6 Lessons Transitioning from Face to Face to Virtual Classroom

Virtual Classroom

6 Lessons Transitioning from Face to Face to Virtual Classroom

On Thursday March 12th I facilitated my last face to face programme with a Senior Leadership Team. The evening before I had a pint in the hotel bar and watched Liverpool crash out of the Champions League. There was an air of nervousness about COVID-19 and I was happy to be at a table on my own.

The morning of the programme, we did apologetic elbow bumps to greet one another. Just before lunch phones started beeping. Leo Varadkar (Irelands Prime Minister) had announced that the country’s schools, colleges and childcare facilities would close in response to the pandemic. There was an air of distraction for the rest of the day.

The following Monday 16th my colleagues and I got calls postponing or cancelling client programmes. Leo’s St Patrick’s Day speech was excellent but we were all now in Lockdown. At our team update meeting via Zoom that week we knew that we had to pivot quickly and go virtual.

Face to Face facilitation is what I do. It’s the strength I’ve leveraged for the last 25 years. I was unsure if I could do this in a virtual environment. Two months and 30+ virtual workshops later, I now know that I can, but not without making plenty of mistakes along the way.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

      • Get into the right mindset – It’s only natural to feel uneasy about transitioning and adapting to a virtual learning environment. Virtual classrooms do work with the right facilitation and the right learning goals and objectives. If you think you won’t succeed, you won’t. You have to be willing to take the plunge.
      • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – At the beginning, I did numerous test runs with my colleagues to iron out technology challenges. It’s only natural to feel somewhat uncomfortable in front of the screen. Things will go wrong. I’ve never facilitated a face-to-face programme where everything has gone perfectly. Trust that as an experienced facilitator, you will get things back on track.
      • Design an interactive process – Strong design is key. Determine your learning outcomes and think of it as a process (Pre-work, Virtual classroom, Post-work). Get content learning completed as part of pre-work. Aim for 30% content, 70% interaction in the workshop and follow up with boosters and application exercises after the workshop. Keeping learners engaged is critical. It’s very easy for learners to zone out when on the other side of a screen. Make use of a combination of interactive tools such as polls, chat, breakout rooms, interactive whiteboards, quizzes or games to connect and engage with remote learners.
      • Design shorter sessions – My rule of thumb is two x 2-hour virtual sessions for what was previously a one-day face to face workshop. Limit the workshop size to ideally 8 participants. I personally like to have about a week between sessions in order to give participants a chance to apply the learning between workshops.
      • Practice makes perfect – Whatever virtual platform you use whether it’s Zoom, WebEx, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams or other, you need to practice to become familiar with their features. As a facilitator you want to ensure everything runs smoothly. That’s why we team up with a producer who sets up tech checks with learners and manages the tools used throughout the workshop.
      • Always, have a plan B – It’s inevitable that things won’t always run smoothly with everyone working remotely – Broadband and electricity may become an issue, so it’s always worth having a plan B or C. 

Virtual classrooms will never replace the traditional face to face approach. I’m unsure as to how long this ‘new normal’ will last but I think the learning process has changed forever.

The future is a truly blended approach and I think we’ll be much more judicious about the need for participants and facilitators to travel to a hotel for your standard face-to-face workshop. I for one will not miss the annual 60,000 kilometres driving to the four corners of Ireland. I wouldn’t mind a bit of it now though!

If you are looking for help with transitioning to virtual classroom or you would like to discuss other forms of virtual learning. Get in touch.

Richard McCarthy

Richard joined OMT in 1998 and is head of Consultancy Services following a 14 year international career in project management, financial control and various management development roles. Richard specialises in working with Senior and Middle Management, focusing on critical Organisational Development Initiatives such as Strategy Development & Implementation, Change Management, and the roll-out of extensive Management & Leadership Development Programmes and One to One Executive Coaching. His previous work across Europe and Africa has helped him understand the impact of organisational culture, and change on managers’ ability to deliver successful results. Richard enjoys the challenge he gets from his work, especially working with clients who face difficult strategic choices or need to develop new skills & behaviours. Richard believes the rewards are satisfying when you know you have made a meaningful contribution.

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