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Why Virtual Development Programs Are More Effective

Why Virtual Development Programs Are More Effective

… and why we still need Human Interaction (HI)

I remember the first Webinar I ever held. It was 15 years ago, mutlinational financial institution, 100 participants from 25 countries. For 2 hours I tried to create a good ‘virtual’ learning experience for the participants. I shared slides, videos, asked questions… But the whole time I felt I was only talking to my laptop, no or only few responses from the participants, no interaction. After that experience I did not want to do virtual learning again, but luckily since about 7 years ago I had the chance to discover truely interactive virtual leadership development, so let me share some of my experience here.

Many companies now, especially during Covid 19, are looking to change their leadership development to become more digital. And for many companies this means webinars and e-learning. Although those are helpful parts of the ‘digital learning equation’, they are mostly one-way directional and not really interactive. For a quality, interactive, changing behavior, being able to apply – way of virtual learning every company that wants to invest in people-development has to consider true virtual workshops and programs.

True Interactive Virtual Workshops & Programs

Virtual learning and leadership development do not have to be one-way or just knowledge transfer. With the right virtual learning application and a trained virtual facilitator, virtual development can be impactful and fun for the participants.

Let’s start with the right platform for virtual learning. While Zoom and MS Teams are great platforms for virtual team-meetings or one-on-ones, they are not sufficient for a virtual workshop. True learning platforms are for example Webex or Adobe Acrobat Learning (my favorite). They allow a multitude of opportunities for meaningful interaction and exercises between virtual facilitator and participants. Workshop exercises, breakout-groups, role-/real-plays, collaboration
tools, a multitude of customizable learning layouts to help the participants, to apply what they are learning and to start changing behaviors.

 

The role of the virtual facilitator is also critical for a successful virtual learning experience. Virtual workshops are shorter than face-to-face workshops, and participants can get distracted or bored more easily. The virtual facilitator has to prepare a virtual workshop run-down even more detailed than usually – there is no time in a virtual environment for lengthy explanations or definitions. The flow of a virtual workshop has to be planned carefully so that participants are continuously involved, for example through polls, chat-strawman, breakouts, individual- and group presentations. Adobe Connect for example continuously measures the engagement of the participants. The facilitator can constantly see the level of engagement and can adapt his approach during the virtual workshop to make sure everyone is involved.

One mistake I often see in virtual workshops is the facilitator asking too many open-ended questions. What is a great technique in coaching, does rarely work in virtual workshops. People naturally keep quite and hide behind the safety of their laptop. From my experience it is best to ask participants directly. That safes time and – it also keeps participants on their feet and attentive.

 

As described above, virtual workshops should be more focused than face-to-face workshops. You can not expect people to be that focused for a whole day virtual workshop. So let’s talk about time and participants for a moment. It is recommended to have 2 to 3 hours virtual workshop modules at max. In our virtual leadership development journeys, we usually provide 5 to 6 modules (à 2 hours), which is the equivalent of a 2 days face-to-face workshop. Some clients want the modules to be taught 5 days in a row, others prefer to have a couple of days between modules. It depends on the participants condition and the company’s expectations.

To provide a maximum of interaction and learning, we recommend having not more than 15 participants per virtual workshop. It does not sound much for the learning department that wants to squeeze as many as possible participants into a learning initiative. But again, we are talking about true leadership development, not one-way knowledge transfer sessions.

It’s in the Right Mix

Digital learning will be more and more important in the toolset of Learning & Development departments. As always there is no one magic tool that does it all. It is using the right tools for the right purpose and create the right development mix. True virtual workshops & programs will be an important part in that mix if we really want to grow and develop our people. They safe time and money, are effective and can be conducted anywhere and anytime. And even when some day this pandemic will be over, virtual development programs will have their rightful place in the leadership development space.

Michael Weichert, Asian Leadership Centre, ©️ 2020   mweichert@asian-leadership.com

 

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