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In TSIA’s recent blog, The Impact of COVID-19 on Classroom Training , we indeed saw that the pandemic is impacting classroom training. Clearly, any face-to-face training is at risk, and by default, that includes onsite training. This post is the second in a series based on data from education related COVID-19 Rapid Response Research polls,and reviews some of the challenges associated with the dilemma imposed by social distancing, in a face-to-face training world, and addresses how to minimize the impact.

Defining Training Options

Before starting, a few definitions to provide a level-set and to ensure that we are all defining training options the same way.

Public Classroom Training: Courses that are scheduled and published to a public calendar, for which students register and attend at a physical location of their choosing. Students and instructor are face-to-face.

Onsite Training: A course that is delivered to a single customer, at the customer’s site or a location of the customer’s choosing. Students and instructor are face-to-face. Some education organizations may refer to this as dedicated training.

Virtual Instructor-led Training (VILT):  A live, synchronous event that includes the use of web-conferencing technology. It often also includes access to virtual lab infrastructure, which enables completing lab work, remotely. The instructor is in one location and students may be located anywhere in the world. When delivered to a single/dedicated customer audience, this is considered a “virtual onsite.”

Two Questions Education Organizations Must Answer

I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that in addition to classroom training, most customer training organizations are cancelling onsite training, whether by choice, or by decree. Additionally, given the uncertainty of the future, discussions about onsite delivery, in upcoming months, appear to be on hold. 

Education Services Benchmark Survey data shows that 38% of education services revenue is derived from onsite training and it is the single, largest source of revenue. So, situation could be a financial showstopper, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Two questions that education organizations must answer are:

  1. What is the ability of my education organization to convert customers who have been scheduled for onsite training to other learning options, such as “virtual onsite” delivery and/or online learning?
  2. How can my education organization encourage would-be onsite customers who are waiting until delivery is again face-to-face to not wait, and instead purchase “virtual onsite” training now?

Data from the Rapid Research Response poll, The Impact of COVID-19 on Onsite Training, in conjunction with education services member conversations, provides some insight relative to these two questions.

What are Education Organizations Doing?

As mentioned, customer training organizations are cancelling onsite training, based on social distancing policies that have been implemented, globally. The diagram below shows that approximately 91% of survey respondents have cancelled onsite delivery, while only 9% indicate that they have not. For clarity when I say “cancelled” it means that the education organization contacted the customer, by whatever means, and communicated that the face-to-face delivery, as scheduled, would not occur. 

Clearly, to preserve the booked revenue, the conversation pursuant to cancellation is one about other delivery options available to the customer and getting the onsite rescheduled as a virtual onsite and/or providing the same course, online, to those who would have attended the onsite delivery. 

Due to COVID-19, have you cancelled onsite training that was scheduled?

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While it may be alarming that 91% of survey participants have cancelled onsite training, at the same time, this situation presents a great opportunity.

While it may be alarming that 91% of survey participants have cancelled onsite training, at the same time, this situation presents a great opportunity. Being thrust into a crisis requires everyone to think and behave differently. Students and customers who heretofore have not been inclined to attend a virtual instructor-led delivery or to partake of online learning, must now reconsider. 

Education organizations that have been dragging their feet with virtual instructor-led and other digital offers must now spring into action. These are the kinds of things that bubble to the surface when it’s anything but “business as usual.”

It is interesting to note that historically, the percentage of education services revenue derived from virtual instructor-led training has never been more than 15%, as illustrated in the diagram below. A 10-year view of Education Services Benchmark Survey data shows that in fact, the growth of VILT has been sluggish, averaging 11% in 2010 and only 15%, ten years later. 

All that’s likely to change, in light of current circumstances, however, there is uncertainty regarding the status of VILT post-pandemic. Will things revert to pre-COVID days or will VILT finally take hold as customers come to realize that it is a viable alternative to both classroom and onsite training?

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The paradigm shift to virtual training options can only occur if education organizations offer virtual instructor-led training, as an alternative to tried and true, face-to-face learning options. Survey data shows that just shy of 90% of survey respondents provide a virtual onsite option, as shown in the graph below, while fewer than 43% of respondents provide access to the same course online.

For the onsite training that was cancelled, what alternatives do you offer customers? Select all that apply.

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The challenge with offering online learning as an alternative to onsite training, is that while there might be a lot of online content, that content may not replicate the course that was scheduled and therefore, is not an equivalent offer. Additionally, onsite training is often tailored to a customer’s needs. The customer may have a slightly different implementation of the product and they want the instructor to deliver the training in the context of their implementation versus a generic set-up of the product. This cannot be achieved with online learning, so may account for why online is not as readily offered as an alternative.

What are Customers Doing?

We know which onsite alternatives are offered by education organizations, but what alternatives are customers selecting? I am often told by TSIA members that adoption of virtual instructor-led training is geography specific and that the least resistant geography is North America and the most resistant is Asia Pacific. Well, the data from the poll certainly corroborates this input. Selection of the “defer onsite training” option ranges from a low of 12% in North America (NA), to a high of 46% in Asia Pacific (APAC) as illustrated in the graph below.

What do customers most commonly do when the onsite class is cancelled?

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In fact, the percentage of customers in APAC choosing to defer training to a later date is greater than the percentage of customers selecting the virtual onsite option. While this poll did not ask why customers choose to defer training, in conversations with members, language and cultural differences are most commonly cited as the reasons why face-to-face training is preferred.

What is evident from both this onsite training poll and the classroom training poll launched in late March, is the following:

  • Online learning/e-Learning is a distant third choice to either classroom or onsite training. 
  • Virtual instructor-led training/virtual onsite is a distant second choice to classroom and onsite training.

Sadly, customers select “defer training to a later date” more often than they select “online learning,” for both classroom and onsite training alternatives. Therefore, based on customer behavior, the best line of defense for customer training organizations is to offer a virtual instructor-led option, followed by an online option. 

Another consideration is blended learning. Education Services Benchmark Survey data, as shown below, illustrates that blended learning options are underutilized, with only 43% of education services organizations indicating that they include a blended approach in the curriculum. Current conditions might provide the perfect backdrop to introduce blended offers in which virtual instructor-led training and online learning are blended into a unified offer.

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The truth of the matter is that COVID-19 is forcing behaviors that education organizations have been trying to influence, unsuccessfully, for 10 years. The pandemic provides a window of opportunity upon which education organizations must capitalize, particularly given the revenue outlook for the foreseeable future.

Impact to Bookings

When comparing forecasted onsite bookings to the same quarter a year ago, most customer training organizations are experiencing a decline. As shown in the diagram below, 63% of education organizations indicate that forecasted bookings have declined by 10%, or more, compared to last year. Only 23% of survey respondents said that the decrease in forecasted bookings is between 1% and 9%, leaving just 15% who cited bookings as flat, or better, than this time last year.

What is the forecast bookings for onsite training compared to the same quarter one year ago?

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For many education organizations, onsite training is the bread and butter of revenue, so the long-term financial impact could be significant. Revenue preservation is dependent on two things, one short term and the other long term.

  1. Short Term: The percentage of customers that had been scheduled for onsite training that can be converted to a virtual onsite.
  2. Long Term: The ability to “persuade” future customers to schedule virtual onsite training now instead of waiting until face-to-face onsite training is available again.

Short Term: The short-term challenge is a bit easier to address. If a date is already on the calendar for the onsite that was sold, then it is likely that an instructor has also been booked, so no need to rustle one up. Typically, most instructors who deliver face-to-face training are also adept at virtual delivery. So, the mechanics of rescheduling the customer to a virtual onsite are relatively straightforward.

Where it gets a little stickier, is the timing. As an example, if the onsite delivery is a three-day course, consisting of three, eight-hour days, clearly that is not going to work in a virtual onsite environment. Training will need to be broken into smaller increments of time, for example, five, four-and-a-half-hour days. Another option might be a blended approach, as mentioned earlier, in which some of the basic course content is delivered via e-Learning and students convene with a virtual instructor to do lab work and to walk through critical, or more complex, concepts.

Some creativity is necessary and the best way to arrive at a solution is to partner with customers to ascertain what works best for them. This may mean that the education organization is asked to do something that under “normal circumstances” you might not consider. As revenue preservation is the name of the game, being flexible is de rigueur.

Long Term: The long-term challenge is more complicated because it means “convincing” a reluctant customer that a virtual experience will be comparable to a face-to-face experience. That is a bit easier to do for classroom training. Onsite training is more nuanced because it provides more than just training.

Many companies schedule onsite training because they want to bring together a team of people and in addition to training, customers they want to foster camaraderie. Therefore, team-building activities become part of the onsite experience, especially if attendees are not co-located and/or new people have joined the team. The training day may be followed by happy hour at the local watering hole, or dinner, at a nearby restaurant. 

Some companies tack on a day before or a day after the training to discuss organizational issues, or to do strategic planning, and so on. These are the things that are lost in virtual onsite delivery and therefore, this should be the starting point of discussion with “potential” virtual onsite customers. What else does the customer want to accomplish, in addition to training? Based on the response, a similar experience can be created.

The other hindrance to virtual onsite training, as noted earlier, is language and cultural barriers. This nut is a bit harder to crack and may require using local resources, which presumes that the education organization has established relationships with local providers. Some education organizations accomplish this via an Authorized Training Partner (ATP) program. Others achieve it by subcontracting with individuals that independently provide consulting and/or training for your company’s products. The table below shows Education Services Benchmark Survey data relative to resource usage in Asia Pacific. The benchmark question is shown to the left of the diagram. A brief description of each benchmark answer option follows:

Authorized Training Partner: A third party company that is sanctioned/authorized by the education organization to deliver training on its behalf. The third party may be a channel partner, but it does not have to be.

Internal Staff: The delivery resource DOES NOT report into the education services organization and could be a consultant in professional services, a call agent from the support organization, etc.

Local and/or Non-Local Education Delivery Staff: The delivery resource reports into the education services organization and may be “local” to where he/she trains or may be “non-local” and flies to a location to deliver training.

Subcontractor: A delivery resource that works as an independent contractor and with whom the education organization contracts on an “as-needed” basis.

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Customer fear that virtual onsite training is an inferior learning experience and that students won’t learn as much, must be overcome..

How does your education organization’s delivery resource distribution compare against the benchmark averages shown? Resource diversification in Latin America, APAC and EMEA is essential to overcoming some of the language and cultural barriers, but it doesn’t solve all the problems. There is still the mindset that face-to-face training is the best way to learn. Customer fear that virtual onsite training is an inferior learning experience and that students won’t learn as much, must be overcome.

Fear is a powerful motivator and is an underlying driver of a lot of human behavior, so, it comes down to allaying the fear. 

How Can Education Organizations Do This?

  • Suggest a “try it, you’ll like it” session in which a one-hour, or maybe two-hour segment, of the desired course is delivered. Include all the components of a virtual onsite delivery; lecture, a hands-on lab exercise, lab debrief with Q&A, or any other aspect that you think is important to include. If it’s with a customer for whom the social element of the onsite is important, then tack on another 20 minutes and host a virtual happy hour, or a virtual coffee break, depending on the time of day. Do something fun during the happy hour/coffee break. Remember you’re trying to foster camaraderie and replicate a face-to-face experience, to the extent possible.
  • Create a video in which segments of a virtual onsite delivery are recorded, highlighting that it is virtually (pun intended) the same as a standard onsite experience and distribute it to prospects who are deferring purchase of onsite training, waiting until social distancing is a thing of the past.
  • Offer a “certificationathon” and include an extra day in which all those who attended the virtual onsite can sit for the certification exam, at no extra cost. This assumes that you have a certification that aligns with the customer’s course of interest and that the exam is online and can be proctored online, if it is a proctored exam.
  • Discount delivery of the virtual onsite. Like fear, money can be a motivator. Timestamp the discount time period. For example, anyone who registers for a virtual onsite in the next three months receives a 20% discount. Be prepared to extend this offer to customers who may have made a purchase a few weeks prior, at full price. Clearly set expectations with customers and communicate that the discount promotion is valid from this date to that date. In other words, it is not a perpetual discount.

What would entice you to do something that you wouldn’t normally consider doing? What can you provide a customer that will help ease the fear of the unknown? How can you reduce or eliminate presumptions that a customer has about virtual onsite training? 

To arrive at these answers, unpeel the onion with your customers. If you can get at the core and identify what’s truly holding them back from making a purchase decision now, then you can offer one of the ideas above, or create a great new idea of your own.

As mentioned, education organizations have been trying for years to prompt customers to consume more virtual training. By circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the pandemic has created a state of “harmonic convergence” for customer training. This is not a state that will last forever, it does however provide education organizations an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate that virtual instructor-led training is every bit as effective as face-to-face training.

COVID-19 Checklist for Onsite Training 

✔ Cancel any onsite training that is already scheduled and actively reschedule the delivery to virtual onsite. Provide online training as a stop-gap measure, if you do not have a virtual instructor-led training offer.

✔ Diversify education services delivery resources by using Authorized Training Partners and/or subcontractors who can speak the local language and who understand the local culture, particularly in APAC where the propensity for face-to-face training is the greatest.

✔ Bolster bookings by using the ideas discussed earlier to prompt prospective onsite customers to purchase now and not delay their purchase to a time when it is again “safe” to deliver face-to-face training.

✔ Determine if the onsite experience for each customer includes both learning and team building aspects. If both, then identify virtual social activities that can be woven into the virtual onsite experience.

✔ Preserve revenue by identifying questions you can ask customers that get at the underlying apprehension of doing a virtual onsite. This enables you to craft a solution that addresses the customer’s concerns and prompts them to purchase sooner rather than later.

TSIA is Here for You

We understand that our member companies, the technology industry, and the world at large have been impacted by COVID-19. Whether you are prepared for Revving or Retooling, now, more than ever, we need to work together to get through these challenging times. TSIA is committed to providing visibility as quickly as possible into the changing industry trends and practices that come as a result of COVID-19. Visit our Rapid Research Response Initiative resource page for more information.

If you have any questions related to how COVID-19 is impacting your organization, we’re here to help.

 
 
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Maria Manning-Chapman

About Author Maria Manning-Chapman

Maria Manning-Chapman, is vice president of research, Education Services, for TSIA. She has more than 25 years of education experience in the high-technology industry. Maria is well versed in the dynamics of running an education services business and has held leadership positions in operations, virtual learning, business development, curriculum development, delivery, and partner management over the course of her career.

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