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Face-to-face or remote – how will we choose to take learning forward?

By James Larter

Posted 02/12/2020

March 23rd 2020 proved to be a pivotal point in the way we deliver L&D programmes, practically overnight Zoom and MS Teams became the new norm for learning delivery, all over the world.

Agreed, we initially believed that this would be a stop gap solution, as we all strived to maintain learner momentum, beat isolation and make the most of employees’ down time – but as time goes on, it’s definitely worth taking a step back to appreciate what has been achieved and what changes have actually been for the better.

At the start of lock down it was clear that agility is king!

As a small business we were fortunate to be able to react swiftly, and quickly adapt to the changing world; our agility not only helped us to provide immediate solutions to meet client needs but also set us on a learning curve, which will definitely help to shape our future.

Within 2 months of lockdown we:

  • Redesigned and delivered an established, highly interactive, development programme on Zoom, retaining simulations, active practice and one-to-one coaching; working closely with a small cohort of 12 learners, over 4 weeks.
  • Redesigned and delivered two high volume communications workshops to over 280 students, retaining forum scenes, to demonstrate personal behaviours, and using Zoom breakout rooms to facilitate small group work, team building and of course the all-important personal practice with a dedicated skills coach.
  • Resourced remote roleplay support for 3 new assessment centre projects, facilitating multiple dial-ins to link with assessors and candidates and ensuring they had the tech to engage consistently.
  • Resourced and trained remote skills coaches to maintain continuity of learning for established management development programmes.

Before we knew it all programmes moved seamlessly from ‘projects’ to ‘business as usual’.

So in the new norm – what’s going well?

  • Training can be more reactive to cater for current learning needs; companywide learning programmes are not complicated by travel and overnight stays.
  • Individual training needs can be flexibly addressed using bite size development options.
  • Course design is less rigid – it’s much easier and financially viable to structure learning content around learner needs, making more efficient use of training time; for example 4 practice coaches can now run simultaneous practice sessions with 4 learners, rather than consecutive sessions being timetabled with one coach – effectively condensing the learning.
  • Learners’ time away from the desk (and their family) is focussed totally on the learning and not diluted by travel, socialising – even getting ready for meetings is easier!
  • Training budgets are focussed on learning and not compromised by expensive catering and venues.
  • Shorter session times minimise complicated diary co-ordination.
  • Shorter session times aid learner concentration and higher retention of knowledge.
  • Learners can flex to their work and home life commitments.
  • Breakout rooms are effective for small group work and teambuilding.
  • The planet is breathing a small sigh of relief, as we reduce our carbon footprint!

And when we come out the other side, what will stay and what will go?

Of course it’s still very hard to say.

Like it or not, safeguarding participants through social distancing is here to stay for some time to come, even with the fantastic breakthrough with vaccines – which means that suitable venues, and safe travel will continue to pose significant challenges to any face-to-face centres.

But we are social animals – and as such, we thrive on interaction with others; it’s clear that we will, as soon as possible, all want to resume a degree of face-to-face contact, no doubt interspersed with the benefits of online learning, we have all become used to, building a new hybrid approach into ongoing training programmes.

In the meantime, let’s make sure remote training stays interactive, engaging and fun. In my opinion a good facilitator should always:

  • Keep it personal, be aware of your body language, be open, friendly and inclusive
  • Build in variety and break sessions into manageable chunks
  • Make it LIVE – encourage active involvement, and avoid passive observation
  • Ensure cameras on, don’t let participants ‘hide at the back of the room’
  • Involve their audience – participants matter, make sure they feel part of it
  • Help people communicate with each other, using chat functions when the groups are too large for audio conversations, and using breakout rooms for small group collaboration and idea sharing
  • Take time to introduce everyone personally on camera, whenever possible
  • Maintain flexibility and offer alternative time slots, so that participants aren’t excluded because of other commitments
  • Offer to share recordings so people can catch up and re-cap
  • Embrace the new norm don’t fight it – work with what you’ve got
  • Don’t allow distractions to get in the way; just as face-to-face, no phones and minimal background noise

It would be great to hear your thoughts on how L & D has evolved through lockdown and what your experience has been.

Please feel free to get in touch.

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