How can you maintain your learning momentum during these extraordinary times, especially when it comes to transforming your existing face-to-face programmes to work in a virtual environment? Our recent Going Virtual masterclass was so popular, we held it twice – and over 200 participants signed up each time.

Many of our Cirrus clients are global organisations who already benefit from major leadership, talent and engagement programmes in a virtual environment. Some programmes blend of face-to-face and virtual learning. Now that opportunities to gather face-to-face are so limited across so many countries, many clients are talking to us about how they can maintain momentum by ramping up their virtual learning provision – quickly and effectively.

At our recent Virtual Learning masterclasses we invited participants to pose their questions. We’ve pulled together some of the most popular and shared our responses here. We hope you find them helpful. If there’s anything you’d like to know that isn’t covered here, please get in touch. We’d love to talk to you.

I have a one-day face-to-face workshop that I need to deliver online as soon as possible. What are the main things to consider?

The first thing to consider is time.  A one-day face-to-face workshop does not equate to seven hours of online learning. It can actually be condensed into 90 minutes online, especially if you can share pre-work beforehand and set tasks for learners to collaborate on.

You need to adapt both your content and your style to ensure you get results. Less is more. Capture the essence of what you’re trying to say. It can be tempting to cram as much as possible into a virtual workshop but having a huge amount of information thrown at you can be very off-putting for a participant. Identify one or two learning objectives and focus on them. Distil your learning content down into valuable nuggets. Consider how the activities you had planned can be adapted. Only include imagery and models that are highly relevant.

How should I adapt my facilitation style for a virtual learning environment?

If you’re more familiar with delivering face-to-face workshops, then you probably need to up your delivery pace for the virtual environment. You don’t have such a captive audience and they will be easily distracted, so you need to maintain their interest.

While pace is important, as a facilitator you still need to create space for people to contribute. Some participants will naturally come to the fore, others will need more encouragement. You need to pay particular attention to this online as it’s less easy to observe body language and tune into nuance.

Keep asking for feedback, and act on it. People want to be heard, and their feedback can help you to tweak your facilitation style so it’s relevant to each subject and each group of learners.

How many people can take part in one virtual workshop?

We advise you to try and keep your virtual workshop group to 10-12 people. Once you have more than 20 in one session it can become quite difficult to engage and manage the group. Consider running a series of workshops with smaller groups instead.

What’s the ideal length of time for a virtual workshop?

At Cirrus, we run virtual workshops lasting between 30 minutes and three hours. However, we find that for most topics and most groups of learners, 90 minutes is optimum. If you do need to stretch to three hours to ensure you cover everything you need to in one session, make sure you include a break.

Is a virtual workshop different from a webinar?

Yes. Webinars tend to be more about broadcasting information, so the host tends to do more talking than the participants. Virtual workshops tend to be more interactive. Rather than being ‘hosted’, successful virtual workshops are facilitated in a way that encourages participants to engage. Virtual workshops can also make the most of functionality such as break-out rooms, whiteboards, discussion areas and polls. 

I was planning to use role players as part of a business simulation in a face-to-face workshop. Can I do something similar online?

At Cirrus we often use professional actors in a virtual environment. Now that so many of us are working remotely, virtual simulations are more relevant than ever. After all, simulations enable us to practise, learn and reflect on the sort of challenges we encounter in working life. We find simulations work best when learners are split into small working groups in breakout rooms. This means everyone has the chance to take part and to gain valuable experience.

How can we make breakout rooms work?

Give people clear instructions about what a breakout room is, who they’ll be sharing it with, and what you’re asking them to do once they’re in there. Set a time limit. Provide tangible, relatable examples to demonstrate what you’re aiming to achieve in that space. Encourage openness. Facilitators can share their own personal experiences to role model this and encourage others.  

How easy is it to recreate the magic of group chemistry that comes from people being in the same place at the same time?

We think you’d be surprised. Group chemistry is definitely different online – we need to acknowledge that. However, many of our clients have been surprised at how much energy can be created between a group of learners in a virtual environment. The ability of the facilitator to engage people and encourage participation is key. Technology also helps. Ensure everyone has their cameras switched on. Make the most of your collaboration tools.

What platforms can you use?

At Cirrus, we often work with what our clients are most comfortable with. You do not necessarily have to invest in new technology to make virtual learning work. Maximise the tools you currently have. We’ve worked across many platforms, including Adobe Connect, WebEx, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Some of our clients have also made the most of existing social networking tools such as Yammer to continually build virtual learning communities where ideas are shared and success is celebrated.

How can we encourage our people to learn from the current crisis?

Even before the coronavirus crisis hit us, most organisations were already dealing with unprecedented levels of change. The current crisis has accelerated both the pace and the direction of change beyond expectation. We are all experiencing an intense period of transformation.

At times of change, we need to create time and space to reflect and to make sense of what is happening to us. The more quickly and effectively we learn from these experiences, the more agile we can be as the circumstances around us continue to change. Maintaining learning momentum is critical.

Being agile is most useful in conditions where the old ways won’t work, where the rules have changed and where survival and success depend on adapting quickly.

Learning agility encompasses not only our curiosity and our ability to make sense of our experience, but also to convert that insight into helpful actions that increase our performance. Developing learning agility enables us to deal with increasingly complex problems.

Watch our Going Virtual masterclass.

Check out our top tips for creating successful virtual workshops.  

Join us for our next Cirrus masterclass on Thursday 16 April when our Head of Engagement Jenny Perkins will share top tips and practical advice on engaging teams in extraordinary times.  Sign up here.

If you’d like to know more about virtual learning, we’d love to talk to you. Please get in touch at any time.

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