COVID 19 has changed the way learning and development take place in organizations, converting traditional classroom workshops to virtual learning experience. For years, trainers, participants and L&D practitioners have resisted the push towards full virtual learning. L&D has tinkered with blended learning format having a heavy emphasis on classroom experience and a token online learning experience. Why the disinterest in virtual learning experience? Unfamiliarity with the online learning technology, perceived high cost of online learning solutions and poorly designed online learning.
What are the Common Mistakes with Virtual Learning?
- Treating online learning platforms as dumping ground for content.
- Poor learning design leading to underutilization of the virtual solution
- Misalignment between learning and poor user interface
- Too much static content, e.g., videos and text
- Direct replication of classroom experience to online
To avoid these mistakes and to develop truly engaging and interactive virtual learning experiences, consider these 7 instructional design principles.
- Examine the learning outcomes. Based on the learning outcomes, examine how each learning outcome can be done virtually. For example, if a skills-based outcome would require some e-visualization, simulation and practice. The virtual learning must offer these stimuli. On the other hand, if the learning outcome is primarily cognitive, e-discussions both synchronous and asynchronous maybe needed.
- Structure the learning experience. There are different options here:
- Fully virtual instructor-led workshops, typically a few sessions of 1.5 to 2.5 hrs each
- Blended learning which has a mixture of self-paced learning content that participants engage in before the virtual instructor-led session
- Online programs with pre-recorded content and no instructor-led component, e.g., LinkedIn Learning and Udemy
What are the pros and cons of each?
Based on these pros and cons, decide which structure works best for your learning objectives and your audience.
- Select the critical content. Identify what is key, the must-haves. Less is more. Given it is challenging to hold people’s attention virtually, we need to focus on the crux in the limited time we have with the participants. From the 100% content, distil to 30%, or the key 3 points or ideas to drive home in the virtual session. The remaining 70% can be added as self-paced lecturettes. For example, a 1-day training can be split into 6 small modules; 4 modules are self-paced and the remaining 2 modules are covered in the virtual sessions where participants engage in discussions and practice.
- Big picture. Decide what is covered before, during and after the virtual session.
- Pre-work could consist of facts, information, reading, assessment tools and reflection of one’s learning objectives. Participants could write something and pin on a virtual notice board.
- The virtual session is an elaboration and explanation of principles with illustrations and examples. Ask yourself, what can you add that the participants cannot read themselves? Use rich examples, discussions, role-plays, breakouts, peer sharing and accountability planning.
- Post virtual consists of assignments and action plans to apply their learning, e.g., share their application and learning, send audio- or video recording to the trainers or learning partner so they can get feedback on their application. This follow up is key because there is no face-to-face.
- Curate suitable content. Instead of the traditional workbook or course file, learning materials consist of a series of videos, webpages, readings, modules on platforms or infographics would be needed.
- Sequence learning activities to address cognitive load. Break content into blocks of time using a set of repeatable principles. For example in a block of 20 minutes, 10-minute could be content with the trainer bringing the concept alive through stories, followed by 3-minute of self-activity, such as reflection, doing a poll or quiz and lastly a 7-minute group activity, such as discussions or role play. After this block of 20 minutes, move on to the next block.
- Use a mixture of technology. This could Zoom, WebEx, Abode Connect or Google Classroom. It is essential for participants to test out the platform, especially if they are new to it. Check that the audio and video works well. Ask people to be in a quiet space with their headphones. Take the virtual session as actual training, not something that happens in the background. Induct people early on in the virtual session by having everyone type something in the chat or use the emoticons. This is crucial for engagement and serves as a way for facilitators to get feedback especially when we cannot see the participants’ face.
These principles will help you convert classroom workshops to engaging and effective virtual learning experiences. In this process, don’t be overwhelmed by technology, take it as our own development. However, these principles are necessary but insufficient without a critical factor – the mindset and skills of trainers. As trainers, we are used to being at the center stage. In the virtual world, it feels like there is no magic touch, no eye contact and no movement, as if we are reduced to just a talking head! However…perhaps it is time to transfer power back to the learner. We are facilitators of learning, not the star. We do our job well by designing the structure for learning and guiding the learning journey.
Our reward is when our learners discover they can do it by themselves.
Lee Kang Yam
Chief Learning Curator