Delivering training courses from home

The Government Statistician Group (GSG) induction course is a mandatory course for all new members of the GSG profession. The course introduces you to statistics and data science across government. It also gives you the opportunity to meet fellow members of the profession. When the pandemic struck we set about adapting our one day face to face course to something that we could offer virtually. 

Moving to virtual delivery

As well as learning a wealth of information about the Government Statistical Service (GSS) and the UK statistical system, we think that one of the best features of the induction course is the opportunity to informally meet and work collaboratively with fellow GSG new starters. Replicating the usual ‘coffee and a chat’ scenarios from the traditional induction to a virtual platform would be tricky. We were also keen to ensure that the session kept its conversational style as much as possible – we want to hear the attendees thoughts and experiences. 

A small group worked up some important objectives. We did this by looking at feedback from our current surveys (what worked and what didn’t), reviewing the strategy, learning outcomes and we assessed platforms and tools. 

Wthen set about delivering the individual modules in an agile way to deliver a minimum viable product to be assessed, adapted and improved. We tried to add a good balance of activities to ensure the course was engaging and kept people interested. We developed a mixture of e-learning, presentations, videos, quizzes, virtual coffee sessions and even a fact-checking exercise. We decided it would be best to split the session over two mornings rather than one long day. As well as a range of activities we tried to use different methods or platforms to vary delivery for example we use Mentimeter for interactive quizzes which people can access on their laptop or phone. 

Pilot

The next stage was to pilot the course to some willing volunteers. We did this by recruiting a few new starters from within Best Practice and Impact division, we also reached out to colleagues in other departments who were new to the professionThe pilot allowed the trainers to run through the new content and to check everything was working as it should on the timing and technology side.  

It also enabled us to get feedback from our volunteers so that we could make improvements before we started delivering the real thing. We ran a focus group with participants soon after the pilot to get their thoughts on what went well, what didn’t go so well. The trainers were not present at this session so hopefully the feedback was honestWthen made some changes (improving the introduction to each section, use of videos, interactive quiz) to the course before delivering the first run to attendees in September.  

The real thing

Despite having delivered quite a few face to face GSG induction courses we were very nervous before delivering the first one virtuallyOur main worry was around whether the technology would work. Although we had tested it in the pilot, this first course had a higher number of attendees from lots of different departments. Luckily the technology held up well and we didn’t need to worry. To date there haven’t been any major technology issues in any of the induction courses we have delivered virtually but we have some contingency plans just in case! 

We have now run over ten courses using this new virtual format, inducting over 250 people into the GSG profession. Feedback so far has been positive. We have recently made the move to Microsoft Teams. This has made it easier for people to join from their work devices and the breakout room function is great for moving people into smaller groups. 

Reflections on delivering training virtually

A few thoughts on what we think has helped make the virtual delivery of these sessions a success: 

  • vary the delivery method 
  • make it as interactive as you can  
  • encourage use of video 
  • include enough time for breaks

Feedback from attendees  

Recent feedback from attendees of the induction course we ran in March included: 

I thought the course was well structured and very well presented over the two sessions. I learnt a great deal about the GSS/GSG and I felt the breakout sessions provided good opportunity to network and meet other statisticians across departments. Jamie Patel, Ministry of Justice

The GSG induction training gave all the information needed for an induction course and gave great advice on being a member of the GSG while being online. The course itself was very engaging including many interactive sections which keeps you focused on the content and stops you from getting distracted by emails. Being online removes the networking aspect but this was taken into consideration with coffee breakout sessions which gives you time to talk to your fellow GSG members to build relationships across government bodies. Overall, I think the transfer to online has worked considerably well. Jacob Cole, Office for National Statistics 

We would like to hear from you

If anyone has attended the virtual GSG induction course and would like to provide us with any further feedback please email goodpracticeteam@statistics.gov.uk 

We would also like to hear from anyone else across government who has moved face to face training courses to a virtual offering. Does anyone have any ideas of activities we could include at the beginning of the course to help the group get to know each other? Again, please email goodpracticeteam@statistics.gov.uk. 

Michelle Bowen and Claire Pini
Claire Pini
Michelle Bowen and Claire Pini both work in the Best Practice and Impact division within the Office for National Statistics.