February 2021

Virtual Training and Looking to the Future

Catherine Kay reflects on NSF’s pharma training journey in 2020 and the move to a virtual offering, focusing on the challenges, benefits and what we learned. The article also includes insights on a survey of our global pharmaceutical, medical device and dietary supplements training clients to better understand their perceptions toward virtual training.
Woman taking a virtual training on her laptop

Little did I know that when I delivered our Cogent- approved RP/GDP course in March 2020 in Watford, it would be the last time I would be delivering in-person training to a group of enthusiastic attendees for the remainder of the year!

Like all other businesses, NSF had to quickly adapt its business model from being client facing to a virtual method of delivery, while maintaining our high-quality standards and the interactivity and application of knowledge needed for effective learning.

We redesigned all our in-person training courses to be delivered as either self-paced eLearning or as virtual instructor-led classes, or a combination of both. This combination of blended learning enables learners to layer their knowledge through videos, tasks and assignments at a time convenient to them, and also attend several virtual instructor-led live classes to meet the experts, work through case studies and scenarios, ask questions and debate with other participants. The virtual instructor-led classrooms are focused and engaging with the use of polls, whiteboards, annotation tools, chat functions and teamwork sessions in virtual breakout rooms. They have been designed to ensure full participation and interaction to maximize learning, rather than PowerPoint-heavy webinars.

We found that this solution embraces different learning styles, provides an opportunity for content to be revisited and allows reflection time, as well as still providing live access to the experts. It also has the added benefit of being accessible from anywhere in the world, from the comfort of the learner’s home or place of work.

We found that once our participants have experienced interactive virtual training and were familiar with the technology used, they came back for more!

Set-up with self-study before live classroom meeting. The tasks and time for discussion and reflections during the classroom session gave me more benefit than having live sessions all day. It was great that this can be done virtually. I preferred this as it’s more climate friendly and much more effective timewise.
Annine Gjesvik
Customized Pharmaceutical Law Course

Virtual training has resulted in more people registering from across the globe. It has been great to run public courses with participants from the UK, Europe, Brazil, Singapore, Hong Kong and the U.S. It really enhances the training with different perspectives and region-specific interpretations. We have also completed client-specific training and adjusted our working day to suit their time zone. The photo below shows a recent GMP training course with learners from China, India, Indonesia and Thailand!

Pharmaceutical GMP virtual training
Mike Halliday and Catherine Kay delivering pharmaceutical GMP training.

Looking to the future, we conducted a survey of our global pharmaceutical, medical device and dietary supplements training clients to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on their training and education plans, their perceptions toward virtual and remote training, as well as their thoughts on returning to in-person training when it becomes available.

Key Takeaway Messages

  • Over 60% of respondents report that COVID-19 measures resulted in cancellation of in-person courses and led them to attend a course virtually instead.
  • People still want to learn and continue their professional development. The pandemic has accelerated a shift in acceptance of online training formats, although there is a strong recognition of both the benefits and challenges of the format.
  • The benefits of virtual training include flexibility, accessibility, no travel/travel expenses and lower costs, along with the ability to continue to interact with the instructor and other training participants.
  • Challenges and opportunities frequently cited with virtual training are to increase the engagement, networking and interactivity of the format.
  • In-person, public courses generally remain the preferred method for over 40% of participants, but virtual methods are increasing in preference due to various benefits and increased accessibility.
  • Over 85% of respondents report they are likely to register for an online virtual instructor-led course in the future. Additionally, over 80% note they will continue to attend in-person courses when COVID-19 measures are lifted, as 42% said that this was their preferred method of training.
  • Additional format changes with virtual instructor-led training may continue to be necessary as most respondents prefer shorter sessions spread over a longer period than what is typical for intensive in-person courses.
  • Although virtual training is seen as an increasingly viable alternative, Zoom fatigue and the lack of in-person networking opportunities were cited as additional reasons that respondents would not attend virtual training.

We learned that we need to provide choice for our customers. Virtual training will continue to grow and needs to be flexible, on demand, recordable, engaging and accessible.

In-person training is still the preferred delivery method by the majority as it allows attendees to build important networking relationships with other professionals, as well as the opportunity for more in-depth technical teamwork activities, and factory visits for certain courses.

As a result, we will continue to improve our virtual training offering, as well as planning for in-person training courses as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and it is safe to do so.