In 2009 I saw the movie Up in the Air. Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney) travels the country to fire people whose managers are afraid to do so themselves. He is ‘up in the air’ continuously and nearly reaches 5 million frequent flyer miles. But his job changes dramatically when his company introduces the webcam as a viable option to tell ‘bad news’.
Imagine you are a trainer and you’re asked to train Bingham and his colleagues in the original situation: telling bad news face to face (offline). You would probably pick a classroom and practice these difficult situations with a group and some actors.
Now image you’re asked to train Bingham for his new job: telling bad news over the internet (online.) How would you then go about it?
For a large part of our working day we practice communication: confrontional, empathetic, convincing, directly, indirectly etc. To develop this type of ‘soft skills’ we used to go to a classroom to simulate offline situations in offline roleplays. With the software we started to build in 2010, we initially aimed to enable the training of these offline skills in an online setting (to save costs, ease logistics and improve learning effectiveness).
For some of our partners – familiar with live contact, live interventions and the ability ‘to smell each other’ (I’m not making this up…) – this turned out to be quite a shift. People sometimes asked me: how long will it take before the majority of trainers goes online? Judging only from the industry’s readiness to innovate, I thought this would take quite some time.
But I experience an acceleration in the adoption of the webcam and online training in general and the reason is the increasing importance of online communication situations in regular working processes (Bingham had to adjust…). A random trainer or participant can no longer avoid the webcam, flash plugin etc. and as a result we’re getting used to it. Not only does this increase adoption of online training, it also adds another dimension: the ability to collaborate, sell or tell bad news online becomes a quality in itself.
And since you can now train these skills online (accompanied by lower costs, easier logistics and a higher learning effectiveness), why would you do this in a classroom?