by Jody Barkin
Is it the content, the environment, the instructor or facilitator, your peers, expert speakers, best practices, a sense of community, opportunities to network, is it what you actually learn & take away, or what you end up applying after the fact? When you think of powerful learning experiences, what do you remember most?
Often it’s not just one thing, but rather a harmony of many components, all working well together, often by design. Learning is a sophisticated experience that requires sophisticated design in order to be effective. This is particularly true when we design for virtual learning environments. It’s easy to gauge engagement when you can see your learner’s eyes sitting before you in a classroom. It’s not so easy when your learners are spread out globally across multiple time zones, all participating virtually in a synchronous event.
Last week we presented at ASTD’s TechKnowledge 2011 conference. Our presentation Foundations of Leadership: A Blended-Learning Approach to Building A Leadership Pipeline highlighted some of our best practices for driving engagement in virtual learning. The virtual learning component of our Foundations of Leadership program is administered entirely leveraging the superior instructional capability of Adobe Connect. We’d like to share a summary of best practices from our presentation, which focus on operational excellence from both program and virtual-learning-experience perspectives.
• Practice Makes Perfect. When you’re scheduling across multiple time zones, it’s a good idea to perform a few dry-runs prior to your scheduled event to ensure everything works properly, your partners on the ground locally (if you have them) are prepared, and to get a general sense of timing and flow. Spend your run-though focusing on transitions between technology and presentation content to ensure things look/act the way you imagined them. Think about a contingency plan in case you experience any difficulty with your presentation. Will you have a back-up deck preloaded separately or will you be ready to screen share locally? Think about learning continuity and for critical content ask, “What will I do if…?”
• Strength in Numbers. Have a team help you administer/execute the session. We’ve found this to be extremely helpful to ensuring a quality learning experience. Giving your instructor/facilitator the room to focus on delivering the content and staying on time/target ensures your learners won’t miss anything critical, but it also lessens the cognitive load for having your facilitator simultaneously manage learner collaboration with content presentation. Having a dedicated chat monitor/moderator can streamline Q&A time as well. Teach your chat monitor how to consolidate questions/themes so your time spent answering questions and discussing is optimized. Where possible, also think about enlisting a dedicated technical representative to help troubleshoot basic user issues behind the scenes.
• Subject Matter Networks. When you’re delivering global virtual learning, you can’t expect to have all the answers. At conception, consider forming a diverse cross-functional advisory council to help you drive momentum and get consensus on critical decision points along the way. This is a great way to build community around your project, grow credibility & buy-in, build program evangelists and provide status updates while you drive to execution. Try to get local representation from each location you plan to serve with your program and most importantly, make participation in the council accessible, which may mean late nights, early mornings and/or duplicate meetings to serve your colleagues overseas.
• Baby Steps are Big Steps. You may not be an expert at delivering virtual learning now, but practice and practice again. Start by leveraging Adobe Connect for virtual collaboration with your team, and where possible, try first with a simple peer-to-peer experience with a colleague who’s also eager to learn the solution as well. Getting comfortable with the power & nuances of the platform will give you the confidence to build up to delivering virtual learning globally. Consider a hybrid approach to your weekly team meetings as a way to build capability and confidence in your team as you transition to the instructional capabilities of Adobe Connect.
• I Approve This Message. Ships don’t sail themselves. Building a world-class development program requires world-class sponsorship. Ensuring executive sponsorship for your program sends a message to all potential participants (and their managers) that learning is not only important, but valued, by your company’s senior leadership. Hopefully you know the micro-celebrities that have huge political capital across your organization – ask them to sponsor your initiative at conception. Work on your elevator pitch once you’ve honed your idea into something that has clear momentum with your team. Focus on critical business objectives and explain how your learning initiative will help address them.
We’d love to learn about successes—and challenges—around delivering virtual learning, too! What are your best practices and tips for driving learner engagement and delivering an effective virtual learning experience? Let us know in comments.
Justin Mass, Senior Learning Technologist, Adobe (@jmass)
Angela Szymusiak, Senior Learning Consultant, Adobe