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Erica Farmer

Quantum Rise Talent Group Ltd

Co- Founder & Business Director, Digital Learning & Apprenticeship Expert, Speaker & Facilitator -

Read more from Erica Farmer

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Digital transformation: increasing engagement with online learning

Practical advice to make your online learning fit for the future.

Everything has changed – our working practices, environment, social engagement, and attitudes to work. Our boundaries have blurred, and we now spend more time in front of screens, devices, video calls and systems. One thing we cannot deny and that has accelerated is how we communicate, engage and learn online.

I remember introducing interactive webinars and eLearning into a large financial services organisation in 2012. Although, like many businesses, the cost saving was recognised, there was still a yearning for face-to-face training and anything in the digital space was seen as the ‘poor relation’. I sat down the chief operating officer and talked about bottom line impact, results, scalability, and quality, but just got a blank stare coming back at me. I was then told that he would prefer me to deliver everything in a classroom.

These new ways of working are here to stay, so we need to be flexible, agile and creative if we are to stay ahead of the curve.

Eight years on, and the acceleration we’ve seen over the last six months has been phenomenal. We know why – the backdrop, the trade-offs and costs. We have seen business turned upside down and looked for a way to engage, train and communicate in a truly global and virtual way.

Some organisations have deemed their emergency response to online training due to the pandemic enough, but let us think about that. Setting everyone up with the hardware and software to work from home and continue to deliver training was only the start of this journey. More support, development and critical thinking are now needed in this space.

We are in the middle of the next industrial revolution, but many still seem lost and confused. Has learning and development missed a trick here in not being the trailblazers to enable their organisations to drive innovation and future thinking? Or is this much bigger than the HR issue and should it, in fact, be priority for all business leaders?

Five ways to move digital learning forward

Back to digital learning. Now we’re online it’s time to make sure our teachers, trainers, tutors, coaches and consultants are feeling confident to support the educational establishments and workplaces, both now and in the long-term. By investing in good pedagogy, the research shows us that we can increase application to the job role and knowledge retention by up to 65%, so why wouldn’t we aim for this?

We should, therefore, be considering five key things:

  1. Ensure there is development provided to support the mindset and skillset shift. Building on the trainer/facilitator skills of the classroom is key and practice is needed with these new skills.
  2. Understand that we need to build on our trainer/facilitator skills by mastering the technology on top of this. I call this ‘double brain thinking’ – one brain for the presenting and one for the technology.
  3. Don’t just default to your current set up because the IT function told you to. Various platforms are available and are built for different purposes (see point two).
  4. Be experimental and see what else is available. The platform is just the starting point. Using sites such Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter and (my personal favourite) Jamboard, brings a whole new world to your design and creativity.
  5. Speaking of creativity, the only limit to what you can do in the online space is your own imagination. Slides should be graphical, with minimal text so you can move through swiftly, promote engagement and tell the story as you go.

Increasing online engagement

Engagement is king in the online world. We are battling against the three Ps (pets, parents and partners), alongside pinging phones and emails, so this is where are design methodology needs to start:

  1. Time seems to behave quite strangely in the online space, so plan to engage every five minutes maximum. Long gone are the days of an exercise every 20 minutes.
  2. Diversity of interaction is key. Delegates will soon get bored if all you are asking them to do is provide an answer a question in the chat box. Mix it up, open up microphones when appropriate and don’t be afraid to stretch yourself with creative opportunities in the moment.
  3. Tools such as Zoom and WebEx allow you to keep annotations on the slides, so think about how you can build activities in at a deeper level and really get your delegates thinking about what they’ve added, to challenge their quality of responses. This works particularly well with sorting and prioritising exercises.
  4. Be hyper away of your filler words, like ‘so’, ‘obviously’ and ‘ok’, as these can become a distraction for delegates as they are more focused on your voice compared to the in-person environment.
  5. Finally, record every session. Watch yourself back and reflect on what went well, and what could be even better. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well it went, I promise.

My final suggestion is that you take a bit of time for honest reflection. Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Are you where you want to be? If not, how come?
  2. Is this delivery channel driving the results you were hoping for? If so, fantastic, so what’s next? If not, ask yourself why.
  3. What needs to happen to get to where you want to be and what action can you take to accelerate this? There are specialists out there who can accelerate your plans and cut through all the learning on the job.

These new ways of working are here to stay, so we need to be flexible, agile and creative if we are to stay ahead of the curve and demonstrate the real value of our roles and functions. You have a chance to wow your stakeholders and make a sustainable difference to your L&D model, both now and in the future.

Interested in this topic? Read Reimagining blended learning in the new world of work.

Author Profile Picture
Erica Farmer

Co- Founder & Business Director, Digital Learning & Apprenticeship Expert, Speaker & Facilitator -

Read more from Erica Farmer

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