The internet presents boundless opportunities for people to connect and engage with each other across long distances. When the COVID pandemic hit, people were able to experience firsthand how the digital world can help people to connect when they cannot meet in person. Students were able to continue some form of learning, businesses could hold meetings remotely, and even families could stay in touch using the capabilities of the online world. While there is certainly no question that the internet cannot replace in-person interaction, the benefits it offers people professionally and within the education world cannot be overlooked.
Worldwide, people have begun to see the benefits of digital transformation. In education, this transformation offers the possibility for remote teaching, learning, and assessing, which can help make education more accessible. Having recently taken steps to complete this transformation internally, here is what we think all brands should understand about this process.
The path to digital transformation
A successful digital transformation requires everyone in the organization to be on-board with this path and understand the strategy needed to make the transition. Education institutions have begun to accept this change and embrace its potential, but they will not be successful unless each member grasps the approach and is willing to engage.
In an ideal situation, organizations should hold workshops in-person to delve into the process with their team members, but it can also be done remotely. When it is completely online, organizers can use it as an opportunity to demonstrate how successful remote classes can function. Teachers can then use it as a benchmark for their classes.
At EHL Advisory, we organize training opportunities for teachers around the world. In normal times, we would travel to the partner institution to provide the training. During the pandemic, however, we've had to shift our strategies and instead engage with the client online. We wanted to find a way to ensure that our client teachers received the training they needed without compromising the material we taught or the impact we had.
Our team responded to this challenge by creating a comprehensive, virtual instructor-led training program. This design offered us the chance to bring together our bespoke training methodologies while still retaining our education values. This allowed us to continue providing a dynamic and rewarding educational experience for our learners.
Throughout the process of creating this digital learning experience, we learned many things about the digital transformation process that we would like to share. Once you have introduced the rest of your team to the steps outlined here, you will be ready to begin the path towards a digital transformation.
Step 1. Preparing for a successful remote workshop
Before you begin any online session, you need to make sure that you have adequately prepared for the learning experience you want to create. You want to have answers to the following questions.
What do you want to accomplish by the end of this remote session?
What are your goals for the meeting?
What is the purpose of the workshop?
What do you want your audience to take back with them?
The better you have prepared the answers to these questions, the easier you will find it to shape the rest of your session. The answers will guide your priorities and how you structure the learning environment. It will also be easier to evaluate the success of your session.
It is also helpful to invite the right stakeholders into the conversation as early as possible. Invite the key people to a pre-workshop to get their contributions on these cornerstone questions. See what ideas they have about the upcoming educational opportunity and what they believe should be covered during the time.
Create an agenda
Armed with information and input from the stakeholders, create a detailed agenda that will guide you throughout the educational digital experience. This agenda will help you operate effectively and provide a solid structure to the event so that you can be confident that you cover the target information. You do not want to rely on improvisation or rough outlines when speaking online, so a strong structure based on concrete ideas will help you keep your participants engaged.
One of the biggest challenges with learning online comes from holding the participants’ attention, as it is easy to get distracted when taking a class online. Every strategy that you have to keep your audience actively listening and responding to the ideas you present will increase your chances of digital success.
Prerequisites to increase attention spans
Even when using all of your available resources and strategies for keeping the audience engaged, you will find that it is nearly impossible to keep people’s attention for more than two hours at a time. Therefore, providing people with prerequisites to watch or read before coming to your learning session will help you make sure that everyone is on the same page and allows you to use class time to touch upon the higher-level material. It will enhance your ability to make the learning opportunity as engaging and interactive as possible. Rather than having to cover the introductory information, you can delve into the deep discussions.
To help you improve the experience of your class, you can also use learning management systems that help you track precisely who has spent the necessary time reading the required materials before class. You will know who comes to class prepared and ready for the upcoming conversation.
Consider having a co-facilitator
As you plan your class, consider also working with a training coordinator or co-facilitator to help manage some of the more technical aspects of the learning experience. This co-educator can help to answer the questions and comments that arrive in the chat, help to manage breakout rooms, and even troubleshoot any problems that emerge with the technology. While you manage the teaching part of the class, they can help you take care of the details of running the class online. With them working on the background tasks, as the educator, you will have the time and flexibility you need to accomplish your teaching goals.
Set the tone for the class
To help the class run smoothly, you also want to make sure that you have breaks built into the learning sessions, particularly for longer sessions. Splitting what would have been a full-day workshop in person into two half-day workshops online can be a good strategy to avoid people getting fatigued by the screens. You also want to schedule an occasional break about every 60-90 minutes, which makes it easier for people to remain focused and concentrate on the material presented. We often run sessions that range from 60 minutes to several hours, and use breaks to help with the pacing.
The tone also comes from the background environment of the class. As the educator, make sure you have a good microphone and that the background lights for your training make it easy to see you without causing glares or other vision problems. Use a similar dress code to how you would appear in person and do your best to make eye contact throughout the class.
It can be a good idea to practice your session before the learning experience. Pretend that you can see the audience through the camera and look at it and engage with it as you would a live audience. Practicing beforehand can help you check your volume and your speech pacing to ensure that you are easy to understand online. Consider asking a colleague for feedback on your practice presentations to make sure that you do not speak too quickly or softly, and that you do not have any distracting ticks or habits that could make it harder to focus on the words you say.
Work to make your presentation overall as natural sounding as possible. Although you have a detailed agenda and notes to speak from, focus on making the speech flow naturally and conversational, as you would in person.
Step 2. Select the right tools
Particularly as the digital impact on education becomes increasingly prominent, there have arisen a variety of different learning management systems and hosting platforms that you can select for your training needs. You need to think not only of your own experience but also of the ease and learning experience of the student.
To make sure you select the right tools, consider these steps.
Make a list of important features that will be required to ensure that the platform can adequately host your class and provide the experience you want.
Make sure the platforms are intuitive and easy for you to use.
Consider the prerequisites you want to post for students and make sure that the platform offers those capabilities.
Look also at the learning management system that your institution is using, as many find that to be the best option for them as a matter of convenience.
Choose the right video-conferencing platform
In addition to the learning management and hosting platforms, you also need to consider the video conferencing capabilities. There are a variety of different video-conferencing options, including Zoom, Webex and Microsoft Teams. These options include several convenient features, including the option to separate students into breakout rooms. You can use the breakout rooms to arrange students into small groups to work on projects you assign or have smaller discussions on the class topic. You can then pop in and out of the smaller discussion areas to check on what they have accomplished.
During our sessions here at EHL, we enjoy creating spaces for our participants to learn about each other’s experiences and put into practice the knowledge that they have learned. The breakout rooms can create a valuable dynamic in the classroom, helping to mimic some of the invigorating and informative in-person discussions that naturally evolve when meeting in person. It is important to use this feature well, and when you do, it presents excellent opportunities to enhance the learning experience.
Step 3. Starting the online live session
Now that the time has come to welcome your students into the classroom and begin the digital learning session, you want to set the stage for a successful session and conversation.
Creating the right mood upon entering
We find it helpful to have music playing during the first few moments of the meeting when people are still entering and preparing to participate in the session. Many people find that music can be energizing and help get people excited to learn and work together. Having a common experience of listening to the same music for all the participants also helps to create the feeling that everyone is in the same room together.
In addition to having the music playing, we also recommend muting everyone automatically as they enter the room. When people enter a new video conferencing meeting, they naturally create background noise. They may be talking to people off-screen, shuffling their chairs and papers, and getting ready for the upcoming session. Making sure that everyone is on mute as they first enter the room will help to cut down on these issues and create a better experience.
Tips to create an environment conducive to learning
Before beginning the session, you also want to consider the environment you have on your computer. As the presenter, you will likely share your screen regularly. You, therefore, want to make sure that you use the do not disturb mode on your computer - you do not want everyone in the class to see your email notifications pop up on your screen while you give a presentation.
Remember also that as the presenter, you have a considerable amount of control over the attitude and outlook of the rest of the class. Bringing a positive and enthusiastic outlook and body language to the session can help to get the learning session off to the right start, even if you feel very nervous. Help all members in the learning environment feel as though their contributions are valued and that you want to hear what they want to say.
Step 4. Facilitating a successful online workshop
You have already gone through the step to determine precisely what you want to accomplish during your online learning session, and now it is your opportunity to convey it to everyone around you. Let attendees know what the purpose and objectives of the session will be, as well as what you hope they will leave the meeting with; this helps everyone stay focused as well as presents a great argument for the value of participation and engagement.
Also, provide opportunities for ice breakers during your class. Let the students get to know each other a bit to improve their ability to engage and interact with one another throughout the class.
Make it easier for people to learn
There are a variety of different learning styles present in a single classroom. In the same way that in-person teachers will try to engage people using a variety of different teaching and learning styles in the classroom, you also want to do so online. There are several different online tools you can use to make it easier to target different learning styles and keep the class new and interesting throughout each session, which makes the class more engaging for all participants. For some fun, consider using tools such as Socrative, which can help check concept understanding, or Kahoot!, which allows you to create interactive quizzes and competitions to check comprehension. Even tools such as Google Slides can be collaborative and make it easy to incorporate visuals and examples into the class.
Work to make the classes fun and interesting, providing students with an occasional break to the more typical lecture-style and PowerPoint presentations.
Breakout rooms, where people can complete tasks and discuss concepts within smaller groups, can also make it easier to ensure that everyone has a chance to speak and builds bonds between the different students themselves.
As you move through the class, incorporate regular opportunities for concept checks. See how well the class grasps the information you present so that you know if there is anything you need to return to.
To increase collaboration within the group we recommend considering:
Chat, which allows people to ask questions.
A teleconferencing built-in whiteboard, which can enhance note-taking during class.
Padlet, which is a digital canvas that allows participants to create shareable projects and collaborate on tasks during the learning session.
During the class, you can also have people participate in various activities to help them engage with the ideas. Consider activities such as:
How might we/Problem framing
Elaborate on an idea
Share previous and personal experience
Teaching is changing for the long term. The year 2020 has forced many schools to become creative and inventive in their capacity to engage students. These changes will impact schools for years to come. Although in-person learning will return after the pandemic, some of the new digital technologies are here to stay.
The integral role of education in our society is undeniable, and the connection between students and the facilitators is at the heart of learning. Transitioning from bricks and mortar schools to an online environment is complex. It requires the content, tools, support for teachers and students, and excellent communication to materialize it. However, following this path can help facilitators deliver meaningful instruction and continue to create strong learning opportunities.