The new training normal

Issue 7 2020 Editor's Choice

Insights from running my first CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language and Advanced courses at physical training venues since COVID-19 started.

In the last few months, I’ve been privileged to be running my Surveillance Skills and Body Language course along with some additional advanced behavioural analysis and detection training courses with some of the major security companies and clients as an essential service for the control room personnel. It included some of the biggest shopping centres in the country. I thought I’d share some of the experiences from the 10 or so training courses I’ve run at physical face-to-face venues in the new COVID-19 world.

I find if I’m watching an online training video, a webinar, or a video conference, my attention wanders after 20 minutes and I struggle to last past 30 minutes or so of watching even with excellent presenters and topics. In contrast, I’ve always had good feedback previously that my training at physical venues is very interactive and engaging over the two days.

With the threat of COVID-19 likely to last for some time and the burst of online conferencing and training during lockdown, how viable is training at traditional physical venues and training centres under these conditions?

Challenging changes

Social distancing seating suddenly makes a big training room a lot smaller. Venues become more difficult to arrange, especially for larger delegate numbers of up to 10 or 12 people, which was seldom an issue before COVID-19. Also, you ideally are going for single seating classroom arrangements rather than the U shape, which I normally prefer as it lets me interact one-on-one with people more easily and directly. The choice of available venues is immediately restricted, or you have to settle for much smaller delegate groups.

Moving around the room as an instructor also becomes difficult with social distancing. For somebody who likes engaging with people and jumping around, you almost need to tether yourself in the front so you don’t violate social distancing by moving around among the desks and people. In one case, the training academy had put up plastic dividers around delegates to further assist in avoiding any kind of contamination between delegates which was a nice touch, but did make viewing everyone more difficult.

I also put a lot of emphasis on natural ventilation with windows and doors fully open to get as much airflow as possible. There were comments from some delegates on one course that the windows were open in the middle of winter for ventilation when it was two degrees outside, but it was all taken in good spirit. Invigilating, monitoring the way people are answering questions, and collecting the assessment papers also becomes more of an issue with social distancing and even collecting assessment papers becomes a potential threat.

In all cases we had a rule that people needed to use sanitiser on their hands when they came in and when they went out of the training room to reduce chances of infection, and I did it frequently during the training. Sanitising working surfaces is a good idea, and I would also sanitise equipment on completion of the course before taking it home, wiping down the notebook and projector. You can’t be too careful or too thorough.

Using paper and pen assessments, you also need to distribute and collect the assessment papers as well as attendance registers, making regular sanitising even more important. Ensure that people bring their own pens, as you don’t want sharing or passing these around. I would often leave assessment papers for a few days afterwards before I marked them. Companies were generally more than willing to supply sanitiser and in some cases went well beyond normal conditions, offering head visors as well as a range of other supplementary measures against COVID-19, including temperature screening. Only in one case was sanitiser for hands an issue, with the site manager also ignoring the wearing of a face mask when with employees.

Masking effectiveness?

Everybody on the course, myself included, had to wear a mask. But masks come in a variety of types and effectiveness. Some masks restrict how well you can talk, and some delegates, in frustration, would pull them down when they wanted to discuss or ask something. As a trainer, you also can’t visually see who suddenly asks a question so you have to become very attuned to voices and the direction where the question is coming from.

Even providing sweets suddenly became a more complex issue as I didn’t anticipate that people would have to touch their masks every time they helped themselves to one, something you want to avoid, and I’ve since dropped sweets from the course. Masks also restrict breathing in some cases, and even a surgical mask like I was wearing (and which I recommend for ease of talking) can restrict air intake over time. Like runners and cyclists, you need to make sure as a trainer that you are breathing properly if training energetically, especially when overweight and unfit after six weeks of lockdown.

Companies should be supplying good quality company face masks as part of a PPE approach as soon as this becomes feasible – in the case of a couple of companies, they had already started providing company branded face masks. In some cases I’ve been offered plastic face visors during the training, although I tend to favour a good mask because if there are fine droplets in the air, I feel it is more effective. Face visors are probably a personal preference though.

While face mask wearing in the course venue is relatively easy to manage, face mask discipline and protocols, such as wearing it properly and not touching the mask outside the training room become more difficult to maintain. Distancing and face mask discipline is an issue you see generally in public spaces outside of the training room though, and ironically, the training room may be comparatively a safer environment at times than outside the room. Training venues may also be safer than many control room workplace environments that delegates come from, which can be small and have people in close proximity.

Impeding interaction

I use a lot of crime video examples to increase behavioural sensitivity to key elements and enhance situational awareness. Participant analysis of the video and interactive interchanges with other delegates and myself as the trainer are an important part of this to get the right insights. Small group discussions, which I traditionally used a fair amount for sharing behaviour analysis insights and interpretations, are simply not feasible with social distancing requirements.

Facilitating individual inputs from people allocated to groups was one way around this – you draw out the views of individuals from a designated group and facilitate to get members to confirm or acknowledge each other’s views in the open setting. Small group discussions just become more public within the whole group. You need to bear in mind that with social distancing, the people at the back are likely to be sitting quite far away so you need to both allocate them attention and ensure your voice reaches them. For me, interaction between delegates at a physical venue, as well as between delegates and trainer are important to the learning experience and you have to work a lot harder for this under COVID-19 conditions.

It’s amazing how sensitive you become to the body language expressed by and around the eyes as a means to gauge responses to the training input and questions. There is a surprising amount of expression to be read from the facial area below the eyes just above the mask. I’m sure all of us are going to be much better at reading this after six months of wearing masks. You also get more attuned to looking at head and body posture of people as a way of gauging who is talking, who may have a question, and general feelings in the group as you can’t look at normal facial expressions.

The outcome is worth the effort

There was a great feeling of all being in this together during the courses though, with really positive expressions and support among the training groups, including mutual reminders to adhere to sanitisers and social distancing. Staff at the training venues were all very positive and constructive in creating safe conditions, particularly at one of the academies. It took some flexibility, extra effort at times, and a lot of safeguards, but the final results in all cases was a really motivated and competent delegate group at the end of the course and one that I feel didn’t have any less insight or learning benefits than in pre-COVID days.

As a trainer though, you definitely need to work harder in keeping the flow, attentiveness, and interest going. For doing this kind of training, I still maintain that the benefits of a course at a live venue – its personal human interaction and participation, insights from video material case studies, and group learning experiences – still make it a far better medium for enjoyment and learning than on-line training, and more than worth the extra effort.

Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on +27 11 787 7811 or


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