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Optimizing Online Learning - Ahead of the Event

I started my formal presentation experience, as many others, in boardrooms, classrooms and group settings, and then later, as technology advanced, in the online space. 15 years ago, I helped launch the Canadian operations of a global human capital management software company into the world of online facilitation.

At that time, we began delivering synchronous interactive webinars and virtual facilitator-led computer classroom sessions. It was pretty cool to watch attendees engage in actual hands-on activities as if in a physical computer lab. The facilitator could basically ‘walk’ around the virtual classroom and literally watch the participants perform a series of tasks on software programs they did not yet have on their own computers, all through the magic of technology. I immediately appreciated how that technology helped people learn using non-traditional methods and in an incredibly powerful and accessible manner.

I trained and mentored facilitators across the country and was then recruited as a manager of learning and development for a law firm in Atlantic Canada. In creating my position, the firm's aim was to bring someone on board to manage the learning portfolio, creating curricula for the firm’s substantive, procedural, soft skills and technology needs.

With an each-one-teach-one philosophy and a culture steeped in a century and a half of mentorship, the challenge wasn’t gaining buy-in for learning; rather, it was the geographic dispersion of the 500 lawyers and staff and a fierce competition for their attention with the core part of the business, serving clients.

It was clear that online learning would dovetail their schedules and demands much easier than classroom workshops, at least for certain content.

Fast forward to 2018, I’ve facilitated countless online workshops and offered virtual presentations with thousands of participants over the years and helped many subject matter experts launch and manage their online learning programs. I’ve spoken at local and national conferences about this very topic, including a recent invitation to speak at the Global Summit & EdTech Expo: Teaching & Learning in the Digital Age earlier this month. (Check out shiftED's Facebook page for a few snaps of that!)

I am often asked how to optimize the learning experience when shifting to an online delivery, and the conversation inevitably steers toward advice about technology. My reaction is simple: this isn’t really about the technology – it’s about the people, it's about the human learning experience.

There are touchpoints with our audiences that can extend beyond the typical learning event, and functionality of the platforms, to boost audience participation and optimize their learning outcomes, regardless of system sophistication.

There are strategies that can be incorporated prior to participants joining an online event that will help to maximize attendance and engagement levels of your busy participants and increase adoption rates for both the technology and the learning objectives.  

Whether dabbling in your first online delivery or planning your tenth organization-wide implementation, here are a few best practices ahead of executing the event:

  • invite a comprehensive matrix of pilot students or beta users to participate before the first learning event to help you develop the programs and refine the user experience
  • develop trust with that group, explain why they were chosen, what you expect of them, and what they can expect of you and your team throughout the early stages
  • build the curricula or course with choices on how and when people will learn, whether via modular self-paced asynchronous learning paths or scheduled facilitator-led online synchronous sessions at various time-slots or a blend of both, and then explain what each path entails and how to navigate
  • leverage early/beta feedback to enhance the curricula, and then share the feedback with potential participants while letting all know about the hiccups encountered and what remedies and reactions resulted
  • if mandatory training is involved, let people know what the disruption will look like and how you intend to minimize that disruption; and if other departments or roles are also going to be impacted, involve them in the process – participant managers, their union representatives, information services, etc.

There are a host of best practices that you can also incorporate during and after the event to further optimize the learning, and I will talk about those in upcoming blog posts.

Let me know what you think about that.

Do you have questions or comments about this post? I’d love to hear your challenges and successes, and how you plan to optimize online learning.


-Tisha Parker Kemp


Original photo of online learner from Startup Stock Photos on Pexels: modified by Yours Truly


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