Virtual Training Experience Lessons from During a Pandemic

Emerson's Michael Richards on Virtual Training at 2022 Emerson ExchangeEmerson’s Michael Richard shared lessons on using virtual training to provide upskilling during the COVID pandemic at the 2022 Emerson Exchange conference. Here is his session’s abstract:

In a matter of days, the in-person, hands-on training world was flipped upside down. With Covid-19 restrictions and closure of in-person gatherings, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of training sessions globally were cancelled with no prognosis for when they might return to normal. Enter the world of Virtual Training… In the world of industrial automation training, hands-on experience is important and preferred so that users might touch and feel the control and instrumentation equipment that they are seeking to understand. With the challenge of continuing to upskill our Machine Automation Solutions users, the Educational Services team quickly flipped the switch to enable Virtual Training as a option to meet the pandemic challenge.

Michael opened by discussing the “always done it this way” approach. The training model is done in person or with equipment at the customer site. It’s the way it’s always been done. People want to have their hands on the real stuff. You get to interact with the technology expert in real-time. You are away from the plan and its distractions. The focus is on the upskilling event, and the training can often be treated as an employee award or incentive.

The pandemic changed this, causing cancellations for all face-to-face training sessions. Essential businesses still had training needs. New people needed the skills to be able to perform their job.

Virtual training was the solution. It includes real technology and a live instructor. Students log into a virtual computer environment and can interact with the instructor and other students.

Some drawbacks include transitioning from 3D space to a computer screen. Training delivery is limited to audio & video. Non-verbal training skills are not perceivable by the instructor. Students will need instruction on how to use the training environment. The instructor needs to be able to troubleshoot technical issues, and the instructor needs to be comfortable using the tools and training methods.

The benefits of virtual training include convenience, location independence, no travel time and associated costs, and broader, more diverse class composition. manages the training plans for Emerson courses for end users across the wide array of Emerson products. The training is IA-Set certified and provides continuing education units (CEUs).

Michael showed me a picture of the setup where each student has their own computer accessed via GoToMyPC and RX3i system access. The instructor has access to see each PC to see how each student is progressing.

Some barriers to virtual training. An earlier training technology didn’t work well, and it was upgraded to WebEx Classroom. Hard copies of student guides need to be emailed, and international ones need to clear shipping export controls. Attention span can be much lower on a screen. The internet connection must remain robust and stable, and students need quality headsets.

Michael shared some lessons learned. Look for virtual technology that has global coverage. Have a backup communication strategy (have a cell number or email for the instructor and the students). Practice first on an internal audience to get more comfortable with the environment and tools.

Instructors need better preparation and communications test tools to verify communications will work—incorporate tools such as polls & quizzes to maintain student engagement.

This method can be effective and has been employed by some Emerson businesses several years before the pandemic. Visit for more information.

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