How to create engaging trainings to cover both hard and soft skills
Hard and soft skills can both be taught but are often approached in different ways. This means you can be spending twice as much time on preparing your training sessions! If you differentiate between the ways in which you teach hard and soft skills, you will have a lot more work to do if you need to adapt your training material each time the client, subject, or circumstances change. We have found that trainers and facilitators tend to design and run their workshops and other training sessions with groups differently, depending on whether they are teaching hard or soft skills. We’ll show you how you can be more efficient and use the same engaging, interactive environment to create training session models that are easily transferable between these different types of skills training.
What are hard and soft skills and why do we differentiate between them?
In simple terms, hard skills refer to technical abilities or knowledge that can be quantified and measured, whereas soft skills are more about interpersonal and communication skills.
Hard skills may be specific to particular jobs or industries and are often learnt through formal education or training. They can be easily ‘benchmarked’ against other people’s skills in the same area.
For example, most ‘trades’ require manual skills and specialist training. You don’t just wake up one morning with the ability to rewire your house: it’s a skill that you will need to learn, over time and with practice. And you can be tested on your abilities.
These skills have traditionally been taught in an in-person setting, with opportunities to practice the things that have been taught in principle. It is relatively simple to ascertain a person's ability or experience in these sorts of skills by seeking evidence of examination passes or other proof of capability. Hard skills do not have to be based on manual abilities: skills related to information technology, such as knowing a programming language or specific software are also hard skills.
Soft skills are more difficult to quantify or measure (and explain!) as they tend to relate more to interpersonal abilities. They are not specific to an industry so are often referred to as transferable skills: they are advantageous in all areas of people’s personal and professional lives.
Some people are inherently more adept in areas where soft skills are required but they can be learnt and developed as well. Some people will find certain soft skills easy while others might struggle. And the same is true for hard skills too.
Soft skills can be harder to teach as well as being harder to measure. Things like communication, working in a team, problem-solving, time management, and leadership all come under this umbrella.
Ideally – in life as well as business – you want a good mix of hard and soft skills. They work in harmony, so it makes sense to be able to deliver them with just the one approach. And it makes for a lot less work for the trainer! But what does this mean for engagement? How do you keep people engaged without having to adapt your training depending on whether you are teaching hard or soft skills?
Why is engagement so important for training sessions?
If you are running a workshop or any other training session, whether it is being delivered remotely or in-person, it is vital that all participants are actively engaged with the process and the content. Research has shown that training that requires higher levels of engagement will have far better outcomes than training that does not.
Interactive learning helps a lot with engagement. Making learning interactive means that trainees must engage with a process. It makes sense that participants will naturally have to pay more attention if they need to do something than if they were listening to the same information and just passively receiving it. The Research Institute of America found that “e-learning boosts retention rates by 25 to 60%, compared to retention rates of 8 to 10% with traditional training”. So, interactive learning tools should be used whenever appropriate.
How does engagement relate to teaching a hard skill?
Because hard skills – practical, technical abilities – usually involve learning something that can then be put into practice, trainees can be given hands-on exercises and practical activities. This increases engagement as they can learn by doing rather by listening to someone passing on theoretical knowledge (it is easy to lose focus) and having to work out for themselves how it might apply to them or in real-life situations (harder to do in the abstract).
Training sessions that use activities the trainees need to get involved with will therefore automatically require greater engagement from the participants – it is difficult to be passive when you are trying to carry out a new task or skill! It also makes it easier for trainees to see the practical applications of the skills they are learning and why they are relevant. This in turn helps with learning and retention rates.
How does engagement relate to teaching a soft skill?
Soft skills, by definition, can be harder to teach. Soft skills do not naturally lend themselves to concrete examples showing how something is done. They are harder to practice and there is no objectively judged proficiency level to reach. Imagine if you were learning a soft skill like how to be an effective listener rather than a hard skill like how to type, or butcher a chicken: with hard skills it is much easier to assess your progress yourself, and to achieve specific goals that can be objectively judged by a third party too.
However, interactive activities are just as important to keep engagement levels up when teaching soft skills. More abstract concepts can be harder to understand so it is important to introduce ways in which trainees can understand how they apply to the real world. Things like role-playing activities and group exercises will help trainees see how the skills they are learning can be applied in a practical setting: and they will keep them more engaged at the same time.
Collaborative tools - the key to designing training for hard or soft skills
Traditional teaching methods focused on passing on information that was to be learnt so it could be repeated back as proof of knowledge. It offered a very isolated, solitary type of learning. More interactive methods of teaching create a much more immersive style of learner experience. This creates greater engagement which in turn helps learners to assimilate information more quickly and retain it more easily.
Technology offers exciting ways to aid engagement, especially as not everyone assimilates information in the same way. The VARK model of learning styles says there are 4 main ways in which we learn:
- Reading and writing
- Kinesthetic (through touch)
Some people will learn in a combination of these ways.
Many learners do not thrive when they are taught using traditional methods. However, all types of learners get some benefit from interactive methods, and some will benefit hugely – and this is regardless of whether the skills being taught are hard or soft.
To make training sessions in hard skills more engaging, we can see how important it is to include practical exercises and examples that are relatable so they can be easily understood and applied to the real world. Soft skills training can also make effective use of interactive activities that incorporate real-life examples – even if it might not be as obvious.
Online whiteboards and why they are so useful
Online whiteboards are a collaborative tool that replicate the whiteboards traditionally used in classroom settings. However, they have plenty of additional features that can not only increase engagement levels for your training but can also easily adapt to hard or soft skills training. A solution that saves you time and effort while also increasing the impact of your training. What’s not to love?
How online whiteboards can improve your training efficiency
A single, online space that can be shared and accessed by everyone
Trainees can share and collaborate in real-time, and they can be used both in remote and in-person training settings. They are useful in many scenarios and are particularly helpful if you want to put trainees together to work as a team on a project. As everyone in the team can access them, it can make for a more collaborative exercise.
Online whiteboards can be accessed from any device with an internet connection, so there is no need for any specialist equipment or additional costs.
Flexibility of features
Because online whiteboards utilise a wide range of features, including things like text boxes, shapes, and images, they can be very flexible. You can create flowcharts, diagrams, mind maps and other visual aids quickly and easily. And they are not just limited to the features that a normal whiteboard could offer. Sound, video, and pictures can even be used with them. This type of teaching aid is relevant and applicable to both hard and soft skills.
The ability to record and track the progress of the training sessions
Unlike a board that must be wiped clean each time you need to start a new topic or session, the information on an online whiteboard can be saved and reviewed as and when necessary – whether that is during a training session or afterwards. One of the downsides of brainstorming sessions on paper is that you end up with so many things that by the end of the session are irrelevant to what you are currently trying to achieve. An online whiteboard solves that problem for you, and you don’t need to delete the bits you don’t want forever – you can just save them elsewhere for future use.
Ways of working that appeal to different types of learners
Using a visual aid to demonstrate processes, procedures, examples, and so on can be highly advantageous for engagement and retainment levels during training. Some people need to ‘see’ things to understand them, so using a digital whiteboard can help you explain and manage things in a more visual way.
The option to duplicate templates
If you have created a training session or workshop that works on your whiteboard, you now have a template for future sessions. You do not need to start again at the beginning because you can duplicate it and easily adapt it to a new subject – whether that relates to a hard or soft skill.
Create more adaptable, engaging training programs with the right resources
Everything is possible with the right resources. Technology should be helping us, not making things more difficult. With the right resources you can create more effective, engaging, and useful workshops and other training opportunities for students. And if you can use a template that is just as valuable for teaching soft skills as it is for hard skills, you can halve your workload.
Digital whiteboards and other collaborative tools enable trainees to take more ownership of their training and learn faster and better: as a trainer, you are giving your students the tools to make a difference in their personal and professional lives.
At Klaxoon you will find a suite of collaborative tools, ideas, and opportunities to create training sessions that work for you and your students. Why not visit our resources page and see how our tools can help you create engaging training opportunities that are adaptable?