Training in the virtual world



Petra Green of the Publishing Training Centre explains changes to provision since lockdown

At the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) it became clear from March that coronavirus was going to up-end our business. By the time of The London Book Fair we’d decided to cancel all our spring and summer open courses, and companies that had booked in-house training moved to postpone until the autumn. Once the UK went into full lockdown, we knew that in-person training would be impossible for some time, so we switched to promoting our range of distance-learning programmes instead. We soon decided that we needed to offer virtual courses as well, and embrace the new world of home-based working.

Most PTC tutors were keen to adapt their materials for an online audience. We identified four courses to trial, and set about changing their format and content to suit delivery via Zoom. I researched the competition and what people might pay to attend, then put a one-page proposal to the PTC Board in April. They approved a modest investment to develop four courses and launch them in July. 

The 10-week deadline was deliberately tight. Courses needed to run before the summer break, although no one knew what this summer holiday would look like. Having to redevelop, trial, launch and promote courses so quickly would focus minds. 

The main challenge was getting to grips with the new medium. We helped our trainers learn how to teach using a virtual platform, ran practice sessions with PTC staff as mock delegates, and tested out Zoom functionalities like breakout rooms, screen sharing and shared document editing.

We made courses shorter, cutting the content back to essentials: must-haves, not nice-to-haves. Gone were long lunch breaks, complex exercises and anything that took more than ten minutes to explain. Our new mantra was ‘keep it simple’. In many ways, this made the training sessions more powerful and valuable, stripped of any fluff at all. It also made them more intense. One and two-day courses became two and four 90-minute sessions respectively. Freed from the traditional constraints of a hired room from 8am to 6pm, we could be more flexible, step back and think about how best to deliver the courses in this brave new world. 

Now that our four courses have all successfully run, what have we learned? 

  • People like not having to travel into central London for a 9am start, and being able to join from anywhere in the UK or overseas.
  • 90 minutes is about the maximum time for any one piece of online learning without people drifting off. Half a day of online work is enough. 
  • With an engaging tutor and material, delegates enjoy online courses and get as much out of them as in-person training. 
  • Breaking up material, having a week between sessions—with homework set—can aid learning and improve delegates’ absorption. 
  • People don’t really miss the interpersonal aspects of the day: they’ve accepted that those can’t be replicated online.
  • The PTC is competitively priced and now much more affordable, making courses open to many more potential attendees.

So is this the end for in-person training? Are the days of fighting with dodgy coffee-pots and impenetrable biscuit wrappers over? I think the answer is no, but until everyone is happy to share a room with a dozen strangers again, the virtual world is a good place to learn.

Petra Green is a freelance publishing consultant and Head of the PTC. You can find a list of the new virtual courses offered by the PTC here.