In yesterday’s blog we explored digital learning principles and what you need to consider when designing online learning and development for staff, whether that is through formal “training sessions” or more informal staff support. Now we focus on the facilitation skills you need in a virtual learning environment.
Once you have decided what you are doing, created your content and space for learning, I am afraid the choices don’t end there. The skills of online facilitation can be quite different to the face-to-face ones you have. Not completely, but there are certainly other things to consider.
We discussed issues around “Virtual Presence and Presentation” in our first podcast – definitely worth a listen over a cuppa! Everything we talk about in that will inform your practice and help you find your virtual groove. There are also a number of really practical tips and techniques I have stumbled upon over the last few months (read: tripped over and fell face first into a muddy puddle; sometimes learning a new skill is a messy business).
1. Time goes at a different pace online. As Doctor Who would say, it’s all wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. There is nothing linear about it, and I promise you – you will experience this when you facilitate online. The bits of content you thought you would skip through in a couple of minutes, I guarantee will mean you are running behind (tech set up at the beginning and intros for example). And those discussions that, in a room together, you can chew over for 30 minutes? Nah, 10 minutes max I reckon.
2. Attention spans are shorter. It’s harder for your colleagues to stay focused with you online – not least because of the potential for distractions where they are. So keep each topic or bit of content clipped, specific or focused (supported with your other resources).
Move on. And summarise often – every 30 minutes, even, can help. Keep staff engaged through involvement – even if its just raised hands or getting everyone to put one comment in the chat; it will bring their focus back to the session if they are starting to drift.
3. A strong structure is super important. I tend to use: What (explain the thing, the model, the idea, the knowledge); So What (how is this helpful in our context, in what way could we use this new knowledge or skill, this is the sense-making); Now What (not just could we, but how are we going to apply what we have learnt, what is our commitment or next step). I use that whether I am supporting staff’s learning online or face-to-face, but in a virtual space the tight structure (whatever you use), will help ensure you keep to your learning outcomes and that your colleagues will recognise it as a worthwhile use of their time.
Make sure your structure accommodates those considerations of time and attention mentioned above. You could even completely change your structure – for example, before lockdown a colleague and I had planned to run a three hour group workshop. We decided that our best online alternative was to split this up: a one hour virtual workshop introducing the topic, exploring questions from the group; then we sent staff away to have a hour meeting in small working groups at some point over the next week where they had a particular task to complete; then the following week we all came back together to share our findings, looked forward to application and action. It was a very different experience to the one originally planned, but I am convinced we met our learning outcomes still.
4. The relationships between participants and their learning experience is different. In a physical room the chatter is a vital part of the learning – discussions had, experiences shared, connections made and kept beyond the session. In a virtual space this is much harder to create, although not impossible. If you can (i.e. only a small group) do those introductions still, encourage side conversations in the chat box, and use breakout rooms if the technology you are using allows. You will have to facilitate and encourage those connections more explicitly but it’s worth the effort. As hard as it might be to hear, the learning doesn’t just come from you – it comes from each other.
5. You will have to accept it’s a different experience for you too. This might be the hardest thing. For those of you, like me, who gets buzzed by being in a physical space sharing learning experiences together, then virtual workshops don’t quite cut it. I am definitely learning to appreciate the advantages though, and I love trying new stuff. I have found that colleagues are generous with their feedback too – I guess it’s new for all of us.
If you would value further discussion or access to a great development programme to extend your practice, get in touch with us.
For academic colleagues, I hope that some of the last couple of days of musings has been helpful too. The pedagogy of digital teaching is a huge topic and expert support will be available from your Faculty Directors of Learning and Teaching and your Faculty Learning Technologists; however, some of the principles we have explored apply in any context (and this wakelet might get you thinking about that). At the end of the day, it’s just about enabling human learning, and we are all responsible for that.
Juliet Flynn, Organisational and People Development