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Virtual learning or hybrid learning: How do we choose?

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To go virtual or to go hybrid? That is the question for many L&D practitioners in today's working world. Erica Farmer shares tips on how to make the right decision and avoid agreeing to something you might regret!

9th May 2022
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As L&D practitioners we now have so many strings to our bow. We have gone through a huge amount of change during the last two years, and we are in a position of digestion, reflection and review.

But what does this mean for our learning design and practice going forwards? 

Change is the only constant. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Like digital, we have amazing opportunities to role model in our organisations and show what good looks like when it comes to operating in this ‘here to stay’ VUCA environment. If we don’t do this we could get left behind, so let’s get our house and, more importantly, our decision-making matrix in order.

To remote or not to remote, that is the question

Not only have we had to accelerate our development with virtual and digital learning, we now have the opportunity to showcase key lessons from the pandemic and weave these into our learning and development strategy. We know the workforce wants flexibility more than anything else, therefore our design and delivery of learning and development experiences need to offer the same.

Your default might be to get everyone back in a room now, but we know this isn’t accessible for everyone as other options may be. We also know we can get everyone onto a live video conferencing platform such as Zoom or Teams. However when it comes to these platforms there are still challenges with learner mindsets and skills of trainers and facilitators, let alone the perception of Zoom fatigue and the current novelty of being back in person.

Enter hybrid learning – the new kid on the block

With a more flexible workforce and the popularity of hybrid working comes a need for L&D practitioners to meet the learning requirements of those working in home, remote and office settings.

But we’re not here today to go into the details of how hybrid learning works (Read my previous blog ’10 Tips for Learning and Development in a Hybrid Working World’ for the logistics and practicalities of this).

The challenge we now have is knowing when it is appropriate to go virtual and when we choose hybrid. I’m hearing from my network that more and more clients and employers are innocently asking if training sessions can accommodate both ‘on the Zoom’ (other platforms are available) and ‘in the room’, without considering the impact or fear behind that question!

Here are some things to consider which may help:

1. Do your research

Seek all the facts as to why you are being asked to deliver in a certain set up and understand the preferred delegate experience.

Is your client or organisation adamant about in-office presence or are they happy to be more flexible? If they are in offices, can they use digital tools together in a room? Can you use their own devices? Are there any accessibility requirements? By asking questions like these you will start to understand what your options are.

2. Take time and care with your decision

Create a decision-making matrix that can help you make clear decisions without panic or worry. Give yourself different factors to consider, such as:

  • Geography of learners in general e.g. what’s their typical working environment like 

  • Type of learners e.g. are they generally tech savvy or likely to want to be in an office for a learning experience? 

  • Type of session being delivered e.g. do you have the right materials and session plans with relevant accessible resources and design for both hybrid or remote? 

  • Equipment available e.g. can you access a room with mics and a decent camera set up so those who are remote can still engage?

  • Your confidence e.g. are you trained and prepared for both remote and hybrid, and do you have a plan B? The last thing you want to be concerned with is failing tech while learners wait for you in both a physical and virtual room

3. Plan for both

Consider how much work is needed in your design going forwards for both hybrid and remote and build one session plan that has additional columns so you can prep activities, equipment and resource requirements.

If you are going hybrid, it’s likely you’ll need two different versions of resources. You’ll need to set up activities in two different ways and consider how delegates will work together. This makes breakout rooms online seem a lot more attractive, but you might not always have the choice.

All sounds a bit confusing?

This can seem a little overwhelming if you like to plan to a T, and you’re not the most confident in using live learning tech. So in addition to this, here’s some practical guidance:

Go virtual when…

  • You have geographical dispersed learners or attendees

  • You have a preference for virtual learning over in-person

  • You want the group to interact in short bursts and have restrictions on time

Go hybrid when…

  • You don’t know where your learners or attendees are likely to be for your session

  • You have reliable and decent in-room tech such as mics and speakers (remember you don’t always have to be on camera in sessions)

  • You have a backup plan for activities and resources if you need it (this might include individual research activities, reflection work, time away from screens / rooms and a great IT person on hand!

Try hybrid and see

If you’re someone who enjoys a bit of risk and are happy to see it play out, run a hybrid session and record it. Seek feedback specifically on the experience from both sets of learners or attendees and compare it. We can’t be all things to all people, but this will give you some great insight.

If all else fails and you don’t know which way to go, envisage the session playing out in your mind and how this might feel for the learner or attendee.

Talk it through with a buddy or another trainer as you might be too much in the detail and not see something that could derail you. For example you’re better to go fully virtual if the best you know that can happen in a hybrid session is remote attendees being carried around on a laptop (believe me, this sucks, don’t do it).

Remember it’s new to all of us! We are trailblazing when it comes to these challenges so do your prep, give it a go and don’t forget to share your learning with others who are more than likely facing the same challenges. We are L&D practitioners, after all.

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