Create the right foundation and you'll overcome these corporate remote learning challenges.
Corporate remote learning became a nascent activity for companies that want to grow – and all indications are that a hybrid model of working will be the norm moving forward. A remote workforce only thrives when remote learning is effective, and that means L&D practitioners must design and deliver learning solutions that ensure ‘no learner is left behind.’
To accomplish this, we must consider not only the provided learning environment (Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex, Adobe Connect, etc.) but the meta-learning environment as well.
By this I mean – what are the external factors that can impact how we foster environmental engagement?
There are some things learners can do, no matter where they are, that can make the meta environment more conducive to learning. And there are things that program stakeholders can do to help.
What is Environmental Engagement?
Let’s start with: What is environmental engagement and why should it matter to a virtual classroom facilitator? InSync’s research into learner engagement tells us that:
Environmental engagement relates to the perception of and interaction with the learning environment itself. We consider:
- How do learners perceive the learning environment?
- Does it create a constructive, effective experience?
- Does the learner interact with the environment?
The facilitation process aligns with both design and delivery within a particular environment, like the virtual classroom. When a learner is environmentally engaged, the learner knows how to interact with the environment and easily perceives opportunities when they can connect and interact with the content, peer learners, or the facilitator.
Facilitators often think the virtual learning environment exists outside of our control. In reality, though, we can positively manage and contribute to the environment to foster strong learner engagement in the virtual classroom environment.
A successful corporate remote learning program builds from environmental engagement, one critical component of InSync’s InQuire Engagement Framework™.
Common Remote Learning Challenges
The face-to-face classroom environment has its own challenges but requires much less self-direction than remote learning. If a facilitator has an intact group of learners in the same physical space, there is much more control over the learning environment. Breaks are planned, external disruptions are minimized, and a disengaged learner is much more obvious.
The remote learning environment is very different. Remote learning is hard.
Facilitators, and often learners themselves, have very little control over the learning environment. Guidance through the material is no longer just the job of the facilitator, but also the learner, who needs to be self-motivated and, at times, self-taught. The responsibilities here are much more daunting (and the payoffs much more valuable).
Let’s review some of the most common challenges and considerations for how we can overcome them.
Challenge #1: Approaching Corporate Remote Learning Like Face-to-Face Interactions
Although we just stated this is not the case, we mistakenly assume teaching in virtual and hybrid learning environments is the same as, or close enough to, training a traditional face-to-face environment. So, we apply the same techniques we would in a traditional classroom.
We are talking about three macro-environments here:
- Everyone together face-to-face;
- everyone virtual;
- or a combination of face-to-face and virtual in the same event.
And then, we have myriad micro-environments:
- remote attendees may be at home,
- on the road,
- or in the office;
- on a PC,
- with tablet,
- or on a smart phone.
Individuals in each environment will have different abilities to participate and collaborate, and if we don’t manage their experiences, some learners will be left behind. Or, even worse, the majority of your employees will be left feeling underwhelmed.
Solution #1: Tailoring the Remote Learning Environment
To manage this, start by providing consistent technology to learners no matter where they are. A laptop is the perfect device – they use a familiar device no matter where they happen to be learning that day and everyone participating in the experience can use all of the same virtual classroom capabilities. This also makes it easier for the virtual classroom facilitator and producer to provide activity instructions and technical support.
When the delivery is hybrid, design the program so that the in-person participants need to log in to the virtual classroom and participate in the same activities as the remote participants. This provides a more equal experience for everyone.
Challenge #2: Distractions
I'm sure you have seen this with animated kids' movies. A dog is talking to his friends and suddenly it becomes focused elsewhere. He's detected a squirrel and he drops his conversation to chase it.
Well, even for the most focused individual in the corporate setting, they too will experience the distraction of a "squirrel".
Distractions are everywhere, and focus can be fleeting. Whether you are in a private office, cubicle, or working from a shared area like a kitchen table, distractions are everywhere.
Solution #2: Creating a Focused Culture
To help maximize focus, encourage over-the-ear headphones with noise cancellation. This does double duty by reducing unwanted ambient noise and sending a signal to co-workers and members of your household that you should not be disturbed.
(Sorry, they won’t keep your non-animated dogs from barking at those squirrels!)
In addition – truly encourage that email, phones, and other distractions be turned off. For long programs, you can build in 10-minute comfort breaks for checking those persistent devices. Let them know you’ll be doing this, and learners will be much less anxious.
Challenge #3: Learners May Not Know the Tools
Even though we’ve spent the last several years almost constantly in remote sessions, not everyone really knows how to use all the tools, especially when you have 3rd party technology integrations like Mentimeter and Kahoot.
Solution #3: Make the Tool Just as Easy to Learn as the Material
A well-designed training program that drives a lot of interaction and discussion is a very different interaction than watching a PowerPoint and being present just on video. Training requires interaction with content, activities, and other people.
Script out technology instructions so they are quick and easy to follow. This will allow you to teach people who are new to the particular collaboration tool, and not disengage more experienced users.
How Do You Prepare Remote Learners for Success?
Fostering environmental engagement is just one step in successful learning. Your training solution must also consider how to stimulate intellectual engagement, and nurture emotional engagement and psychological safety. But learners can't get there if they aren’t comfortable or are distracted by technology or their physical environments.
Again, remote learning is very self-directed. We all need to encourage learners how to take control of their own environment and make it work for them for learning to even begin.
Provide guidance to allow everyone to personalize their learning environment. Tell them what to do (or send them a link to this post!)
And one last point – don’t be penny wise and pound stupid.
Proactively invest in good over-the-ear noise-canceling headsets and consistent remote-learning devices for everyone in your organization. It might seem like a big investment upfront, but it will be well worth it when you realize that your employees are spending dedicated time learning, and not being frustrated or distracted.