The virtual shift that took place in 2020 has revolutionised the way we work and live, generating both positive and negative changes to our daily lives, many of which are here to stay. For many organisations, one of these impacts has been the realisation that when it comes to learning, the traditional learning management system (LMS), or ‘e-learning’, model doesn’t always work. At Impact we have been delivering successful virtual learning experiences for over ten years (we have even won an LMS award!) but we know that there's more to learning than static content. The LMS model is based on a philosophy that suggests that giving people access to information is all they need to be able to learn and change. This leaves out vital ingredients for learning, such as context, social connection, and real experience. As vessels for containing content, the LMS model can be useful, but it’s how the content is incorporated into a continuous and contextualised learning journey that matters.
This is more important now than it has ever been, because in a virtual world the needs have changed. Learning can no longer be separated from the work. It’s not enough for it to take place in lavish conference centres and be applied upon return; the learning has to be embedded in the work. It has to meet the learner where they are, flexing around their working lives and needs, and fitting into their pockets, onto their screens, and into the platforms they use every day. This is why, at Impact, we recently integrated our web-based learning app, air, into Microsoft Teams. Teams isn’t a learning space, but by slotting air into it we can take advantage of the notification system to interrupt, nudge, poke, irritate or delight people as they go about their daily business, and therefore seamlessly integrate the learning into the work.
Furthermore, the learning needs to take place in a social space, where participants can collaborate and connect. When many people first encounter the virtual world they don’t see it as a place for humans. Our job is to create a space in which people can show up as individuals, introduce themselves, say hi, ask questions – despite being filtered through a screen – and give others around them the confidence to do the same, because collaboration is key to learning. Many clients ask us how to get people to engage with virtual learning, but our suggestion would be to shift the focus of this question and ask how to get people to engage with each other in the learning. How do you get people to realise that one of the greatest resources for learning is found in those around them? You can build a beautiful platform and fill it with fantastic content, but if it doesn’t foster a social, welcoming, human space then its users will remain separate knowers, rather than collaborative learners.
These new needs have been a key focus for us at Impact this year and have led to the creation of innovative new spaces, like Inscape Rooms. Developed by software engineers who are also learning experts, Inscape Rooms is a powerful new methodology that takes the form of a series of dynamic, virtual spaces, through which participants plot a self-managed journey of discovery. Inscape Rooms fosters imagination, learning and curiosity. It is also rooted in fact, which participants can learn from but also challenge. Having spaces that encourage this sort of thinking is vital to the way that we approach virtual learning technology right now. Inscape Rooms allows participants – working either as individuals or in groups – to completely immerse themselves in the exploration of a topic or topics, embarking on a voyage of curiosity with an unknown ending. This level of immersion gives us ample opportunity for switching up scale and scope, as well as for surprising people, challenging them, and making them feel things that would otherwise be impossible.
Inscape Rooms is an exploratory space, but it is also an inclusive one. Working virtually has led to huge increases in accessibility and inclusivity, with scope for building international relationships between people who would normally have remained separated by distance; virtual meetings that are harder to dominate or cluster in; and the ability to mix up an organisation’s hierarchies, with employees and stakeholders of all ages, positions and nationalities working together in neutral spaces. We wanted to maintain these benefits in our design, keeping Inscape Rooms as accessible as possible. Rather than using AI or VR technology that would require specialist equipment, we have used lots of 3D animation, which can be viewed on any device. As a virtual technology, Inscape Rooms can be rolled out to thousands of participants, with everyone having equal opportunity to experience it.
When we were collectively flung into the virtual world in March last year, it became clear that just doing the same old things would no longer be possible. But as with any transformation challenge, we can’t rest on our laurels. We can’t content ourselves with producing virtual replicas of face-to-face projects. Instead, we need to ask what other projects or ideas are sparked from this conversion process. It’s not enough just to acknowledge that the LMS model alone is not fit for purpose; we need to think about what we should replace or combine it with. We need to ask ourselves what needs, limitations or opportunities arise in the new world of virtual working and learning. This past year has forced us to be more imaginative and we need to continue this, constantly innovating, breaking barriers, and pushing forwards. 2020 has challenged how we work and learn, and even though this challenge will come to an end, the questioning of how we continue to change, work, and learn has only just begun.