Webinar Report-Out: Making Virtual and Blended Learning Work for Adult Learners

I attended Jennifer Hoffmann’s Making Virtual and Blended Learning Work for Adult Learners. She modeled the session after Malcolm Knowles’ six principles of adult learning, which promotes collaborative learning over lecture:

  1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  3. Adults are goal oriented
  4. Adults are relevancy oriented
  5. Adults are practical
  6. Adult learners like to be respected

I agree with all of these principles. As we design for and facilitate sessions in the live virtual classroom, they should guide our treatment of adult learners. They don’t want to be treated like novices or children.

Additionally, I always use Wlodkowski and Ginsberg’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching as a rubric to make sure I have built in activities that address learner needs to increase the likelihood that they will apply the learning. The framework suggests fulfilling these four criteria:

  1. Establish Inclusion– Create an environment of mutual respect and connection. This can be done by posting participant and instructor bios, allowing participants to choose their own work groups, and creating a quick orientation to help students learn how to learn in the VC. An excellent example of an orientation by Insync TrainingLearn How to Learn Online
  2. Develop a Learning Attitude– Set ground rules and mutual expectations as a class. Facilitators can gauge the needs of the participants using annotation tools to involve everyone.
  3. Enhance Meaning– Meet learner needs by making the content relevant and personally meaningful. Use polling and annotation tools to help participants provide feedback. Find out why they chose this class. Are they trying to solve a problem? How do they plan to use what they learn?
  4. Engender Competence– Create experiences where participants can perform–>receive feedback–>make adjustments–>perform. Provide simulations and simple performance assessments via the VC, web-based resources. If it is impractical to perform in the virtual classroom then give an assignment to perform back on the job with criteria that a  peer or manager can use to give feedback.

My New (Space) Learning Hero

When I was ten, I desperately wanted to be the first female astronaut. I had it all carefully planned out: a degree in astrophysics, train to be an Air Force Pilot, then BAM! I’d be on the Space Shuttle.

Sally Ride destroyed that dream when I was 11. I simultaneously worshiped her and despised her.

Christa McAuliffe showed us that teachers could contribute to the space program. I was 13 years old on the day of the Challenger Launch. Completely devastated by the loss of the crew, I think that was the day my space dream truly died.

Now I have a new space hero: Col. Chris Hatfield of the International Space Station. He has masterfully used video and social media to invite us into his world on the ISS and teach us about zero gravity. He tweets with William Shatner and answers school children’s questions about life on the ISS. Most importantly, he connects with us virtually in a way that makes us feel like we know him. It’s the same way we feel like we know Jay Leno or David Letterman. Hatfield talks to us like we are friends.

Of course this is only possible because of current technology, but also because of his willingness to learn these new tricks. He’s no Millennial, but he sure communicates like one.

I’ve written before about harnessing the power of the virtual classroom to bring experts to the masses. It’s not just about using the tools, but knowing how to connect with the audience. It’s not about presenting. It’s about conversing. When you bring the audience into the conversation (either directly or by allowing them to submit questions) it becomes a richer and more meaningful dialogue.

Accessible Experts = Learning Heroes.

The Business Case for Virtual Learning

Yesterday I attended a webinar called The Case for Live Virtual Training led by Martyn Lewis of 3GS . I had three very interesting epiphanies during this session. I’m not sure how long it will be maintained, but for what it’s worth you can view a recording  of the session.

#1 Virtual training saves money, but in order to realize an ROI, you have to invest in more than just quality live virtual sessions.
Martyn demonstrates this fairly early on in the session with a graph comparing increased investment in a robust program for optimal-to-maximum return vs. minimal investment for, frankly, minimal return. I have to trust his data on this one, but when you see his description of the full program it seems logical enough. The key here is providing support materials and systems that help learner to apply learning for improved results: The Holy Grail of Learning.

#2 There is much to be learned about creating and facilitating quality virtual learning programs by benchmarking with other professions.
OK, I kind of already knew that you could learn a lot from a DJ to keep people engaged during a session, but Martyn takes it several steps farther in building out a robust virtual program:

  • Live Virtual – We can learn from broadcast media. Not only can we learn from the DJ but also from the NPR hosts. There isn’t just one DJ but two co-hosts who create an open, inviting environment. This immediately caught my attention as Martyn compared collaborative discourse during a live virtual session to “driveway moments”  listeners have during great shows. Not only should it feel like a great radio show, it should sound like a listener call-in show: think Car Talk or Talk of the Nation.
  • Application of Learning – Here Martyn suggests that we have much to learn from performance  coaching. In a case study he references in the session about 30 managers attended a learning event. After 3 weeks only 3 managers had applied the learning. After 3 coaching sessions 27 managers had applied the learning. Coaching can be a very powerful tool to support learners in applying the learning for results.
  • Asynchronous Collaboration – Take a cue from social media. Harness what participants are already doing in their personal lives on facebook and YouTube. They can do this.
  • Asynchronous Learning Resources – Here our tutor is crowdsourcing, explained by The Economist in the article, The Roar of the Crowd.  Crowdsourcing allows an organization to leverage the experience of the target audience to rate existing resources, share experiences, and create new resources for their peers. Some excellent examples of crowdsourcing platforms are Waze , Yelp, Netflix Ratings and Recommendations , and Pinterest .

#3 I really need to add a coaching element to my current project.
I’m working on an interesting challenge right now to refresh current instructors on a completely new design of our face-to-face New Employee Orientation (NEO)… in a virtual TTT. The class is much more interactive than before with more complicated physical setup. I almost flat-out said no when my manager asked if the TTT could be done virtually since we have no travel budget to do them in person. I’m a big believer in training people in the same environment where they are expected to perform when possible. I do like a challenge though. After sleeping on it I figured out a way to do a blended solution using the following elements:

  • Asynchronous Learning: Review the Facilitator Guide andview a video of selected activities from the pilot. The video gives a cue to pause after each activity for a guided reflection about how it might work at smaller remote campuses and in the space where they normally teach. This is recorded on an Instructor Worksheet that they bring to the live session.
  • Live Virtual: Attend a live telepresence session (one session for each site  led by me) where they can try out the activities with the actual materials, discuss the challenges they identified, and resolve how to deal with special circumstances at their sites. They learn from me and each other.
  • Asynchronous Collaboration: Each instructor will be added to the NEO Instructors group (forum + blog) on our company’s internal professional networking site. There I will seed questions about how elements the first session went. I will ask my rock star instructors to respond and get the conversation going.

I was intrigued by Martyn’s view of follow-up coaching and I want to integrate it into the design. The goal would be to provide support and answer questions 1:1 that come up after the group session. I can’t decide if the coaching session should happen just before or just after they teach their first class with the new material. Both? Let them choose?

Luckily I have a great contact in the finance department with a passion for coaching. I think it’s time for us to have lunch.