3 Things I’ve Learned from Teaching Online Trainings

In September, it will be 12 years since I taught my first psychology class, as a teaching assistant at a French university. Since then I have had the opportunity to teach at five different universities. I’ve facilitated clinical trainings in North and South America, Australia, and Europe to professionals and students from psychology, medicine, social work, and education. Over the years, my excitement to spread ideas and shape skills has continuously grown. You know the saying “knowledge is power”? Well, I love to empower my fellow learners by sharing the bits of knowledge I’m humbly trying to develop for myself.

One of the things that have been most enriching in my more recent experience as a trainer has been to facilitate online clinical trainings on PracticeGround. While the most typical format for clinical trainings is the on-site two-day workshop, online trainings offer the possibility of spreading the training over several weeks or months because participants don’t need to be in the same place as the trainer. For the same reason, participants in the same group can come from literally all over the world, and have the opportunity to exchange ideas on a variety of topics and learn from each other while applying the training material in their daily work.

Facilitating on-line trainings has also been a challenging experience for me, because with such a format, a lot of my blind spots got suddenly uncovered for the first time. Thanks to the supportive members of our Learning Community, I was able to grow from these challenges, and I believe my trainings have improved and better satisfy the needs of people who attend them.

Here are 3 things I have learned from teaching online and that have influenced the way I now facilitate my trainings.

1- Trainees Need Time to Learn

Because the sessions are spread out, I have the time to listen to the participants’ feedback and can adjust the didactics, examples, exercises, and the schedule to the trainees needs. It’s also really nice to be able to respond to trainees needs before it’s too late. In addition, questions that usually don’t come up during on site training do come up online because we have time to discuss points that are only quickly presented in 2-day workshops. In online trainings, participants have the opportunity to understand and apply what they learn in depth.

I also found that when I have the time to get to know trainees over a long period of time, I am better able to give them the kind of feedback that will motivate them to keep learning. Some need more concrete examples, some need to practice first, and others need to think through the concepts before watching a demonstration. The time we have gives us the flexibility to personalize the training.

2- Trainees Need to Practice Skills in Real Life

In online trainings, participants can do more than understand the material and practice in role plays. They can apply techniques in real conditions in their daily practice, then come back and tell the group what worked and what didn’t work.

By doing this, the specifics of each situation and culture begin to appear and the trainer can help participants adapt the material to these different situations. Flexibility is better learned through multiple exemplar training; when we have more time and the training is divided in smaller chunks, trainees have more opportunities to test their skills in a variety of situations.

As trainees share their experience in applying new skills in their daily practice, they can also get help on points they are stuck in now. Instead of learning material they might use later, they bring up issues they are facing at the moment and they get immediate support.

Learning from the trainee’s experience applying skills in real situations is also an opportunity for me as a trainer to be more aware of what doesn’t work in my approach. It’s often hard to admit limitations in my work, but from this increased awareness, and often with the help of the trainees themselves, new ways of conceptualizing problems and new techniques can emerge. Everybody grows from this experience.

3- Trainees Also Learn from Each Other

On PracticeGround, our trainings don’t just allow participants to take a course. They allow them to join a community. People connect with each other through a discussion forum that can be used throughout the training. Participants have more opportunities to ask questions, make comments, share resources and perspectives, and they can help other participants make progress when there is an area they already master well. You may have heard that the best way to learn something is to teach it. I’ve often seen trainees becoming really great experts as they explained something to other participants.

Having the time to listen to trainees’ perspectives is also humbling for me as a trainer, as I have the opportunity to get in touch with a diversity of backgrounds and cultures.

Learning in a community also helps trainees to get support from others when they feel like they’ve fallen behind. In a year long training, we know there will be times when we don’t have time to interact. Sometimes only a few trainees take part in a discussion, but the others can follow these exchanges, and still learn at their own pace. The door is always open, and there’s always something to learn, even if you’ve been away for a while.

For me, my dedication to helping colleagues learn and my skills to do so have been greatly strengthened by investing my energies in a community of learners over time. I’m can’t wait to go back to school in September!

—Matthieu Villatte, PhD