Optimising The Virtual Learning Experience

80% of Learning & Development nominating officers across several industries in Nigeria, revealed in a recent focus group conducted by Phillips Consulting, that members of their organisation would not be returning to company-sponsored physical classroom training anytime soon.

The focus of learning for the rest of 2020, going into 2021, is going to be heavily dependent on the availability of Virtual Instructor-Led Training (V.I.L.T.) offerings. The pandemic has caused this seismic market shift, as more organisations realise that employees need capacity development to be best situated for the new normal while staying safe.

However, it is not enough to just deploy Virtual Learning. The last few months have shown that pretty much anyone with stable internet can get on any available virtual platform and deploy a webinar, a course, a conference, etc.

The appetite for a quality learning experience which became a significant performance indicator in the physical classroom training space is now being transferred to virtual learning, as people are becoming fatigued with the commonplace deployment of these interventions.

Physical Classroom sessions evolved to a point where top providers of these services started providing action learning experiences in their classes. We saw more of a focus on group activity and interactive, experiential learning, which contributed to the retained knowledge of the participants.

A plethora of tools such as videos, case studies, role-play exercises, cases, team building activities were used to engage the participants. Hence, they walked away with an experience that entrenched the skills or behaviour change they were seeking.

Nevertheless, the switch to Virtual learning hasn’t exactly been a smooth move. We have seen several learning providers battle with their comfort levels — for instance, the struggle of navigating a quality experience speaking to a computer screen. So they reverted to the basics of just going through the motions of regular training to communicate the message.

You rarely saw an application of all the different elements that were prevalent in the classroom sessions because trainers couldn’t easily switch over to the virtual format.

Mirroring such an experience takes a certain level of understanding of how people process learning and information virtually versus in person. In-person, you have the privilege of body language and looking at people eye to eye. It gives an absolute advantage of a human connection that makes it relatively smoother to put out all these learning techniques.

However, for the virtual space, that physical human connection is not there, so it can often leave one wondering what can be done to create an exciting and stimulating learning experience.

The answer comes from thinking outside the box and shifting paradigms. When you think about how people currently consume content online, primarily via social media, you then get a deeper understanding of what attracts people.

Images, short videos, large prints with spacing, and following general principles of minimalism is what pulls people in. Also, TIME! We cannot overstate enough that people do not want to sit in front of their computer screen for hours on end, so courses must be shorter when they are delivered online.

When building a Virtual Learning Program, some basic guidelines should be followed:

1. The Course

Think through the course that is being delivered and consider how much time it would take to deploy. A regular 2–3-day program can quickly become a 1-day program given that physical interactions are not happening.

2. What Are You Saying?

What information are you delivering and how are you passing it. Online learning has revealed that people focus more when they are being shown what to do or taken through a journey of discovery. This principle should shape the design of the course so that it focuses on developing people.

3. Learning Aids

Props can also be something that aids the learning experience. We have seen in recent times, zoom weddings and parties where specific props were sent to attendees so they can feel that they were part of the occasion. The same can be done for virtual learning. Think through what you would typically hand out to participants during a physical training session. Modify those things and courier it (if possible) to the locations of the attendees or create e-copies of those props so that the participants get immersed in the experience.

4. Supporting Material

Videos and workgroups perform wonders during in-person training. This can also be done virtually. Platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom allow for streaming of videos with sound as part of any presentation. Zoom has a great application that provides for breakout sessions. Groups can huddle together in a private virtual room and work on an exercise and bring the results back to the main session.

5. Getting People Involved

Directly engaging people and getting them to talk is a skill that must be developed to get a full Virtual Learning Experience. People sometimes just don’t want to participate. Prompting participants by calling out their names gets the mood going, and you create a situation where folks are now engaging with each other.

The New Normal is no longer over the horizon. It is here, happening and evolving as we speak. Learning has always been an integral part of how careers are shaped. COVID19 changed the learning landscape by limiting in-person interactions, which have forced us all to adopt virtual finally.

As shocking as that change has been, it does not have to be. Many things can be done as a learning practitioner to create an experience that transfers skills and changes the behaviours of individuals in line with their development needs.

All change and disruption are quite uncomfortable. But it is within that discomfort, and out of that necessity, that we come up with innovative ways to transform ourselves and the services that we deliver.

Phillips Consulting Limited (pcl.) is a leading business and management consulting firm serving clients across Africa. www.phillipsconsulting.net/