Elliot Masie, who first coined the term ‘E-Learning,” once said, “We need to bring learning to people instead of people to learning.”
Many asynchronous e-learning courses – such as the Khan Academy – have already had an outsized impact on the learning industry. Virtual classrooms are now becoming more commonplace as well due to the increase in available broadband and the next generation of reliable conferencing software, such as Zoom.
There are many reasons to consider virtual learning: the cost and logistical issues coordinating in-classroom experiences given a decentralized workforce, the desire to have training match the environments many of us work in today, and the ability to access content and connect with colleagues no matter where you are in the world.
Since 2014, Abilitie has been offering both our People Management and our Financial Acumen simulations as fully virtual experiences as alternatives to our in-classroom experiences.
In 2019, more than one-third of those simulations we delivered were fully virtual. That represents a greater than 50% increase in fully virtual training events in less than two years for our organization.
Iteration with an eye toward constant improvement is vital when focused on enhancing one’s approach to virtual delivery of content. The way we work is becoming more virtual every day. This represents one of the many opportunities that virtual training provides.
Our team has consolidated the 3 keys that we believe have allowed us to scale our virtual training offerings and maintain survey scores from participants akin to the numbers we receive when all participants are together in the same classroom.
#1 Technology is an asset, not a liability
We set the expectation that this will be a camera on, microphone on experience in the pre-communications so that people show up prepared to embrace the technology and allow it to enhance their experience.
Allowing participants to speak openly, see others at all times, and leverage technology to come close to mimicking the experience in-person is a vital first step on the path to effective virtual learning.
One frequent comment about in-classroom experiences is that “the networking with colleagues was one of the best parts of taking time out of my normal day-to-day to invest in the training experience.” Those benefits are not lost when face-to-face isn’t possible.
Leverage the technology to still include breaks and portions of the training for networking. This may require more organized networking than in an in-person session would. Participants might be making their coffee at home, but the training schedule can still include time for them to network over a cup of joe or lunch, even if it is via webcam.
How are you creating a safe space for them in this sometimes uncomfortable virtual environment to show up as their best selves?
#2 Ensure participant interaction is constant, consistent, and differentiated
Social learning is powerful in all arenas. That power is more pronounced in the virtual world. For our events delivered virtually we never have facilitators go longer than 3 minutes without participants interacting in some way.
Sometimes this is a discussion with a partner, sometimes it is responding to a poll via the virtual technology, sometimes it is responding to a facilitator prompt with an individual reflection, but it is constantly removing any opportunity for outside distractions to take hold and interfere with the learning objectives.
When we curate a healthy chat banter among participants throughout the entire session, we know that the participant scores will be high because the engagement was high.
#3 Utilize breakout rooms frequently
Our standard approach is to ensure that participants are in breakout rooms at least 50% of the time learning from one another to elevate the learning from the facilitator. Some of this time is for simulation gameplay with teammates, some of this time is for strategic discussions and role plays with partners, some of it is for small group discussions where we mix participants from multiple teams.
The key is to keep people on their toes, keep them discussing, and keep them engaging. The virtual classroom can be an uncomfortable experience for some, and by creating the safe space of a one-on-one conversation with someone in a breakout room, even the most introverted learners can flourish.
Beyond our 3 keys above, here are some other quick tips that we have found to be extremely useful:
- Our class sizes for virtual simulations range from 10 to 24 people versus our in-classroom experiences which have a larger range and a larger maximum (up to 40-50).
- We deliver virtual sessions split into multiple two to three hour blocks of time (depending on the total length) versus our in-classroom experiences that tend to be delivered in one continuous session
- We lean into the fact that fully virtual training gives you more flexibility with participant diversity. For in-classroom experiences it is sometimes inevitable that you default to regional training, because travel to regional hubs is easier. Virtual breaks those molds for you, so take advantage of it to provide more diverse networking opportunities.
During a 5 day span in 2019 our team delivered fully virtual experiences for over 270 learners in 12 different time zones. When our VP Of Client Experience was asked to describe what we learned from that specific experience, her response was especially enlightening:
“Each region of the world requires different facilitation styles to feel comfortable in the virtual environment, and the time of day during which the participant is joining also impacts how they show up. By meeting the learner where they are – no matter where the faculty is – we bridge the gap and connect as humans allowing the technology to simply elevate the conversation at hand”
The workplace of today is a blended experience of virtual and in-person interactions. The world of tomorrow will most likely still be blended, with a trajectory that continues to bend towards an increasing reliance on virtual interactions.
Ensuring that you are preparing your staff for that world and delivering effective and impactful virtual experiences is imperative as we bring training to participants, rather than relying on bringing participants to the training.