Authentic Connections in Virtual Classrooms
Authentic yet collaborative connections in virtual classrooms are difficult to achieve. In the ever-growing practice of using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), online training webinars, and virtual reality experiences to achieve training goals and cultivate personnel capacities, organizations are finding it challenging to maintain the varied and complex human connections that are naturally made in face-to-face classrooms. Meaning, for some organizations, virtual learning appears to be either too impersonal and isolating, or too crowding and team-y (yes, I just made up a word) and does not/cannot allow individual expression in collaborative engagement. In other words, online learning can’t promote both individualism and collaboration.
Or so we thought. Now research (and experience) is telling us that perhaps it IS possible to have interpersonal connections in our new virtual/digital classrooms while maintaining our sense of self, provided we have certain instructional design tools in place, and use them correctly. Using them correctly is the elephant in the virtual room. However, it is not impossible, even with a limited budget and design resources. Here is an example of how we not only reached our training goals and further developed our employee talent, but also provided an opportunity for communicating expressively with clarity and engagement, citing both collaboration and individual articulation.
Recently severe inclement weather prohibited our training seminar facilitator from going in to work. This resulted in the planned global training on legal issues to be cancelled across 5 of our company’s centers, disappointing 30 eager trainees and wrecking havoc on our Training timeline; if you are a trainer, you can relate! It was quickly decided to use our fairly new Live CHAT room hosted on our company’s LMS. The trainees had previously attended two Live CHAT sessions, both facilitated by a corporate trainer. Both previous CHAT sessions went well, with the trainer leading the discussions. This time, there would be no facilitator, no trainer. How would the trainees handle the Live CHAT session?
I am excited to report they handled it beautifully. On their own, first-level agents took responsibility for their learning. They took turns asking questions and responding to peers’ comments, each gradually opening up with dialogue so that eventually instead of short, clipped responses or comments we had entire paragraphs of discussion from individuals. In reading the transcripts later, I could “see” the authentic connections these agents had made. Though in a group setting in a digital format, each one expressed their individual selves with personalized experiences, and engaged with comments that both supported their own thoughts and feelings, but reached out to their colleagues present in the group. This Live CHAT session, though used on an inexpensive LMS and set up rather spontaneously (well, yes, very spontaneously!) is a perfect example of how a training environment can be set up to promote authentic connections in a virtual setting. I’ve read recently that the goals for corporate education for 2015 are collaboration with inclusion; global relationships; communicating expressively for clarity and engagement; and personalization of learning experiences. Our simple impromptu use of CHAT without a facilitator gained us tremendous learning momentum, one which we plan to leverage at every opportunity. Those trainees feel supported, heard, included, independent, and yes, team-y.
In summary, as we’ve all heard before, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, or set up a stand…etc. To add to that wonderful idiom, when it’s raining lemons and your trainer can’t come in, try using social media! You’ll be wonderfully amazed.
This blog was written by Dr. Laurie Rogers, Leadership Development and Effectiveness at Etech Global Services. If you would like to learn more about Etech, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org