The importance of establishing a learning community – an environment where peers continuously learn from one another – is fundamental to successful learning throughout the employee lifecycle, from first to last day. The fact that today people are able to learn from different locations, time zones and on different mediums/channels means that building a support network or a learning community, which the learner can access after the end of the formal training, or simply to continue a conversation with a peer, has become more important than ever.
Techniques used to establish learning communities for traditional face-to-face learning were revolutionised during the pandemic, when everyone was forced to switch to online learning. At Insights we mobilised with speed to ensure that all our customers could access our learning solutions virtually. The sense that we are all ‘in this together’ really helped both our trainers and learners establish that all important community in a virtual setting.
Now in the new hybrid world of work, it’s increasingly common to have part of the cohort in the classroom and part joining virtually. While this has many advantages (for example decreasing the carbon footprint and easier access across time zones), learning providers are expected to create a learning experience and community that is equally valuable and inclusive for both virtual and physical attendees.
So how can we create the best hybrid learning communities? In my experience there are six key steps:
You could start by sending them a survey to assess their learning needs, preferences and the key outcomes they are looking to get from the course/training. Like anything, thorough preparation goes a long way. Make sure that you understand who your community is and what they need from learning. Who is your cohort? What skills do they need and what gaps do they need to fill? Is there anything special or distinctive about the group? How much do you know about the group and each member? The more you know the better it will be when it comes to preparing the content and the medium you will use.
- Choice of technology
Ask yourself what purpose the technology serves and what it will add to the experience for the people in the room and online. For example technology might be used in a positive way to answer questions - taking the place of a Teaching Assistant - giving the trainer space to concentrate on interaction during the course. There is some software out there that uses AI, and after some “training and testing” the AI can really take over some of the recurring questions that learners potentially always ask a trainer.
It is also important to consider how you are seen, both in the classroom and virtually. You may need to have various cameras in the room, at different angles to recreate the full space of the classroom on screen. What you are trying to achieve is for those online to experience the session as if they were in the classroom and not feel any disconnect.
Finally, in every good classroom learning experience, a trainer will always create some breakout activities in small groups to discuss and share ideas. This needs to be recreated for those online, and so the technology chosen will need to have the capacity to allow for ‘breakout’ rooms.
There are many suppliers offering “production” services that could help you decide what technology best fits your needs. Whatever technology you choose it is essential that the technology should be invisible to both the trainer and the learners. The trainer should be free to focus on their group of learners, enabling conversations that create an interactive and collaborative learning experience, without technology creating a barrier.
The best technology is the one that will enhance the overall experience of the participants: it will create a great LXP (learner experience), support interactivity and collaboration between both the trainer and the learners: for example interactive whiteboards.
The choice of which technology you use is critical to the success of your hybrid learning community. Too much technology or the incorrect technology can make the experience feel impersonal or clunky. This is where your preparation will help you make the right decisions.
- Presentation style
Delivering for both in-person and online participants is a new skill set trainers need to spend time mastering. Just because you are proficient in a face-to-face environment, it doesn’t automatically mean you will smoothly transition to hybrid presentation. Creating the same level of engagement for both classroom-based and online learners means trainers need to imitate TV presenters - look into the camera, speak clearly, ensure their voices have the right tonality to properly convey the message and think about body language. Even how you use your hands can help or hinder to bring energy to the screen.
It can take a couple of practice sessions to understand how to speak to both audiences, and how to move in the room to be seen by the cameras, so be sure to practise your session in front of a friendly audience first!
- Optimum class size and hybrid mix
As we learned during the pandemic, technology can support very large class sizes. Ideally, however, when assembling a hybrid class, you should aim for an equal balance of those studying online and those in the classroom. As your course will definitely include some group work/break-out sessions, consideration should be given to the size of the ideal 'online/in person' group. Some studies say that between three and seven is the ideal number for group work, so this should also inform the size of your hybrid class.
- Embedding learning
During the sessions you could create interactive exercises, group activities, build-in some case studies, offer individual or group coaching sessions online as an additional space to review, implement and practise what was learned in the session.
After the training event you could create a “collaborative” space for people to post answers to some questions or come into an online forum to follow up with the other participants.
In order to accelerate the learning curve, encourage participants to practise outsideclass time. Why not ask your learners to record themselves practising their new skill, then share their video in a collaborative online forum, and ask their peers to give feedback? Like professional golfer Arnold Palmer once said – “the more I practise the luckier I get!”
For example, prior to the session you could offer 1-to-1 or a group introductory live conversation to start assessing each participant’s needs, background, aspirations and knowledge gaps. You can suggest some pre-activities, reading and resources.
Learning is about repeatedly practising new skills to ensure there is behaviour change in the longterm. This is where you can be creative! To ensure that the learning is embedded, why not start by designing what the full learning journey is going to be for your learner from start to finish? This includes the key touch points, learning milestones and outcomes, activities and support tools you will use.
- Beyond the session
This is about creating longevity for the learning and collaboration that may have flourished during the hybrid learning event. It’s about keeping that initial hybrid learning community alive. So, leverage some of the above activities and build momentum for your newly formed community. Consider having daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and possibly annual touch points with your learners. One way to manage this process in a consistent and learner focused way, would be, for example, to consider having one person in your organisation becoming the central point for any leaners follow up activities and to manage an online forum/community.
Véronique Rapetti, pictured below, is product and learner experience manager for Insights