by Andrew Grant

Online digital platforms are by no means new.

We were all having Skype or Zoom calls before this year, and we had probably all attended or delivered webinars. But the rapid switch to exclusive or at least predominant online delivery since COVID19 has been phenomenal. In our field, most presenters, workshop facilitators and company consultants have now been forced to deliver online, and there have been a number of unique associated challenges.

We have learnt that it is possible to establish a highly interactive and engaging online experience. The secret is that focusing on setting up a successful online learning session is as critical as setting up a professional face-to-face workshop, meeting or conference.

So how is it possible to improve the online experience and set yourself up for success?

More than a talking head

A straight transfer of the content to a digital platform is not good enough. Most online audiences are used to fast-paced and engaging virtual interactions, and they will easily disengage if online experiences are sub-standard.

To transition effectively, all content and methods need to be redesigned as interactive online sessions, taking advantage of the wide range of digital apps and resources available. A straight ‘talking head’ using PowerPoint slides focusing on more traditional content and delivery methods will not be effective online – especially considering they are barely adequate now even for face-to-face delivery options!

Don’t let the tail wag the dog

To get it right, start with the desired outcomes and required parameters and work backwards from there.

Beyond just the straight delivery of content (which can usually be accessed for free on YouTube), a professional learning intervention should enable participants to actively reflect on and find real solutions to key business issues. They should include opportunities to reflect on personal and professional challenges, including leadership issues and group dynamics as appropriate.

This is usually only possible when an experience is authentic, and where personal relationships and a safe space for discovery are established and maintained. Innovative online simulations and engaging facilitation can create positive intervening experiences that break down the barriers, and we have discovered this can still all be done online.

The PROs of the online session

Using digital platforms can boost effectiveness if done well. Here are some key reasons why:

  • There are myriads of online collaborative tools available. They can ensure a healthy mix of presentation, chat, discussion, group work, interactive tools, gamification, and simulated learning.
  • The logistics are so much simpler. There is no travel, booking of a meeting room, setting up a venue, printing materials, and so on.
  • The virtual classroom can allow participants to learn in chunks and at their own pace. The learning experience can also be flipped with some of the critical content learning done prior to and post the core delivery session.

The CONs of the online session

If they are not managed well, online sessions can be counterproductive and unfulfilling. Poor delivery experiences can lead to:

  • Lower engagement. While in a face to face session, the facilitator or presenter can immediately pick up on the body language and micro-expressions of the participant group, this can be much harder to do online – leading to poor motivation and potential withdrawal. Participants can also more easily be distracted by their surroundings and devices, which may not be detected by the facilitator.
  • The potential for screen-time saturation. Participants can quickly become exhausted from focusing on a screen all day, and the delivery of a session online can feel like just another undesirable online commitment.

How to overcome the challenges of the virtual session

Here are a few tips for improving the online experience and ensuring success:

  1. Manage expectations relative to the group size. If it’s a large group, the information flow will probably need to be more one way – although it’s still possible to set up small group discussions online. The smaller the group, the more it will be possible to have productive discussions.
  2. Set up intimate groups for practical action. If you want interaction and practical action opportunities, groups must be kept small. If your focus is more on the content, then size is not as much of an issue. The content, methods, topic, outcomes, expectations, and participants preparedness will all need to be considered when deciding on the appropriate group size.
  3. Keep the sessions short: Its best to chunk the sessions into up to 2-3 hours maximum to allow participants to take a break. What was a typical full-day workshop, for example, can now be delivered as 3 X 2-hour sessions either over a day or a week.
  4. Ensure the participants have dedicated the time and space to focus. They will need to appreciate this needs to be a dedicated session, and they will need to be in the right environment with the right equipment – eg on a PC with a large enough screen, in a quiet place, with the camera on, access to fast internet, etc. Sessions often only move as fast as the slowest person.
  5. Make sure the facilitator is both experienced, technically savvy, and practised. An experienced facilitator may not transition well. Having multiple to cover the unique roles required for online delivery is another option. Also ensure that the presenters/facilitators have a professional camera, mic, dual monitors, and good lighting along with fast internet (higher than 15MBSP).

It can take time to get used to new media, but with plenty of practice and an authentic personable approach, you may discover unique communication opportunities online.

Find out more about Tirian’s new digital delivery options 

Facilitated Online Experience Remote Workshop for corporations
We have created a new method that uses the best of the digital platform: FACILITATED ONLINE EXPERIENCES.
See more    AND   Read more

Gaia Grant (PhD) is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Sydney Business School in the Discipline of Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, focusing on research into innovation paradoxes and ambidextrous leadership. Gaia is also a Director of Tirian Innovative Solutions, & the co-author (with Andrew Grant) of a number of books including ‘The Innovation Race’, and “Who Killed Creativity?”.

Andrew Grant is the Director of Tirian Innovative Solutions, and co-author (with Dr Gaia Grant) of a number of books including ‘The Innovation Race’, and “Who Killed Creativity?”.