What’s really happening in virtual learning? If you’re wondering what your fellow L&D pros and CLOS are experiencing in the field, you’re not alone! During the webinar ‘Ready for the New Normal? A Blueprint for L&D Capabilities’, LEO’s Learning Consultants engaged with L&D professionals from all over the globe on a range of issues affecting virtual learning delivery. They asked many questions, but one in particular received a variety of highly practical answers. Here’s a summary of the responses and how you can use them to your advantage.
First, here’s the question:
What tips do you have for your colleagues to help them with virtual learning delivery?
We got a great selection of advice back from the audience and are glad to see so many professionals in this industry so optimistic about the future. 2020 has been all about adapting learning strategy, changing learning design, and accelerating transformation across learning and development.
We’ve broken the advice down into five categories:
- Learning design
1) Learning Design
We see the broad agreement that simply moving face-to-face instructor-led training (ILT) sessions online doesn’t work.
Virtual sessions need to be re-designed from the ground up. Our clients seem to fall into two distinct pools when it comes to designing whole-day or several-day training events for the online world:
- Splitting up longer training into smaller sessions spanning several days or even weeks
- Keeping to the same time, but adjusting the structure accordingly to maintain engagement across the day(s)
Some attendees suggested combining shorter live sessions with asynchronous online activities, such as breakout sessions and group projects. Others suggested creating online resources that learners can either work on or refer back to after the session to aid the transfer of learning into their work settings. Blends really support shorter virtual sessions.
Another key theme in the audience feedback was to focus on the content that really matters. Whether you’re facilitating an all-day session or a more staggered learning experience, your learners will have more distractions in their current working environments. Many suggested keeping the sessions tightly streamlined. Don’t try to cover too much content, and only select topics that are relevant to your audience (do not prioritize all of that “nice to have/good to know” content).
Attendees advocated strongly for increasing opportunities to interact and collaborate into their learning experiences. They suggested using Whatsapp groups to use before/after sessions to build the cohort or designing opportunities for roleplay and group projects. All of this can help to build a sense of community.
Related reading: ‘Going Virtual: How Different Types of Organizations Are Adapting to Virtual Learning’
2) Learner Interaction
When you’re facilitating learning online, it can be difficult to pick up and measure engagement levels. This is where the tools you have at your disposal can work wonders. Building in thoughtful interactions is incredibly important.
No one will actively listen to someone drone on for an hour. Attention spans drop after 3-5 minutes.
When we asked our audience about this, the common theme in their suggestions was making the most of technology. One of the key suggestions, and something we advise our clients to do all the time, is to make use of more than one technology. So, switch between tools to keep people actively engaged and give them more to do as part of their learning. It can be a little awkward at first for the facilitator, but incredibly effective in engaging your virtual learners.
Some of the technologies and interaction opportunities suggested included:
- Interactive slides
- Quizzes (using your virtual learning platform or external apps)
- Screen annotations from learners in real-time
- Chat functionality
- External chat channels like Slack or Whatsapp
- Digital whiteboards
You may also like: ‘3 Key Mindset Shifts for L&D Capabilities in 2021’
3) Collaborative Learning
Collaborative learning has been high on the priority list for many L&D professionals for quite a few years. While 2020 has brought many challenges, it has also brought a huge range of opportunities for greater collaboration. Given the right challenge and space in a virtual environment, learners are more likely to openly engage with others.
While learners are participating in a space that’s more familiar and comfortable to them, as many are working from home at the moment, there can be great opportunities for collaboration. However, virtual classrooms are intimate spaces that need to be created.
Collaboration works when people understand what’s required and trust others to work together. The wider community shared some nice tips for building this sense of space for collaboration.
Some of the suggestions from our audience included:
- Ask people to share their experiences. Really listen.
- Use small break-out groups with a low faculty-to-participant ratio
- Create forums and open discussions pre-, during, and post-workshop/session to capture participant thoughts (this can also help you improve in future)
- Convert materials from audience participation into eLearning and additional resources
- Connection before content – understand that some learners need to be seen and heard during a session to get the most out of it
Related reading: ‘6 Ways to Embed Social Learning into Virtual Learning Journeys’
4) Facilitating Virtual Learning
Good facilitation skills matter online as much as they do in person. But online facilitation skills are distinct.
Alongside mastering the technology, the online facilitator must find ways to challenge learners while accommodating the likelihood that people will get distracted. They need to make space for the reflectors in the room whose lack of engagement can be misinterpreted as disinterest and bottle the excitement of the over-exuberant participant who can severely derail an online session.
Following some research, we’ve come up with a framework to help facilitators understand the different types of learners in an online environment. We call these the virtual learner archetypes.
Want to learn more about virtual learner archetypes? Read our article ‘What’s Working in Virtual Learning: Your Questions Answered’
Getting the most out of the learners online requires a deeper sense of empathy—and an acknowledgment that people are not in fixed states. The online facilitator needs a specific set of skills to navigate the virtual setting. Just as with face-to-face learning, the facilitators have a lot of influence over how interactive and collaborative the session is.
With active engagement more important than ever, we weren’t surprised to see the majority of the suggestions revolving around maintaining the human element of learning online. From keeping things light to being vulnerable as a facilitator, we had a huge range of suggestions from the audience.
Here are some of our favorite suggestions:
- Keep your camera on and look into it rather than at your notes
- Have a short informal chat before diving into the materials
- Keep classes small – one participant suggested six people is the perfect number as you can still engage with each person
- Share your own stories and experiences before asking anyone else to share theirs
- Use the element of surprise – for example, change your background or switch up the format. One person suggested turning your camera upside-down (I need to try that one!)
- Have a script to follow but don’t read from it – always maintain a connection with your learners
Handpicked for you: ‘How to Build a Distance-Friendly Blended Learning Experience’
5) Comfort and Well-Being
Your job as an online facilitator is also to care for the wellbeing of your participants. They may be at home, but it’s likely that they will be spending the entire day staring into their computers. Simply giving people permission to take a break, walk away, and do their own thing allows people to recharge.
We often find that, as the facilitator, you need to give people the explicit direction to relax, and then they do. This is a must for sessions that last more than an hour or two.
All of the audience suggestions for looking after the well-being of their participants revolved around making time and space for learners to switch off and move around, with some suggesting adding in these breaks as frequently as every 20-40 minutes.
Creating ‘brain breaks’ can be beneficial for both learner engagement and encouraging social or collaborative learning later in the sessions. Encouraging people to mingle in the way they naturally would during an in-person session can be great for morale, focus, and productivity.
Plus, your learners are much more likely to enjoy the session and transfer their learning back into their work environment.
This article was inspired by audience interaction in our recent webinar ‘Ready for the Next Normal? A Blueprint for L&D Capabilities’, which you can access through the link above.
Patrick Thomas, Consulting Lead UK
Patrick works as a Consulting Lead. He joined LEO in 2006 and has worked in several disciplines including learning design, consulting, and account management. Throughout this time, he has enjoyed working on a diverse range of programs and with many key clients to develop pioneering learning solutions.
Some key highlights have been working with BP and British Airways on their innovative induction programs and developing award-winning blended leadership development programs for British Airways. Patrick was recognized as the ‘e-learning professional of the year’ at the prestigious e-learning Age Awards [now the Learning Technologies Awards] in 2007.
Previously at LEO Learning, Patrick was a Business Unit Director responsible for the delivery of projects to our key and core accounts. In his current role as Consulting Lead, he works directly with clients to develop effective and innovative learning solutions that ensure measurable business results.
Patrick has an MA in EdTech.