Over the past two years, L&D teams across the globe have moved from “quick, make everything virtual!” to the realisation that virtual classrooms are a valuable part of the learning mix and are here to stay. Now we’ve had time to refine and reflect on that virtual offer, one particular challenge is emerging – attendance for virtual sessions is lower than for in-person training.
So why is it that we’re seeing more and more clients reporting that they experience much higher last-minute cancellations and no-shows when training is delivered virtually?
Why people don’t attend
The number one reason is simple – we’re busy. Wherever we work, there’s pressure to get something done that feels like it takes priority over learning. Maybe it’s a visit from a senior leader, a project to deliver, needing to cover for team absences or just a very heavy workload.
Second, there’s the sense of commitment. We feel less accountability and emotional investment in an event where we’re going to sit at our desk and be another face on a screen than we would if we’d planned to take time to go away from the work environment and be with others.
Third, it feels like we’re less visible. Our absence somehow feels less noticeable than in a physical space, and so making the decision to prioritise the direct need in front of us feels like an easy one.
And finally there’s that social sense of what makes a reasonable excuse. We’d rather have a conversation where we say “I was too busy to attend that training” than “I missed that deadline because I was learning about something”.
So, what can we do about it? Ten tactics
How do we get people to commit to attending virtual training (and follow through on that commitment)? What works will be different for every organisation – it comes down to culture and behavioural norms. But what we can all do is test different approaches – experiment, evaluate and see what has the most impact.
At Acteon, we frequently draw on behavioural science techniques – using helpful interventions to prompt people take action. Here are ten tactics to try in your organisation:
1. Text message reminders
Yes, text. Not email (or at least, not just email). Text gives an immediacy that email doesn’t – and in this context it’s likely a type of message that you wouldn’t expect to receive in that format, so you’ll really notice it. In addition to that, if you include an option to confirm your attendance, it increases that commitment to attend.
Experiment with this! Test different types of message to see what has most impact with your audience (inspire them, remind them of shared accountability or practical details, or the benefits of attending the training). Send messages the week before, the day before and the morning of the course.
2. Leader advocacy
Ask your most senior leaders to set out why each topic is important to the business, and use this message to remind people why they are taking each course. If possible, send out (what at least appear to be) personalised emails from senior leaders to attendees the day before the event (“I’m so pleased you’re doing tomorrow’s course on growth mindset. It’s so crucial to our success as a business.”). This has the combined impact of reinforcing why the training is important, increasing a feeling of accountability and making it feel like more of a priority above everything else going on – it feels easier to say “I can’t do that, I’ve got a course” if that course has been endorsed by a member of the exec team.
3. Accountability through connection
Create a WhatsApp or Teams group for the cohort. Set it up in advance and send reminders/pre-learning questions. Creating this social connection makes people feel part of a group – we don’t like to let down groups we have a connection with, so accountability increases.
4. Remind people why
As part of the course booking process, ask people why they are attending – what will the benefits be, what do they want to change as a result of it.
Then use these reasons in reminder messages “You said you were ‘Keen to improve your ability to have difficult conversations, which will improve the morale in your team’.” It’s very easy to forget our initial motivations when we’re some time down the line and all we see is a title on a meeting invitation.
5. The power of a call
Call a selection of attendees the day before to check they are still coming and ask if they need support from HR. You can’t do this with every course, but it’s worth doing for high value ones. Keep data on who you called and who attended to see the impact.
6. Make managers accountable
Engage senior managers – make sure they’re not encouraging their staff to cancel because of operational needs. Provide them with metrics of who’s cancelled and with how much notice.
Make this a metric across the organisation, so each senior manager can see how they are performing. Ask a senior HR lead to contact senior managers with high metrics to understand what’s happening and what might help them to improve.
7. Think about where it happens
Is there an option for colleagues to do virtual training from home, or at least outside of their usual workplace? Once we’re onsite, it’s far more likely that something will happen that takes us away from what we’d planned to do, so try to replicate the experience of ‘being out of the business for training’.
8. Time matters
Splitting sessions into different ‘chunks’ can help people to find time to attend in a busy day. This is another great thing to test, to find out the optimum session length for your audience. Are people more likely to attend a single three-hour session or two 90-minute ones?
9. Shared accountability
Ask attendees to nominate an ‘accountability partner’ (not always their manager) at the time of booking – this person will get an email if the learner cancels. The accountability partner should have the participant’s development interests at heart. If we know we’re going to have to explain non-attendance to someone, it makes us think more deeply about whether we really should cancel, whether the ‘other thing’ really does take priority.
10. Join it up
Put attendees in touch with another attendee that they don’t already know and ask them to encourage and motivate each other to attend the session – that social connection and sense of mutual responsibility will make it more likely that both will attend.
More useful info!...
Read more about designing and delivering brilliant virtual classroom sessions in our whitepaper: Finding the Human Focus in Live Online Training