With the impact of Covid-19 having a lasting effect on business in general and training specifically, it's time to share our experiences with online training and virtual classrooms. In this blog, I specifically focus on the way we deliver our data and AI training online while retaining the high-level learning experience data professionals have come to know us for.
Did you know that since the European lockdown took effect, we've delivered training to more than 200 data and AI professionals world-wide?
On a more personal note, I'd like to thank our participants from countries like the Philippines, India, Turkey, Poland, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, the UK, Romania, Switzerland, and the US tuning from the comfort of their home office. It is truly humbling to experience this unique situation where we are now able to reach data and AI professionals around the globe with our in-house developed curriculum. We have avoided approximately 100 metric tons of CO2 and we're looking forward to save even more in the future.
Check out this introduction to our virtual classroom:
Our Online Training Tech Stack
We've tested many different technologies to create the perfect blend of tech tools to support our trainers with the delivery. Our current stack consists of software and hardware components. On the software side, we rely on Zoom or Teams, Instruqt and Miro. On the hardware side, we love to put our fingers on the iPad and Apple Pencil and a dedicated webcam such as the Logitech 920.
Zoom or Microsoft Teams
Zoom and Teams delivers some unique features that we really love:
- You don't have to login to use the service (Hangouts/Meet anyone?)
- If you have a second display, Zoom and Teams can show the trainer the webcams of all the participants on the first screen while screen-sharing
- Break out rooms that just works, thought out and battle tested.
- Video/Audio quality is consistently higher than the rest — consistently higher ≠ always higher, don't @ me
- Easy to record and pause recording (we save recordings locally)
- First to get good virtual backgrounds support — handy in these times where kids might just sneak behind you
- What about security? We follow their security best practice, but — at the end — if someone shares the meeting ID and password you're screwed anyway. You have the lobby to prevent this sort of things
- Phone bridge that just works
I was skeptical about the break out rooms feature at first. But after trying it out, I am conviced. The break out rooms are well thought out and simply work.
For all technical material, we use Instruqt. Instruqt is a platform that gives you — in a browser — access to our full training environment. Jupyter, R, ElasticSearch, Apache Spark, Apache Kafka: you name it! With Instruqt participants don't have to install anything on their machines. They get a URL, and they're in in no-time. No sign-in required, no fuss.
No local installation whatsoever, but immediate access to our full training environment. Glorious. Go check them out.
Miro for all the whiteboarding and exercises that don't involve coding.
Miro works so well you wonder if there's an army of Oompa Loompa doing the heavy lifting in the background;
The best hardware for a personal online training experience
iPad + Apple Pencil
Having something you can reliably draw on is great. The trainer joins Zoom with an iPad as ell. When the session is in progress, we use the iPad to annotate the screen (or the Zoom whiteboard).
There's some latency, but I've come to like it so much that — once we'll be heading back in the classroom, I will advise the trainers to use the same method: call in using an iPad, and annotate slides and material with a pencil;
Logitech 920 Webcam
Most laptops come with webcams that are — at most — 720p (looking at you Apple!). Get something better.
We have consistenly good results with the Logitech 920 line: 1080p video, built-in microphone with noise canceling;
A second monitor
If you have one lying around, use it: you can keep an eye on the participants while presenting.
We are not using any particular speaker system: most laptops have good enough speakers. Some of them have excellent quality speakers, such as the latest Apple portables.
That's it from the technical side. It takes a little bit of getting used to it, but other than that, it's a solid stack.
The ideal program to keep the energy high during online training
We now offer all our customers to train half days (3.5 hours) instead of full days. The approach has several advantages:
- The material has more time to sink in. This cannot be understated and it is very similar to what we do in college, university. We never have 8 hours of the same. I understand that — with physical courses — it's very expensive to pull everyone — including trainer — for half-days. But this is a non-argument with virtual courses;
- The energy level stays consistently higher. You either stop with lunch, or before wine o'clock if you started after lunch. After 2/3 hours your brain gets tired but — knowing you're in for max an extra hour — it pulls through much more easily.
The rhythm of an online training
Every training follows the same kind of rhythm:
- Approximately every 50' we take 10' break;
- We try to do 20' of "lecture" where the trainer is speaking, and 30' of exercises, with check points in between. That way you never stay behind and you're never really passive for more than 20' at a time.
- We ask for feedback much more often;
- We randomly ask participants to present some of the covered material after the breaks. This way they know they need to pay attention. But it's especially fun and it gives the trainer an idea of which concept maybe need re-explaining! Try it!
Feedback so far
So what's the feedback from the participants? Do they also like it or this is just me selling a nice story? Looking at the feedback of the all the people that took the remote training we score, on average:
- 8.8 when we ask if the time spent away from their job has been worthwhile
- 8.8, when asked whether they'll recommend the training to their peers
- and last, but not least, the trainers scored 9.4!!!
Some especially flattering comments were:
Once again, compliments for how quickly you've been able to offer this class online in a way that really works!
Really enjoyed the training, super useful to what I am doing at the moment and also for what I want to learn more about in the future. Would be interesting to find out how to continue learning/ what kind of learning paths are there for this area.
Very impressed with how this training was transformed to an online-only training. Good tools!
Very valuable training to bridge the gap between business -data science and vice versa
Where do I sign up for it?
Interested in a training for yourself (or another individual): The best way is to head to the website of the Xebia Academy: there you can find all our upcoming classes.
Interested in an in-company training? Read all about the options of tailor-made training programs.