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What’s Working in Virtual Learning? Your Questions Answered

Recently, some of our resident experts hosted a webinar called ‘Going Virtual: What’s Working?’ where they discussed design and strategy for virtual learning. While they focused on the experiences of our clients, we also received a number of questions. In this article, Andrew Joly, LEO’s Director of Strategic Design, answers the questions we didn’t have the chance to explore during the session.

Q: Are companies still scheduling online learning time or do they expect employees to engage in their own time?

As it stands, especially with more people than ever working remotely, the worlds of learning and work are merging. Therefore, it can be difficult to see where learning ends and work begins. Organizations often expect learners to take control of their learning, whether that’s on the job, during work hours, or in their own time.

It’s a difficult question to answer in some senses because yes, companies are scheduling time in the way they always have, but learning in business is no longer just what we would consider formal learning. Mandatory and compliance training will certainly be ‘booked in’ but this really only covers a small percentage of learning in the workplace. 

All organizations now expect learners to take control of their learning to a large extent. Learning at point-of-need is also expected. Sometimes this is helped by digital learning content and tools, but often it’s a case of learning on the job or collaborating with colleagues. The allocation of learning time, through personal development, coaching, or other informal learning means depends on the culture within an organization.

Related reading: ‘Going Virtual: How Different Types of Organizations Are Adapting to Digital Learning

Q: How do you get participants to engage, collaborate, discuss, and learn from each other on a virtual platform?

This is a theme for many of our clients at the moment, and an area we’re talking about a great deal. Something we’ve been working on specifically is recognizing that there are a new set of virtual learner archetypes now in play, that we can specifically respond to when designing for ‘virtual first’. We have developed four core archetypes:

  • The Thinker
  • The Achiever
  • The Dormant
  • The Showperson

Adapting the design and delivery of your virtual classrooms or other platforms with these in mind can considerably increase engagement levels with your learning content. It can be hard to measure engagement in these environments, but designing your learning to accommodate for these archetypes is working out to be a great starting point.

Understanding what engagement looks like to each of them is key to understanding how to design for these archetypes. In any virtual environment, you will find internal and external engagement with your content.

You might also like: ‘How to Run Successful Virtual Classrooms: 10 Tips for Virtual Training

How to Spot the Different Learner Archetypes

The Achiever: This is the learner who will engage internally and externally. Usually easy to spot through participation, they will also continue with driving their own learning and behavioral change long after the session is over. 

The Showperson: This learner will engage a lot externally. Offering to help, answering questions (whether they’ve been asked or not), active in the chat, and attending with their camera on. This may seem like the ideal scenario, but their motivations for this behavior may not match up with yours. The Showperson will not be engaging beyond these external behaviors. 

The Thinker: They may show minimal external engagement throughout the session, but much like The Achiever, Thinkers are likely to continue using and processing the learning once the session is over. They may engage more with the information than the session itself. 

The Dormant: Dormants are not engaging deeply at either the internal or external level with your learning. You need to make a hard decision as to whether you’re going to work to engage them with your design or consider that they may be acceptable purely as ‘lurkers’. This decision will depend on the specific learning needs of the session. Thinkers can be mistaken for Dormants due to their lack of participation, but a Dormant learner is also mentally checked out.

Learn more about the archetypes. Watch: ‘Virtual Learning Journeys - A Focus On The Emerging Learner

Q: Apart from the obvious (polls, breakout rooms, etc.) what are your top tips for increasing interactivity and engagement during wholly online learning sessions?

When it comes to engagement, especially now that the majority of workplaces have transitioned out of face-to-face training, it can seem difficult to find new and interesting ways to keep your learners engaged and learning effectively in a virtual session. While polls and breakout rooms may be the obvious choices, we would also recommend other ways including:

  • Bring in people your learners will know - it can be great to bring in heads of department or other people your learners already work with to add variety, narrative, perspective, and deeper value to the content.
  • Make it interactive - polls are not the only way to do this. Virtual whiteboards can be a fantastic collaboration tool for creative sessions, for instance.
  • Give people a problem to solve - problem-solving is a fantastic way to engage our brains and reduce the likelihood of zoning out. Provide your learners with challenges and get them to present back.
  • Panel 101 webinars - we’ve used this format a number of times and have seen engagement increase considerably. Running an entire webinar essentially as a Q&A session makes your learners feel heard and helps them remain invested in the content.
  • Campfire sessions - we’ve run a series of LEO Campfires this year, which act as a virtual roundtable. These facilitated discovery sessions provide an environment for a number of participants to exchange success stories, challenges, theories, and experiences in a way that allows everyone involved to learn from each other. These can be a great way to keep everyone engaged and considerably involved in a virtual environment.

Handpicked for you: ‘10 Pro Tips for High-Impact Distance Learning

Q: How can we get ahead of our digital strategy while working 60+ hour weeks trying to respond to the business? New hires are not available at the moment

This, I imagine, is a common and tough challenge for L&D and HR teams at the moment. With everything this year has thrown our way, we know that budgets are tight and priorities are conflicting. However, there are ways to manage expectations and make time for your priorities as well as those coming from elsewhere in the organization.

Firstly, measurement is a vital part of this process. Measuring your learning outcomes will provide the evidence you need to help with decision making and give you the clarity you need to effectively create or change your strategy. Using effective measurement and reporting will help you to find which elements are working and where they aren’t. This will allow you to respond clearly and gain agreement from your stakeholders.

Secondly, think and start small. Don’t attempt to ‘boil the ocean” when it comes to strategy. Take the time to go through some exercises to help you pin down your focus. Some useful things to start with are:

  • Start by looking at specific barriers you may have to overcome. Address them one by one. Think: “if we could fix one thing, what would this be?” Then make that your starting point.
  • Try to find the weakness in your delivery chain, and address that. Are you creating great learning that no one can find? That could be a single problem that could make a big difference.
  • Do a quick keep/change/drop audit of your learning strategy. This will help you to understand your priorities.
  • Use measurement and data to your advantage. Understand if there are any duplicate courses or content people don’t consume, or any modules few people complete.
  • Once your audit is done, focus on the change section and use that to drive efficiencies in your strategy.

Related reading: ‘How to Get Stakeholder Buy-In for Learning Measurement Programs

Want to know more about how different organizations are coping with taking learning virtual? Watch our free webinar ‘Going Virtual: What’s Working’ here. Or get in touch to speak with one of our experts.

Andrew Joly, Director of Strategic Design

Andrew is the Director of Strategic Design for LEO. He joined the company in 2001 and has worked in the learning sector since 1989, when he was employed as a training film editor and producer. Having moved into the new area of multimedia in the 1990s, Andrew joined the BBC as a Commissioning Editor for learning games, and then spent time as a consultant at the branding agency Wolff Olins. Andrew now leads the consulting faculty at LEO, at the frontline of strategic learning design and learning innovation in practice.

Andrew focuses on his personal passion: how technology-enabled learning experiences and communication blends can transform behaviors and performance in the workplace. Andrew is always keen to explore how new modes and strategies for learning and connection can make a real difference to people, teams, and global organizations today.

Andrew holds a BSc in Biology from Manchester, a diploma in Systemic Coaching, and is a certified Lego Serious Play Facilitator. He’s a senior volunteer for a Peak District-based charity working towards sustaining the local ecology, habitats, and natural environments of pollinators. He also plays the mandolin and guitar. By his own admission, he has collected too many examples of both instruments.

Follow Andrew on LinkedIn.

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