Lessons learned from our first fully online course!
Written by Mirte van Os – iCRA’s very own Junior Expert
Just before the summer, iCRA offered its first fully online course in the 2SCALE program. Participants were able to follow trainings about listening, negotiation and group facilitation skills from their own homes. In their own time they followed a timeline that includes demonstration video’s, theory presentations, audio role play and assignments. Once per week the participants participated in a live feedback and questions & answers session with one of our trainers. For all our upcoming courses, we are making use of a new online learning platform. The participants agreed that it was a great experience. While we would love to host participants in Wageningen, we are glad to have found such a great solution in these COVID-times.
I am excited to continue our journey online, because I have learnt an important thing; online really works and can be a lot of fun!
Our largest fear was that we would miss out on the connection with participants, not being able to transfer knowledge between them and us and losing motivation on both sides. Of course, I still prefer seeing people in ‘real life’ rather than on the screen, however, in the past months we have learnt many lessons on how to bring this in-person connection to the online classroom. I have made a list of six things we learned:
*Note: our course was fully online; both a-synchronous combined with synchronous sessions. For us that means that participants go through the theory and assignments in their own time through following content on an online platform. Once a week we have a 1.5 hour live online sessions in which we connect, check the understanding of participants, provide feedback and answer questions.
Connection is key; that is the most important lesson we learnt and a mistake we made in our first training. We started sharing content and theory with the participants without seeing them ‘live-online’. Here are some things that we are doing differently now on this aspect:
Onboarding is crucial when starting to train online. Take the time to get to know the participants; schedule one-on-one sessions. Or, if that is not possible, do it in small groups of up to four.
Before the course starts make sure to know the expectations the participants have about the course and the challenges they face in real life (send out a questionnaire to save time). The REAL-LIFE situations will be the place to start your trainings from – the way you relate your theory and exercises to them and bring it to their reality!
Besides, after a good and intensive onboarding, participants find the confidence in you as a trainer that you really care about them and come to you with their questions.
Through our online platform we track engagement. Posting regular updates, inspiring messages or background reading. Participants can respond, and we make sure to respond back to them. Something that Jean, one of our online facilitators, mentioned is
‘putting your course online is only 50% of the job, the rest is facilitation, feedback and communication’.
While participants might do assignments and exercises in their own time, the most important aspect is feedback. To make sure they understand what they do and have the confidence to apply this in their daily practice. Providing feedback takes a lot of time, but you can get creative. Pair-up the participants and let them review each other’s work. In the live online sessions, you only pick out one or two assignment submissions to discuss as example. In short; sometimes you have to let the participants do the work for you. (As long as they also learn from it).
- Keep it simple
Designing your course/training module
To keep participants engaged and motivated, keep it simple. Apply the 20/80 rule. What do they really need to know? You really have to kill your darlings and get to the core of your message. Too much information will kill their motivation and learning online decrease the attention span.
For this, make sure to have a very to design a very simple outline to adapt your training session/module to online! Think about the ultimate goal for them after finishing your module and design from there. Don’t add any more information than what they really need to do/know from you to reach that.
In a live online session
As suggested above, make sure you don’t plan too much in a live session. It can be one simple group exercise for understanding the theory or a feedback session. Most important is to have a clear goal.
- Combine Delivery methods
While remaining structured so that the participants know what to expect of a week, you also need to keep them interested
Therefore, combine various delivery methods to catch their attention.
Some example we use on our platform are:
- Combine text (such as PowerPoint Slides) with oral explanation using audio files.
- Use short quizzes to keep participants engaged when presenting the theory.
- Pre-record yourself when explaining theory. You can add some nice effects.
- Have interesting and clear intermediate exercises before they have to do their final exercise.
- It is especially important to include examples in your delivery.
– E.g. Video’s for demonstration of communication skills (e.g. how to ask probing questions).
– E.g. Written examples/cases for more content topics (e.g. outline for meeting design).
*Tip: in your theory, examples and assignments; use cases of difficult situation that participants have come up with or design them as close to their reality as possible.
- Effective Teamwork with your trainers, facilitators, coordinators
Effective teamwork is key when designing your online training on the fly.
This is what we did:
- Use short cycles.
- Have a proper role division.
- Have a stand-up every week or every other day with the core team.
- Use a team chat where you can also share files; you will want everyone to be up to date.
- Find your team-rhythm.
- Live online with two people!
It is really nice to be in contact with your participants during the live online sessions.
In order to really connect, increase learning and understanding while staying relaxed, we have found several must-dos.
As a trainer make sure that you…
- Don’t want too much: create a simple session outline with a lot of time for everything.
- Check the energy level regularly; have coffee breaks or energisers when it drops.
- Are very clear on exercises/what you are planning.
- Take the time to ensure everyone is onboard/following (check in on ‘understanding’).
- Know the tools you will use and are able to support the participants
- Are flexible and relaxed; someone is late? Just start.
- Major Tip: Always have someone to help you in the live sessions so that you can divide above tasks.
*Tip: break out rooms work very well when working in subgroups (e.g. roleplay/practicing negotiation skills).
- Online can be just as much fun and even ‘cosy’
This way we have had a lot of fun during the online course and (although it is more difficult than in real life) we have experienced a real connection with participants, and we had a lot of fun doing this and I hope you will too!
*Note that this are just the lessons learned after ONE course and we are learning, experimenting and adjusting constantly. When working on the fly like this; you have to. Eventually we hope to share with you even more lessons learned and concrete tips!
Mirte van Os
+31 (0)317 422 938