Virtual learning and development: considerations for enhancing engagement

Insight shared by:

Kiddy & Partners

The Covid-19 pandemic has plunged working life into a virtual space. Virtual learning and development (L&D) programmes were on the rise before Covid-19 struck, and according to recent research by the Fosway Group, in response to the current situation, 71% of L&D professionals have experienced an increased demand for digital learning from employees [1]. 

Organisations today are having to accelerate a shift from face-to-face to virtual delivery of L&D programmes - they cannot put capability building on hold. 

Continuing to deliver engaging virtual L&D can help maintain the momentum and benefits of workplace L&D, as well as build a new foundation for effective virtual programmes [2,3]. The key word here is engaging. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a newly coined phrase that resonates with many employees who are now working and socialising remotely. Articles on this topic explain how virtual interactions can be taxing on the brain as they force us to process information in a different way to how we would in an in-person conversation [4,5]. 

Therefore, how can we ensure that L&D programmes being delivered in today’s context are engaging and valuable for employees? Based on our experience of delivering L&D virtually, here are our key considerations for the current context and beyond. 

Techniques to improve enegagement with virtual learning:

Session set-up

  1. Analyse your needs and think about the video conferencing technology you need to deliver a successful experience, ensuring the technology you choose has functionalities to enhance participation and engagement (see point 1 in ‘Delivery’ below). Also, ensure facilitators are comfortable with and have tested the technology ahead of the session. 
  2. Consider the duration of the session. As it’s more difficult to remain focused and attentive in a virtual setting, we recommend that the maximum session length be 2 hours with a short break during that time. If shorter than usual, this time frame may impact the volume of content that can be delivered (see point 3 below and point 1 in ‘Follow-up’). 
  3. Ahead of the session, share information on any modifications that have been made if pivoting from face-to-face delivery, as well as information on how the session will be run e.g. smaller group size, how to join, what will be covered. Think also about circulating pre-session materials that will enhance learning e.g. a piece of research, an article, or a video relating to the topic being covered - especially if session time has been cut.

Session delivery 

  1. Allow time at the start of the session for participants to introduce themselves if they don’t already know one another. Doing so will help to build trust quickly, will align them around shared objectives and encourage open discussion. 
  2. As mentioned, maintaining engagement is critical. Ensure that the session is highly interactive by encouraging employees to participate constantly – for example by drawing on whiteboards, taking part in polls and using the chat function. Another feature we have found to enhance engagement is the use of breakout rooms, where participants can discuss the topic and/or carry out an exercise with their colleagues in smaller, more intimate groups away from the facilitators. Encouraging participants to keep their video on throughout also helps with engagement. 
  3. To allow the facilitator(s) to focus on delivery, consider having a producer join the session. The producer can monitor the session from a technical standpoint and manage the extra functionalities such as polls and breakout rooms – making sure delivery is slick and technically sound. 
  4. Ensuring that participants feel the session is a safe space to contribute will positively impact their participation and engagement. Facilitate this by not recording the session and asking participants to agree that what’s discussed in the session is confidential. Also, some technologies have the capability to lock virtual rooms to avoid uninvited guests joining, a functionality that should be deployed.  

Session follow-up

  1. Think about what materials you can share after the session and how that could reinforce learning - especially if session time has been cut. 
  2. Ask participants for feedback on the content, delivery and technology functionality. Employees are juggling several personal and professional responsibilities currently, so ensuring they find learning and development sessions impactful and useful is especially critical during this time. Any feedback received should be incorporated into the set-up and delivery for the next session. 

Reframing the virtual nature of work today as an opportunity to innovate and expand L&D initiatives - and develop stronger learning capabilities - could stand as a positive long-term outcome for organisations from this difficult period.

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