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Three reasons why virtual learning is here to stay

Morgana Rubini

We asked Candy Jannetta – one of Artgym’s master practitioners – to share her point of view on virtual learning

Everyone is learning now via platforms like Zoom or Teams, purely because so many of us have had to work from home since March 2020.

But we shouldn’t think of virtual learning as something that’s been foisted on us against our will, because of the pandemic. It’s actually a very powerful and effective way of learning.

In addition to saving considerably on travel time, travel costs and carbon emissions, virtual learning has a number of distinct advantages. Candy gives three different examples to explain why:

1. Why virtual is great for social learning

Last year, we designed a skills-based learning program for one of our international clients that was aimed at their junior managers. Because of the advances in technology, we all know that people like to learn in a different ways, compared to previous generations. So how do you use the power of virtual learning to engage learners in relevant, relatable and interesting ways?

We created a four-week program that was totally self-directed. Using MS Teams as the main platform, facilitators introduced learners to a series of exciting learning challenges. Everyone was given a choice of topics to learn from, such as communication skills. But they could choose which specific area of communications they wanted to focus on – for example emailing writing. Unlike traditional training, each individual learner gets to pick and choose what works best for them and apply it to their daily work. This self-directed approach also means that the learner gets to learn at their own pace and according to their own schedule. With social learning at the core, we brought teams together to discuss their challenges and successes so that they could learn together. For example, if someone had decided to learn how to have a difficult conversation, they would discuss how this worked out with their team. Participants fed back to us that being able to choose and adapt the learning to best meet their individual needs, and discuss this with their colleagues, made a big impact on their daily work.

So why did this approach work so well? It addresses the ‘five Rs’ that research shows works best for this age group: relevant, rational, relaxed, rapport and research-based. By 2025, 75% of the workforce will be made up of generations who were brought up with the internet. So internet-based social learning is not going away.

2. Virtual learning allows you to collaborate globally

A few months ago, we created a virtual program for another of our international clients, where participants were based in the US, Europe and Asia. In the past, when we have undertaken this kind of training for this client, we had separate face-to-face sessions for North America, for Europe and for Asia.

But this time, we had 38 participants who were located in New York, Europe and Tokyo and who were unable to travel. Bearing in mind the different time zones, we split the virtual group in half, running morning sessions for the Europe and Asia based participants, and afternoon sessions for the Europe and US based participants. They were then divided into seven smaller teams. This meant they had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from across the organisation.

The objective of this program was that the client wanted each of the seven teams to come up with an initiative that would solve a particular business issue the organisation was facing.

Each team then pitched their ideas to a panel of senior executives. Because there was a mix of European and Asian participants on one session and a mix of North Americans and Europeans on the other, they gained experience of working with different colleagues with whom they didn’t usually interact, and of sharing experiences that were new to many of the others in the group.

The exciting result for the client was they received some truly innovative initiatives that they knew they would be able to take forward in the business. The general consensus was that if they had been in a conventional classroom setting in, say, Paris, with their usual work colleagues, the ideas wouldn’t have flowed so easily.

This was the first time we’ve done something like this to accommodate time zones across three regions. But it shows that flying to get together isn’t always needed for positive results.

3. Virtual learning can respond quickly to an immediate business need

Another of our global clients asked us to design a program that would teach feedback skills for performance reviews. In response, we created a two-hour session for 10 groups of 30 people around the world. We then rolled it out to the entire group of 300 over a two-week period.

Previously, it would have taken us a considerable time to get everyone together physically. But we were able to deliver it so quickly because we didn’t have to plan a venue, we didn’t have to produce printed materials, and the client didn’t have to organise the logistics of getting 300 people from a number of different countries to travel to a classroom setting. And, from the participants’ point of view, they didn’t have to block out a chunk of time for international travel.

For this feedback skills program, it was about creating something that was highly targeted and specific to the learners’ roles: giving performance reviews. As with the millennial example, we undertook cohort learning where everyone could practise their newly-learned skills in pairs. They were deliberately partnered with a colleague from a different country so they could collaborate with someone in a different part of the business.

Then, because the mid-year reviews took place just three weeks afterwards, they were able to put their learning into practice almost immediately. Once all the performance reviews had taken place, everyone then met again virtually to share with their learning partner how they felt the reviews with their team had gone.

Because this program was designed around a specific activity they had to prepare for, it was highly targeted and very responsive. It also enabled us to connect 300 people from around the world who undertook an exercise in a consistent way, helping to contribute to the client’s cultural strategy of improving performance.

Is the future virtual?

Will we ever go back to classroom learning? Yes we will, but it’s very likely that the world of corporate learning will return to a more blended approach, with the virtual component integrated to a far greater degree. And there will no doubt be some element of hybrid learning where some are in a physical room and others join virtually.

The future of learning for Artgym is all about how to improve collaboration and innovation. And it’s also about agility, responsiveness and tailoring learning to suit the needs of the people in a particular group.

That’s why we’re so excited about virtual learning. It enables us to do things differently and it means we can come up with creative new ways to help solve our clients’ business needs. One thing is for sure, we’ll continue to incorporate virtual learning when we design our new learning programs.