5 Recommendations to Maximize the Learning Experience, and what Virtual Learning Experts® Need to Know
This is part of an ongoing column by Virtual Learning Expert® Jennifer Finan. She’s exploring trends that impact virtual classroom trainers and designers with the goal of improving learner engagement in the hybrid virtual classroom.
A Hybrid Workforce Means Hybrid Training
Since the pandemic forced so many workers to work from home, many organizations are now opening their doors once more and encouraging employees back into the workplace. Some employees and some organizations are more willing to return to the office than others. Gallup recently reported about 53% of ‘remote-capable’ employees expect a hybrid working arrangement with 25% expecting to work entirely remotely.
With this trend in hybrid working becoming more like our ‘new normal’, many organizations expect their learning and development teams to adopt the same approach.
What do we mean by ‘hybrid is the new blended’ and why is it trending?
Let’s break this ‘hybrid is the new blended’ down. Hybrid means the learner’s environment. Where they are and how they’re interacting with the learning experience. Blended means the delivery technology and content. Blended programs include live classes as well as other resources and activities that learners typically work through asynchronously.
In this modern workplace where our people are working in different environments every day (at home, in the office or somewhere else) and are working at different times of day with a need to learn through various mediums, we need our learning programs to be both hybrid and blended.
What impact does hybrid blended training have on learner engagement?
When it comes to learner engagement, the key with hybrid training programs is to ensure that no learner gets left behind. That every learner can fully participate and contribute to the learning experience, no matter where they are or what kind of device they’re joining on. When it comes to hybrid blended programs, it’s important to consider both the live classes and the rest of the blend.
Live hybrid classes
The biggest impact on learner engagement is the environmental dimension, because that’s what’s different. Some learners will be in the same room as each other, so will be experiencing the same learning environment, while others are joining from various remote locations with completely different set ups and environments.
Imagine the learners that are in the same physical space, their learning environment might consist of watching a presentation on a projector screen and listening through speakers. Perhaps they have a microphone on the middle of the table and maybe even a webcam trained on them. Perhaps they have teas and coffees and cakes on hand with pens and notebooks and sticky notes scattered around the room. Their environment may be shared with other colleagues working around about them or maybe they’re located in a training room, so they don’t need to think about how much noise they’re making. That environment is not the same as face-to-face training, as they’re being heard and maybe seen by others who are not in the room, so when it comes to engaging in the learning, they’ll all be aware of that. They can’t just speak ‘normally’ because the virtual participants won’t hear them well enough. They can’t just stand up and walk over to the coffee pot without the virtual participants wondering where they’re going. Nor is it the same as virtual training, as they can’t annotate on the whiteboard or ask questions in chat if there’s only one keyboard which is sitting by the projector out of reach of everyone. So it’s a different learning environment which makes the way they engage in the experience different. If they can’t easily contribute to the learning experience, we know that’s going to impact their intellectual and emotional engagement too.
Now imagine the virtual learners. They’re all joining from various locations – home, another office, a warehouse, a car… anywhere really. They’re all joining on different devices – PC, Mac, Tablet, Phone. All their learning environments could be very different, but they’re not the same as regular virtual training. They may constantly be thinking about what they’re missing out on because they’re not in the same room as their colleagues.
Combine all of this with the possibility that a learner may join from different locations and devices on different days during the program and we’ve not even considered where the facilitator is!
We know that when environmental engagement is impacted, it will impact the other engagement dimensions, so we need to get it right.
For a start, the technology could be different to what the learner is used to. If they’re in a room together with other learners, sharing audio, can they still access chat to ask questions and can they still use private chat to ask for help privately? If that means learners need to join from a phone as well, what do they need to know about navigating the platform on a mobile?
If environmental engagement is not managed properly, it will have an impact on emotional engagement – often in the form of FOMO (fear of missing out). Not just FOMO about the cake - learners will know if there are side conversations taking place in the room that they’re not privy too. Their engagement will be impacted if they feel that the facilitator can’t see them as well as they see the learners right in front of them. Intellectual engagement will suffer if learners can’t contribute like the others can or they’re not hearing or seeing everything that’s happening, or they can’t collaborate with certain people.
Asynchronous Components in a Hybrid Workplace
It’s not all about the live classroom events though, remember this is about blended learning, so we need to ensure ALL the elements of the learning program are designed in a way to ensure no learner gets left behind. That could be by providing space to communicate in between the live events, such as through a forum. Having a community learning forum (and consistently directing people to it) encourages learners to share their work in there, with everyone. If we don’t have a space like that, learners may resort to talking about it in passing at the office, where only some people will benefit.
We also want to design for learners to be able to contact us when they need help. This is especially important when navigating the LMS for the first time. Those in a shared office space have the benefit of being able to speak up and ask each other where to find the materials, but someone working from home that day may give up if they can’t find it quickly or can’t easily contact the instructional team for help.
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