (or more) courses online. Anecdotally, it seems like most people are unwilling to host courses longer than 2 hours online. Regardless of the validity of the assumption, if professionals believe it to be true, they’ll continue to serve lengthy training in person rather than online. Yes, instructors absolutely have more control over the learning environment in onsite training, but typically, students have their laptops and cellphones readily available in both settings, so I wouldn’t be surprised if physical proximity simply provides the illusion that there is less distraction when training occurs onsite.
- Relationship building: There is no doubt that it’s easier to build relationships in person than online. Often times, onsite training may coincide with an Account Management or Customer Success visit. When training onsite, you can also enjoy the benefits of eating meals and taking breaks together.
- The “I’ll do this later” effect: Recently I was chatting with some other industry professionals, and we were wondering if our attendance rate would be higher at online training and webinars if we made it known that the recording of the session would not be made available. Perhaps I’ll experiment with this, but my hypothesis is that yes, more registrants would attend an event if they knew they wouldn’t be able to do it later. Additionally, if I had just one chance to attend a training, I’m much more likely to prioritize it. With online training, especially free online training, prioritization is a factor, and you have to fight for your customers’ time. Onsite training, since it usually comes with a big price tag and is only made available once, forces that prioritization in ways online training does not.
As the situation continues to evolve, we here at Skilljar will continue to collect information about current norms among Customer Education programs. Whether onsite training returns in full force or as a fraction of what it once was, what’s clear is that customers are flocking to education opportunities, and Customer Education teams are in a prime position to make a true and lasting impact during a very challenging time.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Customer Education programs are changing in light of COVID-19 and how you can help your organization adapt, check out our New World of Work Resource Center.