Browse Tag by classroom
Blended Learning

Seize the day

Don’t take one step forward and two steps back

Carpe Diem

Rewind to 2002: I was still on dial-up on an old 486 PC, ‘talking’ with my boyfriend (now husband) on MS Messenger. Just imagine if this pandemic happened then … on dial-up! It doesn’t bear thinking about. There was little choice available as an alternative to classroom apart from traditional distance learning with real books, video cassettes and coursework sent through the post. We are living in a digitally enabled world where digital technology gives us greater opportunities than we could have dreamed of less than 20 years ago.

I’ve learned from experts thousands of miles away without leaving my couch and check the ‘magic box’ (my iPhone), whenever I need a definition, translate into English or to convert metres to feet to make sure I’m far enough away from people (yep, I still haven’t got the hang of metric).

We’ve only really had access to decent quality broadband in recent years albeit patchy in rural areas. With more consistent quality broadband during lockdown we have been able to stream films and binge-watch boxed sets; keep in touch with friends and family on Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime; kept active with Joe Wicks via his YouTube channel (well, erm, not everyone regardless of good intentions). 

Thrust into remote working we communicated and learned through WebEx, Teams, Slack groups, and online course platforms like Udemy and LinkedInLearning. Organisations speedily fast-forwarded their digital transformation programmes and upgraded their IT infrastructure, adapted business models quickly for remote digital working.

In the 5 years up to end of March 2020, we saw a significant increase in internet use from 86.2% to 92.1%  (Office for National Statistics) with a considerable drop in those who rarely/never used the internet – from 13.5% to 7.9%

As yet, there are no statistics for 2020/2021 but there’ll be no prizes for guessing there will be a much bigger increase.

The next phase of different

There is no denying that 2020 drastically changed the learning and development landscape. We proved we are resilient, inventive, proactive and determined to continue to thrive against adversity in more ways than one. Now, with COVID vaccines, home testing kits, and socially distanced adapted inside spaces, we are readying ourselves for the next phase of different. 

At last we have a tantalising peek at being able to meet in-person in larger, more socially distanced groups – and indoors!. But beware, this isn’t an excuse to go back to doing what we’ve always done, to throw away all that we’ve learned and return blindly to the classroom without careful consideration.

After just over a year since the first COVID lockdown, there already appears to be some cautious moves back to the more socially distanced classroom. Is this move the right move? Maybe, maybe not. Before returning to the classroom, we should ask ourselves if we are doing this for the right reasons? Should we be doing it as much?Should we be doing it at all?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-classroom. On the contrary, I cut my training teeth in the classroom and spent the best part of my L&D career helping fellow L&D professionals hone their classroom facilitation skills as well as helping them transition to live online and blended. 

Great classroom experiences are where learners are actively involved are both enjoyable and rewarding. We love the energy, the sense of community, the ad-hoc conversations, the meeting of minds, the speed of exploring new ideas, sharing experiences and, yes, just being in the presence of others. 

When we do return to the classroom we need to make sure it is for all the right reasons especially as many activities can be successfully run online. Not only that, but digital tools give us added advantages over classroom that increase learning efficacy and which we’ll explore more in later posts.

Make smart choices not Frankenblends 

Don’t make rash decisions about delivery channels and tools too soon. All too often we consciously or unconsciously plan for a classroom or virtual classroom or elearning self-study course at the outset. Sometimes, the decision has been made for us. Have you every been told that it MUST be in the classroom, and under no circumstances must anything go online? or vice versa? I certainly have in the past! We then have to make the learning activities fit that environment rather than concentrate on what is most appropriate for the learning need and the learners.

If we are not careful, blended solutions can become nothing more than Frankenstein’s monster blends (Frankenblends): digital content bolted on for learners to read, or an elearning module to complete with little or no support before they attend several days in a classroom. At best, there may be tenuous linking between each element, at worst, these feel disparate and disconnected. For seamless blended solutions that are not only more efficient but improves effectiveness we should make sure we really understand the situation we are catering for and it’s all too easy to fall back into a classroom by default habit.

Play the Devil’s advocate

No matter how we might feel about it, the future is one of ‘digital by default’. This doesn’t mean we choose digital instead of classroom, it means we should consider digital technologies for learning before we consider classroom and base our choices on what is appropriate – not on our personal likes and dislikes.  

Over many years I worked with people in many different organisations to help them plan effective and efficient blended solutions. I always suggested that they imagine classroom is no longer an option on the table (no I didn’t have any premonitions of the pandemic). This helped them rid the shackles of habit and think differently. 

Every time they suggested that classroom (which is the most expensive of resources) was the only way, I played the Devil’s Advocate, wanting a robust rationale behind their decisions. Very often, I was able to explain how a digital alternative would be as effective (if we don’t know what’s possible or have the skills, we will choose only what we know). When they eventually set out a their final arguments for classroom, when all avenues had been explored and rationally dismissed, I knew they had chosen classroom for the right reasons and making the best use of them.

Carpe Diem 

So let us seize the day. Don’t go back to the classroom just because we can. Let’s seize the opportunity continue to take our learning solutions to the next level, to make smart choices to choose what needs to happen before you decide how you will deliver it. To remind ourselves what good learning involves:

Contextual

Accessible

Retrieval and spaced practice 

Personalise and presence 

Effortful

Digestible chunks

Interactive

Effective feedback

Memorable

How will you seize the day? What differences will you make to your future learning solutions to help you move forward? What challenges might lie ahead that threaten making smarter choices? 

If you would like an informal chat to talk through any ideas you have or would like to pick my brains, please drop me a message. 

Learning design

Less is more – it really is!

Image by Igor Link from Pixabay

In Seth Godin’s recent blog post ‘the secret of the five top‘, he explores the reasoning behind why banquet tables are set at numbers of 10.  Apparently, this number is for maximum efficiency for serving staff and for table setting.  “Bigger” he says, ” you couldn’t reach and smaller there’s no room.”  Seth points out that although this is efficient for the banquet organiser, it really isn’t conducive for social interaction.  Parties and banquets are all about social interaction yet large tables of ten places barriers in the way of social interaction.

Having attended several wedding and conference banquets in recent years, I understand the issues perfectly.  These large tables have the opposite effect.  You end up talking only to the three or four people near you whereas you feel alienated from those directly opposite (that is if you can actually see them over the ornate table centre display).

The same is true of the classroom (virtual or physical).  Let’s imagine that you have determined that classroom is the best option for at least one element of the learning solution.  It may seem more efficient to cram 12, 24 or more people in the same room.  After all, you can tell 24+ the same stuff as easily as you can tell 8 …. can’t you?  Well, yes, I guess if your classroom is a glorified lecture theater where your learners are passively awaiting the gush of information.

The thing is, we know that’s not effective.  Social interaction in the form if discussions, group activities, small group case studies, tutor facilitation, individual consolidation exercises, assessments and individual feedback is.  Why then, is all this put at risk by organisations insisting that just because there are enough chairs and the room is big enough, they’ll fill it to the rafters.

Remember this…. When we favour quantity over quality there will be consequences.  Can you afford the consequences?

Blended Learning, Learning design, Online learning

Training or Learning?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In a recent post I asked the question “what really is blended learning?” after hearing many people describe it as being classroom plus eLearning. Well, before we can establish what blended learning really is, there are a few things I’d like to explore in more detail.

1. the difference between training and learning
2. what is good classroom

When asking various people how they would differentiate between training and learning, here are some of the responses they’ve come back with:

Training = formal, push information, very tutor focused, defined event(s), structured, something that’s done to them, interactive, just in case, series of events, step by step,

Learning = more learner-focused, longer term, continuous, ongoing, pull information, self-motivated, just in time, on-demand, supporting, mixture of formal, semi-formal and informal, sharing, experiential

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 2 years, you would have undoubtedly heard about how we deliver learning programmes needs to move away from formal training events and more towards more of a continuous learning process. This doesn’t mean we will be doing away with the formal training events but more about how we can use them more effectively.

When we talk about formal training events, we tend to think about classroom courses; that is, where two or more people are gathered together for a set period of time to be formally taken through a set topic relevant to their working practices. With even the most effectively designed classroom courses that engage, filled with activities, they can also be very inefficient.

Looking back over the years, great classroom courses have included a rich variety of learning activities or methods. So let’s take a look into the past and remember what we have used for great classroom experiences:

  • lectures
  • tutor-led discussion
  • group discussion
  • demonstrations
  • role plays
  • individual work
  • presentations
  • exercises
  • coaching
  • collaborating
  • case studies
  • problem solving games

A real rich mix of activities there. Hang on a minute? Isn’t that blended learning?

Well, not really. It’s blended training methods.

What it does confirm is that for effective learning our training needs to have an appropriate blend of learning activities. Today the emphasis is increasingly on learning through the conversations we have with each other. Despite classroom delivery being very effective (when designed and facilitated well) it’s often an inefficient choice.

Why? Because there is a limit to how many people we reach at any one time. There are different levels of experience in the room. There’s different speeds at which people learn and more reflection time needed by some. There are hidden costs associated with attending events such as travel and time away from job as well as the possible need to bring in temporary staff to cover.

Organisations have recognised that and are thinking of alternative ways of covering some of the learning traditionally done in the classroom. But is tagging this content on either side of the classroom as eLearning self-study the answer? Maybe – but before we can decide whether it is appropriate I have another question for you.

What really is eLearning?

Blended Learning, Online learning

The blended learning myth: eLearning plus classroom!

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

I recently had a conversation with someone who was interested in designing more engaging eLearning but they weren’t sure where to start when deciding which of the suite of training programmes to sign up for. During the conversation I mentioned that it would also benefit him to consider looking into blended learning which would give him more of an idea how eLearning (as he interpreted e-learning i.e. self study modules) could be considered working as part of a blended solution. At the time he was adamant he wasn’t at all interested in blended learning because he wouldn’t be involved in designing or delivering classroom courses.

I hear a similar response from others on my programmes when asked the question “what do you think blended learning is?” The definitions from my students from a classroom design/delivery background are along the lines of “a mix of eLearning and classroom” mainly describing the eLearning as the ‘pre-course work’ in preparation for classroom events.
I have been running programmes on blended learning for a number of years and although there are more people attending with a less blinkered view, there are still so many under this impression given the plethora of resources out there extolling the virtues of various online options.

This then reminded me of another conversation I had some months back after a presentation I co-delivered on how learning is changing. This person mentioned he had already attended a course on blended learning and as a result, he didn’t think blended learning was appropriate at that time. After a little investigation into why he thought that way, it turned out that this particular company stipulated that a blended learning solution wasn’t a true blended solution unless it included eLearning. Now I only had this person’s side of the story but it didn’t surprise me as the company providing the course was an eLearning provider.

No wonder learning and development professionals are confused and skeptical about considering blended learning as a solution. Until we know what blended learning really is, how can we consider it as an appropriate solution? So if eLearning plus classroom isn’t blended learning, what is….?

I’ll leave that for another day.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

Miscellaneous

Revolution for the Classroom

Redesigning the learning environment

My vision of face to face learning events of the future is not a ‘classroom’ but more a social meeting area.  If we are going to embrace the change in learning that has to happen and soon, we should also rethink the environment our learners visit when attend a face to face learning event.

To me, the word classroom conjures up a memory of chairs all in a row.  Sometimes, these chairs may even be locked together so we can’t move them.  Some of them have little tables attached.  Have you ever tried to sit at these strange contraptions?  For me they are certainly not comfortable and very restrictive not to mention difficult to adjust my seating or cross my legs.  Then there are those conference chairs.  I have short legs and often find that the majority of conference / classroom / training event chairs leave me with legs a-dangle cutting off the circulation.  If I wear my killer heels this is slightly better but then by the end of the day I can’t walk!

The alternative to the rows upon rows of lecture-style layout  in corporate training rooms is the ‘horseshoe’ style with the premise of making the experience much more friendly allowing the trainer more opportunity to become more accessible to their learners and allow learners to see each other, thereby interacting more easily.  A lot better than the first option but the trainer often still stands at the front ‘in charge’.  With the barrier of tables it can be tricky to break down the walls of formality.  I’ve tried pulling a chair round and sitting at the front.  This feels odd but a little less formal.  I’ve tried sitting on the table but then I’m almost on top of some people and a little distant from others.  It’s also uncomfortable (short legs and no circulation again).

If I had my way, I would redesign the environment so it’s no longer like a classroom but an inviting area where learners feel at ease on a range of comfortable chairs and sofas, where the the trainer becomes a facilitator.  There will be coffee tables and any slides are viewed on a flat screen TV from a laptop.  Individuals will have a much more comfortable experience and a more informal approach to learning.  Where computer based activities are required, of course safe ergonomic considerations are needed but I feel this would also benefit from a more informal feel to it.

Considering that with more emphasis these days on blended learning*, where we will be using face to face events more appropriately and collaboratively I think it’s time to adapt the environment accordingly.

*note that blended learning doesn’t necessarily mean face to face is included.