I kicked off the year this week with a 2 day virtual strategy learning programme covering the strategy mindsets and techniques needed by leaders in the 4th Industrial Revolution. The programme was 100% online and used our Cloud Conference room together with the full programme prepared on a Virtual Whiteboard.
I was amazed at how the participants could remain engaged throughout the process much like an in-room facilitation.
One year into this brave new world of synchronised virtual facilitation & learning, we have figured out some things, with much more to learn.
Here are some of my learnings:
- The combination of a virtual whiteboard together with a virtual conference room that allows for the free movement of people between “tables” and groups helps a lot to keep engagement levels high.
- A virtual learning experience is different from a face to face session in the sense that it allows learning before the session (give view access to the whiteboards with the full learning process a week or so before the session), during the session and after the session (teams keep access to their boards and reflections after the learning days). Keep that in mind – virtual sessions cannot be scheduled “last minute”.
- Understand that the first hour and the first day of a learning or facilitation programme will be stressful and disorienting to participants who have not used the tools before. It’s just a reality and be prepared for a slow start and some folks checking out & proclaiming “I’m completely lost”. This can be mitigated with pre-training in the tools, a pre-event check-in sesion and by starting with a blank “sandpit board” for people to just play around and find their feet. Session two & day two will bring a real sense of achievement and joy at becoming proficient in this new space. Stay calm, make it fun and constantly model a growth mindset.
- Keep the learning groups small and stable (same people for a day or the whole programme) – I have found that the sweet spot for a virtual learning group is around 4-5 people – much smaller than in face to face training – small groups and insisting that each person present feedback once a day works well for accountability and engagement.
- One of the nice features of a virtual whiteboard is that you can embed explainer videos, canvases and relevant articles into the whiteboard allowing some self paced group learning on the day.
- Work sessions need to be longer – in real life its possible to have 20 minute group discussions, in the virtual space 40 minutes to an hour works better – in the beginning this seems long, but it really gives groups time to settle, think and get some work done.
- I used named and colour coded virtual sticky notes on the virtual whiteboard for each participant – that gives an amazing visual picture of how much each member has contributed.
- At the end of each day I used an interactive questionnaire to ask all participants to rate each other and give feedback on participation – this way of recognising contributors and highly engaged team members makes a huge difference.
- The preparation time for a virtual session is 3X-10X of a face to face session – we still need to find the right pricing model for this.
- Should the pandemic move into its endemic phase and face to face events resume – the virtual learning and facilitation space will have to up its game again! In some ways virtual platforms and approaches have had no real competition in the last two years & we have moved on the game a lot as virtual facilitators, but we may need to raise the bar again. This may come out of the VR/AR space like Virbela or via audio platforms like Orbital – but we need better tools and experiences to truly make the metaverse a compelling alternative to face-to-face.
It’s been an amazing journey and we keep learning – the summary learning for me so far is that synchronised virtual learning is truly different from face-to-face a self-evident but often ignored fact. Don’t just “move your training or facilitation online” – rethink it to create something completely different.
Upwards & onwards!0