I have been working remotely for almost two years now. Quite recently, I was invited to deliver a series of virtual talk to a group of senior leaders on how virtual teams can collaborate and succeed in the downturn. The organization had been steadily adapting to the new normal of remote operations. They requested me to share my experiences that could help them manage their teams and lifestyles in a better way. My audience was based across time zones and this was an opportunity for me to learn how people are coping with the current downturn in their respective geographies and their experiences of working from home.
Based on our agreement, I curated a 3-part “Virtual Leadership Series” that emphasized virtual collaboration, productivity, and communication. In addition to sharing my experiences, I gave them insights and case studies on how other organizations have embraced remote work and how they could absorb some of the practices too. The masterclass series was well received.
By the end of the series, I made a couple of observations!
Whether this is due to the current downturn, individual preferences, or organizational need, learning experiences are shaping up in a different way.
Traditional learning methodologies are being replaced by virtual experiences. Learning has become more informative than transitional. There’s nothing wrong with it. We ought to drift with the tides, at least for now! But in hindsight, it would need a better approach.
Here are some of my observations from the engagement and something that I feel is going to be the new normal.
- Prefer programs with a shorter duration and richer content
- Are interested in real-time experiences than mere concepts, models, or frameworks
- Are interested to learn what other organizations are doing in the current state of the world
- Want their experiences to be immersive where they can reflect through short case-lets, opinion polls, and group chats
- Want to know how an industry subject matter expert aligns with people from diverse backgrounds in the organisation
- Need learning to be a continuous (no technical hiccups) process
- Want “come-back-for-more” experiences
- Need humor when technology masks their ability to relate with ease
- Need occasional silence to reflect on the overall objective and find ways to implement them
To meet these expectations of an evolving learner, we need to take a holistic approach to learning journeys. Although technology provides an avenue for engagement, it is the facilitator’s role to transform the avenue into a playground, where learners feel safe to express their opinions, offer attention, and go back armed with information to apply it to their working sphere.
Classroom-based learning has always been one of the preferred methods to provide real-life experiences, but how can we replicate these experiences and create a more humanized approach in a virtual environment?
Techniques To Humanize Virtual Learning
As a virtual instructor, my recent experience has given me a lot of insights. It taught me that one size does not fit all, hence our approach to crafting educational journeys needs to reset accordingly. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at how we could elevate our approach to virtual learning.
1. Make It Video-Based
The preliminary aspect is to make it “human.” Facilitating interactions through video allow learners to look beyond vocal influences. Connecting with my learners through video not only helped me secure attention but also guided me in navigating body language and personal nuances. Therefore, a video-based approach to learning allows the facilitator to reach out to that quiet participant who may be hesitant to share insights on a technological platform.
2. Create Emotional Influence
Emotional experiences influence our thought processes faster than theories. I began the series by sharing my personal experiences; my story on how I transitioned from a frustrating daily commute to working remotely, the flexibility to structure my routines and the rewarding process of writing for international publications, like Thrive Global and eLearning Industry. I observed that people listened to me with keen insight. A lot of them even acknowledged the similar dilemma they’ve experienced, and in a short amount of time, I could get buy-in from learners before I even began the series. Hence, start with a story or a personal experience on why you think you relate to the topic well.
3. Take A Virtual Pause
Pauses are healthy, not to be confused with dead air. When you pause, it allows you to take a break from the excessive talk. At the same time, you allow your learners to absorb the information you’ve shared. Pause after every 15 minutes to invite questions or personal insights. Don’t feel offended when you fail to get a response, as some learners might be hesitant to voice their opinions with technology as an impediment. People often fear being misunderstood in a virtual setup and you may not get the desired responses immediately. Learners may take more time to warm up to the facilitator in a virtual setting. But do remember, the more you talk, the more you lose audience attention.
4. Share A Business Story
I design my programs to include best practices followed by other organizations. I’ve observed it makes learners curious to know what happens beyond the boundaries of their organization. Our role as subject matter experts is to create a window to the outside world. Therefore, when I include organizational research/business statistics in my programs, I also make it palatable with a success story. Learners want to know organizational perspectives, the CEO’s take on the topic, valuable industry insights, and the latest trends in the future of work. Our role is to bridge that gap.
5. Curate Situation Case-lets
Learners need to know how the theories you share in the program impact business outcomes. Concepts and frameworks need to be backed by business situations that learners can anticipate implementing after the session. I designed situation case-lets throughout the series to jumpstart thinking, solicit different perspectives, allow learners to think through problems, and enhance interactions in the virtual atmosphere. One of the key things that worked was that people from diverse cultures had novel methods of resolving problems. At the end of the discussion, it was evident how cultural influences impact problem-solving and decision-making capabilities.
6. The “Virtual Pat-On-The-Back” Exercise
Engaging participants virtually is a mammoth task. A lot runs on the facilitator’s shoulders to make it interactive and create eye-catching content. Despite this, an interesting observation during my session was that people were intensely curious. They were interested to solve case-lets, know best practices and the whole “tell-me-more” vibe was infectious. When I caught hold of that vibe, I reciprocated by using the “Virtual Pat-On-The-Back” exercise to recognize their participation. Each time learners gave spot-on answers; I asked them to call out their names and announced a virtual pat for the person. Soon, I noticed a swift response from the group to subsequent interactions.
Message to the instructor: Catch the vibe. Recognize it immediately!
7. Introduce Prominent Authors, Thought Leaders, and Industry Influencers
One of the reasons, organizations hire learning consultants/subject matter experts is to seek industry expertise. They rely on us to expose them to what lies beyond their usual boundaries. The more you share your expertise and exposure, the more you gain attention. At the same time, elevate your approach by introducing learners to prominent authors, thought leaders, and industry influencers who’ve been there, done that. My talk was a blend of personal experiences and practices of prominent business gurus working in the virtual world. I shared my personal collection of books on virtual teamwork, influence, and productivity. At the end of the series, people bought Kindle versions of my recommendations.
8. Share Best Practices By Some Organizations
As facilitators, we tend to preach best practices to others. Our “I-know-it-all” tendencies can get too far at times. Learners are interested to know if those practices have passed the litmus test. They’d like to know how these best practices have impacted several other organizations. Therefore, it helps to introduce them to what other organizations are doing and how has it influenced their productivity and organizational performance. Through my talk, they received insights into several start-up organizations that are geographically dispersed yet collaborating successfully. This helped them get insights into the future of work.
9. End It With A Short Takeaway/Assignment/Reflection
When learning is supported with a takeaway, it allows learners to reflect on the experience and look forward to more endeavors. In order to sustain interest and learning rhythm, virtual programs are delivered in phases. Therefore, making them return to subsequent sessions needs effort. Throughout the series, I curated short assignments that summarized the session objectives and, in addition, created a novel construct of what the subsequent session looks like in the form of a question or a short teaser. The result: 100% turnout.
These are my experiences of taking a more “human” approach to virtual learning. It is possible to make virtual education interactive and engaging if we understand the nature of the evolving learner and make the content palatable.
I am a huge advocate of classroom-based learning. It allows me to work through vibes, shape my facilitation, and make learning insightful to the audience. Moreover, it allows me to build connections swiftly.
Facilitating virtual programs have been a rewarding experience too since it dissolved boundaries and enhanced my reach to learners across continents. I could hardly imagine my voice influencing minds in Asia, EMEA, and North America. It just takes a little effort to work through “virtual vibes” and you’re off to a good start!