Online learning. An oxymoron?

Online learning makes me shudder.  The thought of sitting at my computer, watching text-heavy slides with a presenter ‘delivering content at me’ – it brings a new meaning to the term ‘death by PowerPoint’.  Ok, so perhaps I’m being unfair.  Not everyone delivers online learning in this way, but one thing’s for sure – too many still do.

As a people development consultancy it’s inevitable that I judge content that other people produce.  What are they doing well?  What grabs me?  What can I learn?  What should I definitely avoid? And too often I leave feeling uninspired, with no new ideas and a reminder of what I should definitely not be doing.  For me, it’s always been easy to argue that online and learning don’t belong in the same sentence.

Yet recent changes in our lives have meant that online has become bigger, more prevalent and more needed than ever. Lots of people embraced the online world quickly and with gusto.  Training content was being posted online quicker than ever before.  My email inbox was bombarded with offers of webinars full of top tips for remote working, leading a remote team, looking after mental well-being. The list goes on.  Lots of companies welcomed the opportunities that online learning created.  More people having access to learning.  Lower carbon footprint because people were no longer travelling to training venues.  Lower travel and accommodation bills.  Less administration and logistics. It’s clear to see the many advantages. But whilst many people were embracing this new way of learning and generating lots of online content, we took a moment to pause.  Yes the world had changed, but people’s needs hadn’t. How could we design something online that would still allow people to have difficult conversations, break down barriers, explore challenging issues and say the things that need to be said?

So we started with identifying the problems inherent with online learning.  Content is often passive, people can turn their videos off, stay silent and step away from contributing.  And from behind our own screens the only clue to someone’s engagement would be whether they said anything…or not.  Information can be shared, but without the opportunity for in-depth conversation and reflection, how likely is it that the information shared is remembered or used? We know that when we get people together in a room (or a field) we can help them to have difficult conversations, break down barriers, explore challenging issues and say the things that need to be said.  We do it with kindness, compassion, support and lots of space. We know that people need space to breathe, to think and for all voices to be heard – not just the loud ones.  So when the world changed, we worried that the space for breathing and thinking would shrink and that those things that need to be said would remain unspoken.

In thinking about the issues, we also started to try and identify how to overcome these problems in a creative way. Rather than generating online content for the sake of it, we asked ourselves the questions ‘how can we design out the shortcomings that exist with online learning?’  ‘How can we create the best of both worlds?’

Collaborate Live has been born out of this desire to maintain the magic and intimacy of face to face learning whilst acknowledging that online learning does need to exist.  Here are the problems and their solutions that we considered:

Online learning – the problems and potential solutions:

Problem – Online learning can allow people to disappear and to switch off.  Solution – Design an online, experiential programme that mandates everyone’s involvement.  Without each person contributing it’s not possible to reach a successful outcome.

Problem – It’s easy to disengage from online learning.  Solution – Create a programme that is both immersive and engaging and generates a genuinely visceral response. People want to reach a successful outcome. The complexity and uncertainty involved means that people care.  They want to uncover the answers, they want to iron out the complexities, they want to know that they have been part of solving an initially impenetrable challenge.

Problem – Online learning can be very transactional.  Content is delivered but there isn’t a lot of opportunity to reflect and challenge.  Solution – Create ‘pauses’ throughout the programme which are facilitated by experienced coaches – our coaches know how to facilitate what can be sensitive and emotional conversations.  They are there to hold the space whilst people reflect; whilst teams challenge each other’s behaviours; and whilst people begin to notice their own emotional responses and impact.  This ensures that the learning isn’t transactional.  It’s transformational.  And in a short time frame.

Problem – Online learning is often theoretical without an opportunity to experiment or practice.  Solution – Create an experience rather than a series of slides or lectures.  And weave learning into that experience so that people understand what is happening and why.  It brings the theory to life in a meaningful and memorable way.

Problem – It’s easy to forget any learning as soon as the online learning ends. Solution – Design an emotional and engaging programme that stays with people long after it has ended.  Design sophisticated reflection opportunities throughout the programme that are facilitated by an experienced coach, as well as offering one to one coaching following the programme to ensure that everyone takes something positive and useful away from the programme.

Sounds easy? It’s not!  Can we achieve it?  Definitely.  We weren’t sure at first and now we’ve created it, we’re really proud of what it delivers.

So do we miss the world of face to face learning?  Absolutely.  Nothing will replace the intimacy of working together in a room and helping people to discover new insights about themselves and each other in a safe, vulnerable and magical way.  And we’re finally happy to admit that the term ‘Online Learning’ doesn’t need to be an oxymoron!

If you’d like to find out more about Collaborate-Live, just give us a call or watch our videos.  We’d be delighted to share more.

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