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An adventure in hybrid learning land

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Blending virtual and classroom learning is no mean feat but Harri Candy has found the perfect balance and provides tips for trainers who want to make it work.

9th Jun 2022
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I left the zoom call with my manager and stared blankly into the empty screen in front of me. Three weeks ago I’d been asked to put together a training session for the team focussing on L&D systems and processes.

It had all been arranged, one full day of training all in one location, face-to-face. Perfect. I’d made a start on my slide deck, figured out my activities and everything was looking good. Then I had THE CALL: “We need to make this a hybrid session as a couple of the team can’t attend in person.” Hybrid!? I’ve never run a hybrid training session before!

When we’re in the room with someone we are bound by social conventions of politeness not to start typing whilst they are talking

I am an online learning specialist who dabbles in a bit of face-to-face training on the side. I have long been an advocate of blended learning programmes (I even wrote a book with the Charity Learning Consortium about it), and I champion 'Choose your own pathway' programmes where learners decide if they would rather attend a workshop or complete an assignment to achieve the required learning objective.

One aspect these all have in common, though, is that you are only ever designing for one delivery method at a time. Hybrid is two different delivery methods combined, at the same time. It’s no mean feat. 

What are the limitations?

  • You cannot lean on the strengths of either face-to-face or virtual classrooms.
  • You cannot ask learners in the room to join an online room.
  • You cannot force people to keep webcams on.

Let’s make it happen!

I’m certain my manager had no idea just how much of a change this was to what we had discussed. But the business is trying to embrace the hybrid working world, and training is part of that. 

My biggest challenge was keeping the people online engaged. How many times have you been sat on a call, half listening out for the cue to demonstrate you are still there whilst simultaneously responding to emails? When we’re in the room with someone we are bound by social conventions of politeness not to start typing whilst they are talking. 

Also, most of my classroom activities involved discussing issues in groups and problem-solving before feeding back to the room. How do you do that if part of the room is online? 

I knew this was going to be a challenge. I was going to have to work hard to ensure that everyone felt able to contribute, felt valued and felt physically comfortable whilst trying to achieve our learning objectives. 

My top tips

1. Pre-engage online

Before your session, start engaging with your audience online. This helps to set the tone that this is a hybrid session. Try to include activities that directly integrate into what you will be doing in the classroom such as posing a question or setting up a scenario that people can start discussing pre-session.

2. Set Expectations

You need to give clear expectations of the behaviour you expect from those joining online, for example, they need to be somewhere quiet where they are unlikely to be interrupted. This is a great opportunity for them to work from home if appropriate. Also set expectations for the business, a hybrid session needs to be much smaller than a regular session, with 10 participants at the most. 

3. Switch it up

Screen fatigue creeps in faster than you might expect. You can help reduce this by switching between content where learners have to look at the screen itself and general discussion. My session had a system and process focus, so I switched between looking at the detailed settings of the system to a more general discussion of how it benefits the team and the business.

The session was actually pretty successful, and I’m not just saying that myself, I have feedback to prove it!

4. Step away

You need to account for more frequent breaks than in face-to-face training. Work for no longer than 1 hour at a time before introducing a break. This does slow down the training, but it helps keep people comfortable and that improves engagement.

5. Call on people

The facilitator needs to work harder in discussions. They have to chair the conversation and call on people explicitly to contribute. People online will struggle to interject in conversations that are happening in the room. It might work for your team to ask them to raise their hands (virtual and physical) when they wish to contribute so you can make sure everyone’s voice is heard.  

And the result?

Due to the nature of engaging people in different ways, I ended up creating a seminar style session supported by a slide deck. Because there was only a handful of us, that felt comfortable. 

The session was actually pretty successful, and I’m not just saying that myself, I have feedback to prove it! All of the participants felt their knowledge and competency in the tasks had improved, and, what’s more, they enjoyed the structure and the pace of the session too.  

The final word

Hybrid isn’t easy, and it isn’t appropriate for every kind of training – but it can be successful if you reduce your numbers and adapt your approach.  

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