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Five best practices for creating powerful virtual learning experiences

Five best practices for creating powerful virtual learning experiences
Published: October 27, 2020
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It is now clear that the disruptions of Covid-19 will result in changes to the way that we engage learners. Many remain remote and dispersed, and even those who are back at work have new protocols and procedures that impact their ability to engage with traditional learning and development curriculum design.

Knowing how to implement quality virtual and digital learning into your organisation is becoming increasingly critical for business success. Impact recently hosted a series of webinars with hundreds of industry professionals around the world. In this article we share some of our best practices:

  1. Outcomes first. The starting point is always to be clear on what the purpose of the solution or the session is. Don’t get hung up on activities and technology. Decisions about content, platforms, live events or asynchronous delivery options are all irrelevant without this up-front clarity.
  2. Conversations and connecting people to people. When moving from face-to-face to digital, scale down your sub-group size. This encourages greater accountability and engagement. We’ve all been in those Zoom calls when there are just too many voices to have a meaningful discussion, so think 5–6 people in a small group rather than 8–10.Really invest time at the beginning in forming and developing these sub-groups, as they bring a vital human connection to the learning.Break into the sub-groups frequently, to enable space for reflection, processing and support.​ And mix up the groups to allow for the networking opportunities that many miss now that we can’t chat over a coffee during a break.
  3. Learning in the flow of work. A learner’s workplace is now a home office, bedroom or transformed building. Learning design must meet people where they are at in these contexts, and it needs to be applied more immediately and directly in self-led and group-led tasks. This could mean participants undertaking challenges in their everyday work and reporting their progress and reflections back to the cohort, or it could comprise live methods, such as bringing participant-led development centres (involving senior leaders, actors and behavioural analysts) into the virtual office. Where possible, lengthen the journey and cut the content into bitesize chunks to allow for practice and reflection in the context of real work. Bringing the learning and the work together ultimately maximises the practical applicability of the development solution. Below is an example of a high-level learning journey:
Example of a high-level learning journey
  1. Skill-based learning. Just as with in-person learning, make sure you are guided by your learning objectives. What are the mindset and behavioural shifts that you are seeking to make as a result of your learning design? What one or two skills will support the development of these shifts? With virtual learning less is often more. Keep content focused around a core framework or concept. Allow time for practise in small groups, solo activities and reflection away from the computer. Build in opportunities to practise skills again in latter parts of a learning journey.
  2. Trigger curiosity and growth focus. Virtual learning experiences need to feel different from yet another Zoom or MS Teams meeting. You can create engagement by keeping content directly applicable to the learner’s current reality. Start your sessions in a different way with a short activity that ties into the learning objectives. Promote inquiry through reflection, chat and small group breakout sessions that help create an individual’s own sense of learning focus.

The magic happens when the best practices of virtual learning experiences meet deep-rooted digital learning philosophy. Impact’s unique digital learning philosophy is well discussed, having been honed through ten years of hard work – check it out.

Reflect on your most recent virtual development experience... How many of these five principles did it fulfil? Challenge your own practice to ensure that your virtual and digital learning solutions are powerful and experiential, supporting learning objectives and meeting outcomes.