5 Pillars of Successful Hybrid Training

Nov 8, 2023

Each pillar supports the smooth execution of live mixed training delivery when combining on-site and online learners.

Hybrid workplaces are increasingly more common today, with organizations even designating traditional office space for in-person collaboration days. According to Forbes.com, an AT&T study of U.S. businesses across five key industries predicts “hybrid work will be the default by 2024.”

However, this hybridity creates logistical issues for synchronous delivery. When an organization requires live training, some staff members may be virtual on a given day, while others may be physically in the office. This creates a need for live training solutions that can reach participants from multiple venues. Enter hybrid training.

What is Hybrid Training?

I define hybrid training as “the live mix of in-person and online participants and facilitator(s) in concurrent, shared learning spaces.” These spaces may include multiple hubs where participants gather in person across cities, states, provinces, and time zones, while other participants connect remotely from anywhere in the world. The challenges of hybrid training can be… well, challenging. Both the required technology and multiple venues invite increased risk for hang-ups, surprises, and technical glitches due to its complexity. 

Strategies for Success

However, there are strategies that can ensure hybrid learning experiences are successful. Here are five of my key pillars for delivering effective hybrid training programs. I call them pillars because each supports the smooth execution of live mixed delivery when combining on-site and online learners.

Pillar #1: Superb Audio Technology

Ensuring your audio is top quality is job #1. If virtual learners cannot hear in-room participants or the facilitator, it quickly can derail your learning solution and frustrate participants.

Some organizations use Zoom Rooms or install hanging microphones on ceilings of dedicated hybrid training rooms. Others leverage technologies such as the updated version of Barco’s ClickShare Conference, which can be used with virtual training platforms in tandem with cameras and include a room speaker and excellent microphone to pick up audio from anywhere in the room. If you are on a shoestring budget, you also can creatively pair multiple laptops and microphones.

Regardless of the equipment your organization selects, ensure you thoroughly test everything before class day.

Pillar #2: Co-Facilitator and IT Partnerships

Because of the complex nature of hybrid training, a facilitator often is left to manage everyone, everywhere, all at once. This can create cognitive strain on the facilitator because they are overloaded with multiple tasks. Unfortunately, this can impact the training’s quality.

Instead, leverage two co-facilitators for hybrid learning. One is online and the other is on-site. Either can be the lead, while the other also can function as a technical producer. This provides an anchor for participants in each venue.

Additionally, facilitators should build relationships and partner with IT staff to be on call or to assist facilitators as needed during hybrid learning programs.

Pillar #3: Strategic Space Design

How you arrange a space also can influence the conversations that happen there. By applying strategic space design to hybrid training, thoughtfully consider the setup of your physical room for inclusivity.

For example, you might consider a Neat Board to connect virtual participants, and then strategically place the Neat Board on one of the ends of a U-shaped table in the room. This way, virtual participants literally “have a seat at the table.”

Rearranging tables and chairs into U or V shapes can invite more collaborative exchanges with in-room participants who also need to be able to see virtual participants on screen.

Pillar #4: Dual Camera Access

The popular adage, “out of sight, out of mind,” is still relevant here. As a best practice, ensure in-room participants can see virtual participants on camera, and vice versa. This way, remote participants who can view the live feed of the physical room will say, “I feel like I’m in the room.”

Ideally, you want to leverage technology that can display projected slide visuals while still showing remote participants on camera. Omnidirectional cameras can automatically zoom in on those speaking in the room. In-room facilitators also need to work out where to stand to avoid blocking the camera and develop a sense of “camera awareness.”

Pillar #5: Equitable Learning Activities

Thoughtfully redesign hybrid learning activities to ensure all can participate. For example, avoid writing on a physical whiteboard in a training room and saying, “I know some of you can’t see this, but…” Instead, create learning activities accessible to all through digital applications such as virtual whiteboards. This means in-room participants will need to know to bring their laptops and to mute their laptop audio to avoid echoes and audio feedback.

For breakout activities, it works well to place online participants in virtual breakouts and in-room participants in small table groups in the room, and then debrief as a combined, large group. Other hybrid facilitators prefer to mix online and on-site participants in breakouts and send them to small conference rooms or spread out in a large room where in-room participants wear headsets.

Living and Learning in a Global Village

By applying these five key pillars, you can ensure learners have successful hybrid learning experiences. We truly are living in a “global village” as Professor Marshall McLuhan predicted nearly 60 years ago in his book, “Understanding Media” (1964). Now it is up to us as learning professionals to continue to experiment, research, and pioneer how best to leverage modern technologies with hybrid learning solutions. In this way, we can deliver meaningful and impactful training to learners — regardless of their location.

By Diana L. Howles