Like many organizations in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, the World Bank has been experiencing complex change in a rapidly changing business environment. This includes a new organizational structure with new senior management, operational reforms and changing policies and replacing IT systems. Furthermore, greater pressure was directed at ensuring that World Bank operations were achieving intended development results effectively and efficiently. This effort requires front-line operations staff to keep ahead of a plethora of revisions to operational policies while at the same time maintaining the specialized, technical excellence required by clients.
Delivering training in a traditional face-to-face classroom training could not keep up with the demand for training, nor was sufficient budget available. Existing self-paced e-learning didn’t allow for staff to connect with experts and peers and exchange knowledge and ideas. Since World Bank knowledge workers are mobile and tech savvy, the learning team adapted its workplace learning offerings and added a new delivery mode: live virtual classroom training.
The Global Operational Clinics Program
Delivering training in a virtual classroom allows the centralized Operations Learning Team to align and adjust training programs with business needs because of the flexibility it offers. The team developed a Global Operational Clinics program consisting of 90-minute virtual classroom sessions on 30 core operations topics. Clinics target World Bank operations staff in 120 offices around the world and focus on practical information and common challenges. As new policies and systems arise, the program evolves to absorb changes by adjusting content and topics.
The PREP Model
The Global Operational Clinics program follows a four-step PREP (Planning, Rehearsal, Execution and Postsession Review) model developed by the speaker. The PREP model provides a framework that can be used for both operational training and soft skills training. The model is heavily weighted toward planning because virtual training is a lot like video and audio broadcasting, where many hours are needed to prepare for a broadcast and disruptions and mistakes are amplified.
The systematic process followed for the implementation and delivery of each clinic ensures that session is professionally delivered as a high-value learning experience for operations staff.
Cleary Defined Roles or The Virtual Classroom Team
A key aspect of the success of the program is the structure of the team that runs the program and their clearly defined roles. We identified seven core roles needed for a successful virtual classroom program. After we defined the tasks for each role, we provided coaching and guidance where needed to fill skill gaps. The core roles include:
- Producer: The virtual classroom expert who provides technical expertise.
- Facilitator: The host in charge of coordinating the session (similar to a radio talk show host).
- Subject Matter Expert: The team member with the session’s relevant content knowledge.
- Instructional Designer: The virtual classroom content designer.
- Administrator: The person who provides administrative support.
- Information Technology (IT) Support: The person who provides technical support.
- Participants: Those enrolled in a session to gain knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Like a producer on a movie set, the virtual classroom producer works behind the scenes during a live session to support the flawless delivery of the event. As illustrated above, the producer role is central to virtual classroom training, as this person interacts with all other roles.
The producer works with the facilitator(s) and subject matter expert(s) in advance of a session rehearsing and fine-tuning the various technical features, such as polls and online exercises. The producer troubleshoots technical issues during a session in real time and ensures minimal disruption due to technical glitches. The producer understands the virtual classroom’s technical aspects—how the features work—and partners with the instructional designer to determine how to best design a session and incorporate interactive features. S/he also engages with the administrator and IT support to plan the logistics of a session. Finally, the producer interacts with participants as s/he supports the facilitator and is ready to step in and troubleshoot any problems that participants experience during the live session. After a session ends, the producer reviews and edits the recording and shares it with the administrator for posting online.
Like the facilitator in a traditional classroom, the facilitator in a virtual classroom is the class leader. The facilitator opens the session, welcomes participants and trainers and closes the session. The facilitator ensures that the live session runs smoothly including starting and ending on time. S/he helps monitor the chat area and relays questions to the subject matter expert to address, often summarizing and determining how to best group questions together. She partners with the subject matter expert as described below.
Subject Matter Expert
The subject matter expert is the content expert, but is not expected to have expertise with the virtual classroom. The content is technical, so the subject matter expert is the lead trainer for Operational Clinics. Like traditional classroom training, the subject matter expert works with the instructional designer to adjust content as described below. S/he also works with the facilitator to fine tune delivery techniques.
The instructional designer’s role in traditional classroom training mirrors the designer’s role in virtual classroom training. The designer uses adult learning principles and builds appropriate virtual interactions required to accomplish learning objectives and keep participants engaged in the session. Since our audience is global, s/he also checks for culturally appropriate content.
Virtual classrooms require well-coordinated logistics and communication support. The administrator manages enrollment in the learning management system (LMS), sends class materials, and provides log in instructions. S/he carries out postsession tasks, such as sending a follow up email with instructions on how to view the session recording and marking attendance in the LMS.
Participants are World Bank staff who join a session that is relevant to their work program. Approximately half of the participants join physically in the actual meeting room and half join virtually using a computer or mobile device. Participants are given instructions on how to participate remotely and tips for staying focused on the virtual classroom in an environment with distractions.
Information Technology (IT) Support
The IT person works with the producer in the physical meeting room to test audio settings, check the video feed, microphones and audio input levels. The IT person also works with the team to oversee upgrades of computer equipment and virtual classroom software.
In some cases, a team member plays more than one role, but we always make sure that each role is covered. These well-defined roles not only ensure the smooth execution of our virtual training sessions, but also maximize the efficient transfer of knowledge.
The Global Operational Clinics program has shifted the emphasis from headquarters-based Washington D.C. events to a global delivery model that can reach staff anywhere in the world. In 2016 nearly 5,500 World Bank staff from offices around the world participated in the program. Additionally, more than 1,000 hours of clinics recordings were viewed by staff. The demand for these just-in-time, short and focused training sessions continues to grow and by the end of 2017 the program is expected to grow by an additional 25%.
To reach staff from more than 100 countries on a regular basis with synchronous training the team built a global schedule of clinics. This means clinics are held in Washington D.C. in the morning to reach staff in headquarters along with staff in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Another team of staff in Asia was trained so that clinics can be offered during business hours in Asia. The program has recently expanded to Europe.
By offering clinics in a variety of time zones, staff can select the time to attend training that is most convenient. For example, a staff member based in Europe who is travelling to Africa can join a session targeting staff in African time zones. By utilizing a common web-based webinar platform, Adobe Connect, staff can choose to participate from the office or from home during one of the clinic times that is most convenient to them and they can also connect using a mobile device even when travelling.
Another result of the program has been the establishment of standardized training materials. With only one set of standardized materials to use, the quality of these materials is more easily maintained. The standardized materials also free up time for the subject matter experts who are also the key trainers. Prior to the centralization of standardized materials, each trainer had to spend time developing their own materials. Now the learning teams work with the experts to look beyond the current content into new topic areas that need to be developed, enabling the clinics program to expand.
The Operations Learning Team at the World Bank continues to evolve. As technology improves, we continue to look for ways to become more efficient and better serve the learning needs of staff.
Christopher, Darlene. (2014). The Successful Virtual Classroom. New York, NY: AMACOM.