I recently did a webinar called, “15 Ways to Market Your Training Program & Learning Tech.” (Here is the recording and slide deck.) The session covers a lot in 60 minutes so I thought it would be good to do a complementary blog series. The first few posts will focus on engaging the long distance learner.
Most organizations these days have at least some employees working remotely. There are many benefits to working outside of the office, but it definitely adds a layer of complexity for those of us who teach. Long distance employees have less of an opportunity to engage with colleagues and learn informally. There are less chances for casual conversation that builds social bonds. This can cause remote employees to feel they have no connection to their organization, and we know where that goes. Less motivation, more attrition, and from an L&D standpoint, less engagement. Why develop your job skills if you don’t know how long you’ll stay with your employer?
Learning and development can solve two issues experienced by the long distance learner. We can deliver training and hopefully provide alternative ways to learn what informal learning normally provides. We also support the overall culture of an organization and can give learners the opportunity to know their colleagues.
The trickiest part of teaching long distance learners is finding a way to communicate that is just as natural and meaningful as face to face interaction. For a population that frequently feels cut off from their colleagues, videoconferencing is an important tool. Whenever possible, teach virtual classes with your camera turned on.
Consider though that if you are teaching to a global audience, some audience members will encounter difficulty with bandwidth limitations if you leave your webcam on. Try enabling it for your introduction or for short periods throughout the class. If there is a registration page for the session, maybe place a photo of yourself there. It makes it easier for us to hold onto information if we feel a sense of connection to the speaker. (Personally… if I don’t know what the speaker looks like, I start imagining what they look like… so be prepared for me to imagine you wearing an outfit straight out of The Hunger Games.)
What’s even better than one person on camera? Everyone on camera. I’ve frequently held team meetings with nine or more remote employees, and everyone had their webcam turned on, Hollywood Squares style. When everyone is on video, it’s much easier to tell who is talking, or who wants to talk, or who really doesn’t like something but isn’t about to say anything.
It’s also a lot easier to get everyone to speak one at a time. People can raise their hands. When there’s too much chaos, I do interpretive dance until everyone is quiet with admiration of my dancing abilities. (Or at least I think that’s what it is.) Works just as well in small classes as it does in meetings. People are much more likely to stay engaged when you can see them. And there’s something kind of nice about slurping some noodles in LA while your colleague in New York munches on a sandwich.
Also fun… team meetings or classes where everyone wears an interesting accessory. Show and tell. One of my calculus professors made all of us wear party hats to exams – which he called Celebrations of Learning. I hated calculus but the exams were definitely less painful thanks to his creativity. You could interoffice everyone a party hat and some candy to celebrate a special occasion.
Back when I was on a Staff Diversity Committee, I tried to get my team to wear items to our virtual meeting that expressed their heritage. Granted, it didn’t totally work… it was just me with my American Indian feathers and one team member in a Polish babushka. But it was still an entertaining way to open our meeting.
Speaking of interesting ways to open a meeting, trying opening by having a different person each week teach the group something work related. Just a five minute snippet of information before you start the agenda. Again, this works in meetings or in cohort-style classes that meet on a recurring basis. It helps the group get to know one another, and gives learners the chance to actively engage.
More musings coming soon.
UPDATE: Here is part two of the series, on creating training cohorts for new hires: