When we began designing and running our ‘in person’ training events, it was important to us that we did so with an indivisibility of principles.
‘In this event or design, are we engaging safely, fairly and fully?’ is one of the questions we continually reflect upon. Over time, we have adapted, modified and created learning experiences in response to our self-reflection and the feedback from participants.
While there are times when we need to share information directly, our events are not lectures where participants are passive recipients of information. Our in-person events involve participants being immersed in collaborative problem-solving experiences. They work in small groups as they learn tools and processes, engage in reflection and feedback and develop ideas about how to adapt their learning to their individual settings. The close interaction also helps to quickly generate a strong sense of community.
We summarised our challenge in the following question:
‘In an online environment, how do we facilitate active, real-time collaborative problem-solving and nurture a sense of community when participants are remotely connected?’
We began by analysing the elements of our in-person training and identifying the essence of each experience – which skills, attitudes were we asking people to use and what specific knowledge did they require in order to be successful?
At the same time, we began investigating digital tools and platforms which would best allow ourselves and participants to experience the essence of our in-person events. We will openly admit to many moments of needing to overcome challenge, struggling with the magnitude of the task in extraordinary circumstances. We are certain that many of you will resonate with this. A year on, we are able to recognise that we were navigating our way through being in a state of 'shock' at the sudden lockdown across the UK.
We ran our first ‘pilot’ event in August 2020. Our participants comprised of volunteers who had all previously experienced the full range of our training events – courses and in-school project (Embedded CPD). They were able to give us direct and honest feedback which enabled us to make the necessary modifications.
As in our in-person events, the online course built progressively. A modified version of our logo was born! However, the most obvious difference in the new design was the inclusion of both synchronous and asynchronous elements.
2012 was our last previous experience of a purely online training event. At that time, we did not have a choice of VLE although we were able to structure our training design within the limits of the platform and the education establishment’s protocols. However, our most profound piece of learning was that you cannot assume participant familiarity with the required technology (both hardware to software) to engage successfully with the training content. To our surprise, we spent a large proportion of our time as unofficial ‘techies’!
We did not want unfamiliar technology to become a barrier to learning in our new training design format, so we have spent a lot of time creating step-by-step demonstration videos for those who sometimes feel challenged by new technology…or even old technology. It is our response to our earlier question, ‘In this event are we engaging safely, fairly and fully?’.
Online training has also enabled us to allow participants a greater insight into what ‘Designing for Learning’ looks like in real settings. Asynchronous sections contain links to project websites where participants can see ‘theory into practice’ in the Learners in Action pages. They are able to explore our initial project designs and rationales and what this has looked like for us with real learners in real settings. It has always been one of our principles that we only share tools and strategies that we have tried and tested in the real world.
Using the model of combining synchronous and asynchronous elements has enabled us to design and structure events which can last a day or over longer period of time. During a day, participants move between the synchronous meetings and asynchronous individual or small group tasks, reducing the screen fatigue of long lecture-like webinars.
We are continuing to apply our principles to developing the scope of our online training. The last year has definitely enabled us to take quite a few more ‘single steps’ on our journey! However, we are delighted with the positive responses so far from our online participants - it's made all of the hard work so worthwhile.