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The virtues of virtual experiential learning

Lee Robertson | 21/04/2020

COVID-19 has brought unparalleled challenges with social distancing protocols touching on our ways of working, learning and living our daily lives. Remote working and home schooling have become the new norm, but what are the implications for those who had learning and development on their agenda? As the Coronavirus pandemic disrupts workplaces, we look at how learning needs are changing and how training is adapting in response.

Measuring the impact COVID-19 is having, Findcourses.co.uk has shared some preliminary insights into its influence on our ability to learn, motivation to learn and our learning priorities.

It found that while a quarter of people are undecided as what to do next, 45% say that they are more likely to engage with learning in the next three months because of the pandemic. The pause in doing training stems from some feeling too stressed to be able to focus or because their employer is unable to invest right now. However, many people are actively focusing on learning now because they have the free time to dedicate to studying or are motivated to make themselves more valuable to their employer.

Probably the biggest takeaway is that the majority of users want training providers to switch their classes to online versions or to provide information about virtual classrooms. Learning priorities are changing with over 50% of respondents wanting to take more advantage of the online learning opportunities available to them.

In the immediate short term this trend is dominating the industry with over 80% of training activities being moved online so employees do not miss out on developmental opportunities. This is also being mirrored at the AoEC with more of our own courses transitioning from a face-to-face to virtual offering.

Another of the biggest lessons coming out of the wider COVID-19 crisis is how easy it is to work from home thanks to the flexibility and reliability modern tech offers. Home working may be driven by necessity, but many are seeing the advantages it brings and realising home learning offers similar benefits in a time when people still need to learn despite the restrictions on movement.

E-learning has advanced massively in recent years and can present a viable and attractive alternative to traditional classroom learning. Video is very powerful in recreating the face-to-face experience and where the emphasis is on virtual, courses are superior in delivering real time engagement and feedback. When attention has been paid to the technology, the social aspects and the learning itself, virtual programmes can still maintain a level of intimacy and personalisation with small class sizes and highly accessible faculty.

High quality is also central to designing training programmes whether they be virtual or in person as Moira Halliday, director of training at the AoEC explains: “Learning is a highly personal experience so when the content is one dimensional it won’t engage participants. The craft is in developing a course which you know will be able to work well in either learning environment. Virtual experiential learning is significantly different to watching pre-recorded webinars or videos in large groups because it requires the student’s participation. Content must be rich, practical and immersive so it engages you. It should also allow for shared learning with practice and a free flow of information so that the learning is reinforced and properly embedded.”

Right now, workers need to feel more supported and connected than ever before and we must continue helping them learn and to keep things moving. Having access to structured e-learning plays a key role in maintaining a level of normality. Webcams are great for connecting as is being part of a learning community because people are staying educated, connected and relevant.

Of course, the effectiveness of virtual learning depends on the quality of the faculty, the course and the student’s preferences, but demand for high quality virtual learning experiences will only increase as we look ahead. Priorities may have shifted with safety front of mind for many learners who want to use online courses to at a time when we are all practicing social distancing, but there does not have to be a compromise on quality.

As Sarah Carrington, faculty with the AoEC points out: “Learning in a lockdown does not have to be any different and even offers a hidden upside in that it’s good practice for learning how to work remotely with a global client base. Those looking to train shouldn’t feel that this would hold them back in their development. We are still delivering a powerful experience with the same talented faculty with a wealth of experience and content being offered. It’s more accessible and has the same level of accreditation which ensures consistency and continuity for those finding themselves having to switch to virtual learning midway through modules.”

Educators have an enormous role to play in helping people during this crisis. To come through it, our workers and leaders are going to need support more than ever to be equipped with new skills to enable them to collaborate, be better communicators and use their human attributes to the best of their ability as everyone pulls together.

 

If you would like to discover more about coaching and training as a professional accredited coach, do come along to one of our free upcoming virtual open events or webinars.

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