December 2, 2019 - Comments Off on Overcoming the Achilles Heel of Learning Delivery – Mastering Live Virtual Sessions
We live in the epoch of anytime-anywhere learning. Learners seek to be in control of their own learning making eLearning courses very popular among the masses. However, this is not always the most motivating way to learn as it requires a lot of determination and discipline from learners. Amidst rigid deadlines and high volumes of work, learning in this format can often take a backseat. Which is why organizations prefer to continue with classroom-based instructor-led learning to create an environment that allows learning to take place effectively.
Unfortunately, while each format of learning has its fair share of benefits, quite often, learners tend to focus on the disadvantages. Attempting to combat these challenges has led organizations to invest significantly in live virtual sessions – instructor-led sessions that take place over a digital platform, such as a conferencing tool, bridging the gap of physical distance. However, this new format of learning comes with its own set of challenges that can often gravely impact the learning experience and outcome.
To help organizations combat these challenges and effectively master the best of both worlds, master facilitator Anand Thangaraj of KNOLSKAPE delivered a webinar on 23rd October 2019 which unraveled the myths of live virtual learning and talked about some of the best practices to enable stellar learning experience.
What follows is the summary of the webinar, which covers areas such as:
- An insight into the virtual learning environment
- Identifying and addressing challenges in the virtual learning environment
- Preparing a roadmap to facilitating in the digital world
Understanding the Virtual Learning Environment:
According to the Association of Training and Development (ATD), 66.7% of organizations use virtual classrooms for learning. While this is a significant number, an important consideration is how effective these virtual classrooms really are.
An advantage of virtual classrooms is that they allow learners from all over the world to connect. Therefore, cultural nuances become paramount considerations. Culturally, facilitation can happen with a variety of nuances – high context, low context, questions for engagement, avid appreciation for participation, etc. Therefore, an asynchronous facilitator or a producer comes in handy to synthesize the discussion and derive insights for reflection.
To understand the virtual learning environment better, let’s look at three categories they fall into:
- Content Delivery Tools – Webinar platforms such as Zoho and Zoom, and eLearning platforms such as Coursera and LinkedIn Learning
- Communication Tools – Meeting based tools such as Cisco Tandberg meant only for video conferencing to make meetings more effective. These are meant only for communication. Using these tools for content delivery present several challenges such as engagement.
- Process Tools – These exist to help teams manage the virtual learning environment
Top Challenges in Virtual Learning
Virtual learning is technology driven. Therefore, it brings with it a plethora of technology and connectivity challenges – Internet connectivity, tool malfunctioning, bandwidth issues are just some of the things that can hamper the learning experience on a virtual platform, causing bigger implications such as time management and learning disruptions and clarity. These are facts that are known. However, let us address some of the equally important but lesser considered areas when deploying learning in a virtual environment:
- The Digital Body Language:
This is perhaps the most commonly overlooked element of learning and facilitating in a virtual environment.
In any kind of presentation, facilitation included, verbal communication, tone and non-verbal communication are often stressed on. In a physical classroom, it is easy to exhibit these elements of communication for impactful outcomes. After all, 55% of the impact on any communication comes from non-verbal cues, which are easy to exhibit and assimilate when talking face to face.
However, impactful communication in the virtual world is more difficult because non-verbal cues such as eye contact, scanning, moving and gestures cannot be exhibited, unless the video option is used. In this case, the tone of voice, pauses and speed of speech become the most important elements of effective communication.
This is where the voice scorecard comes in handy. Creating impact depends on how facilitators mold their voices:
- To ensure that learners understand the instructions provided, facilitators must ensure that their verbal cues are systematic, tone loud and speed slow with appropriate pauses so that learners have the time to absorb the instructions.
- If seeking to garner excitement and a sense of urgency in learners, facilitators must ensure that their tone is loud, and their speed of talking is fast. High energy delivery is pertinent.
- Emotion is best elicited through slow and soft tone and speed.
- Discussions and activities are best conducted through fast speed and soft tones.
This scorecard is helpful not just in a virtual learning environment, but for meetings, discussions, reviews and presentations as well. It need not even be only on the virtual platform.
Tip for facilitators: Keep this scorecard handy with you for all communication and start building the techniques required to elicit appropriate impact just through the tone and speed of your voice.
The perfect role models to help you master this skill are Radio Jockeys, who have made their careers primarily on this ability to mold their voice tones and speeds to elicit appropriate responses from their listeners.
2. Engaging learners continuously:
The roadmap for facilitators, be it in the physical classroom or in the digital world, begins here…
This image represents the different techniques you can use to engage your learners, based on the outcome of the engagement:
- The engaging technique can be used when asking thought-provoking questions
- The involving technique can be used in activities that allow learners to engage in and lead discussions, insights, experiences and even introductions
- The informing technique can be used when imparting knowledge or delivering presentations
- The planning technique can be use when identifying and synthesizing ideas through a brainstorming activity
3. The Halo Effect:
In any virtual session, engagement starts to dip every 90 minutes. Therefore, virtual sessions must always be short to remain impactful. A full say learning workshop in a virtual environment is extremely unproductive.
The ‘Halo Effect’, refers to the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area. Typically, first impressions created can color subsequent judgement. Therefore, ensuring that a virtual session is short and engaging is extremely important. You want your learners to have a positive visceral reaction – a good feeling in the gut. This takes place when learners are able to connect with the facilitator. Therefore, it is important for facilitators to be able to form a rapport and a connect with the learners – be it cognitive, conversational or emotional. These are called compelling triggers.
Every group of learners is heterogenous, in terms of their expectations, their learning styles, their takeaways, and even the triggers that compel them to feel a connect. It is important for facilitators to recognize which triggers are compelling to their learners and ensure that these triggers are exhibited:
- Activities and insights that propel learners into action are cognitive triggers
- Logical presentation of research and data is a rational trigger
- Microstories or experience sharing is an emotional trigger
It is important to remember that in a virtual learning environment, the success or failure of the learning session doesn’t completely depend on technology. Technology is merely an enabler of learning. The success of a virtual learning environment depends on the ‘Rules of Engagement’:
- The rules of engagement work on the principle of ‘What does success look like’ – it has to be psychological agreement between the facilitator and the learners.
- Encouraging participation, discouraging the use of smart devices and appreciating learners who participate are good ways to keep the engagement levels high.
- To encourage passive learners, facilitators may choose to call out names and encourage specific participants to engage. There are tools, named attention index, that tell you whether an individual is on the virtual session screen or kept it open while working on other tasks or simply moved away from the device altogether.
- Tips for engaging learners in the virtual learning environment:
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