The prospect of returning to face to face facilitation has been a dominant subject in the training conversations I’ve had recently. It’s a rich subject for debate due to the broad range of opinion and attitude amongst those who are tasked with delivering training in these unfamiliar times. Where once it seemed that the majority of facilitators couldn’t wait to get back into it, there now seems to be a matrix of opinion about the best way to get back to fully effective learning. Along one axis are the obvious health concerns, along the other axis are beliefs about the relative efficacy of different ways of delivering learning - heavily influenced by our experiences of ‘life in the Zoom rooms’. A major question for managers of learning is which box on that matrix do we adopt as our primary mode of delivery? For most, the answer will lie somewhere in the middle of the matrix - some form of blended learning. The next question will relate to best practice in the chosen mode - how do we best deliver within the blended learning mode we aim to adopt?
Speaking to educators it’s clear that our experience over the period of Covid restrictions has been very varied, and I’d suggest that, for the majority, it’s been the perceived effort / perceived reward of working virtually that defines this experience. For some it’s been a lot of effort with limited reward, for others it’s become easier and results have developed positively. Interestingly, and entirely anecdotally, there seems to be one factor that has been very influential here, and that’s the extent to which the facilitator has tried to make the virtual learning environment as much like the face to face learning environment that they are familiar with as possible. Some have aimed for this familiarity, others have accepted that they are very different environments and aimed to take advantage of the differences that undeniably exist. Two different strategies, both of which have implications for how we work if we enter the blended learning environment where some of our students are in the room with us whilst others are joining on-line.
Let’s take a look at an approach that aims to blur the boundaries between learners who are joining the session on-line and those who are in the room. This is an approach that RSVP Design has worked hard at supporting by creating our own digital platform that allows many of our learning tools to be used seamlessly across this boundary (see experientiallearningtools.com). The aim with this approach is to balance learner engagement regardless of their location - so, with an experiential tool such as Colourblind we’re aiming that the quality of learning experience is as equal as we can make it whether the playing pieces are plastic and in the hands of learners, or pixels on a remote screen of other learner. This balancing of engagement is designed into the activity in that each learner will only ever have part of the solution and it’s only by verbal sharing of information, with limited visual sharing (cameras off for the remote participants, blindfolds for the participants in the room) that a team-based solution will be achieved.
We can back up the ‘full-engagement’ approach by how we use the blended learning environment to equalise the contribution we expect from learners, like never sending groups into breakout rooms without deliverables that require contribution from all participants, or using individual ranking exercises that need to be discussed and a group response generated. But these are the ‘glue’ that is used to provide coherence between major activities that form the basis of the learning we are trying to realise - there is no substitute for well chosen learning tools that are designed to engage all learners equally.
The alternative approach is to deliberately differentiate between those joining on-line and those in the room. For many facilitators it is disingenuous to suggest that there isn’t a difference between these two groups of learners, so why not take advantage of the differences?
Again the choice of learning tools is vital, but in this approach there may be different reasons for choosing the same tool. If we are aiming to differentiate based on which side of the classroom / virtual boundary a learner is, then the learning tool needs to allow for some role-differentiation. An obvious example of this is, if the learners in the room are wearing masks, it may be better to delegate the role of co-ordinator / discussion leader to somebody who isn’t wearing a mask, i.e. somebody joining from their home. Likewise an activity that would benefit from some of the learners doing background research while others integrate this research into a structured response offers obvious roles for those on-line already and those who are better positioned to pull material together in one space.
We can also look at using the two learner groupings to develop different solutions to the same problem before bringing the two solutions into a shared space for discussion, maybe even extending the post-activity review to explore why the different working environments produced different (or the same) solutions? In this way the pros and cons of each working method can be recognised and translated back to the workplace as valuable learning. It’s clear that we are going to be living and working in environments that are, in themselves, a blend of face to face and on-line, so we need to be aware of how to get the best out of each.
Click below for an example of using experiential learning in a hybrid situaiton in Japan -
Here at RSVP Design, we are confident that the tools we have developed, both for physical and virtual use, will give you the best results.