The future of live online learning with Cheryle Walker

In this podcast Robin is talking with Cheryle Walker on the future of live online learning. Cheryle is an experienced online facilitator who helped get Sprout Labs’ webinar program up and running. The title of the podcast is the future of live online learning but that is not where the discussion started, Robin and Cheryle started with exploring how live online learning can reach more people and then they moved onto how the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the move towards more live online sessions and how organisations are going to become a hybrid of remote and physical workplaces. In the hybrid workplace digital learning is key.

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The Future of Live Online Learning with Cheryle Walker

Robin: Cheryle, one thing you’re passionate about is the way virtual sessions can create more inclusion, what do you mean by that?

Accessibility and Inclusion

Cheryle: It's inclusion of geographically dispersed teams and groups of people, bringing them together. It's also about ability and accessibility for some people who might have things like caring responsibilities at home or unable to travel or unable to work and learn effectively outside of their own custom environment. And I mean, things like assistive technologies for computers or even just general physical office set up. So, I've always been passionate about those things and I think we've been somewhat accommodating in the past but I'm seeing, obviously, in our current situation, an acceleration of being able to run many different styles or types of events virtually or live online as opposed to insisting we must be face-to-face.

Robin: Virtual classrooms open up a very different level of access, people don't have to travel, there's many things around online learning and live online learning that solve a series of accessibility problems as well.

Cheryle: Yes.

Robin: From a business point of view, what have you seen virtual classrooms mean in terms of being able to upskill people in a more consistent way?

Cheryle: Definitely more consistency because your facilitators or facilitation team can be located together yet still distributing learning in the same way to a broader location of people. I think just the accessibility nature, the covering different time zones, being able to rapidly put together a programme without needing to book a number of venues and do a big road show all over the country or the globe, I think I'm seeing agility occurring there.

I've certainly seen a lot of organisations that have been saying they've always had it on their roadmap, to make learning more accessible via live online kinds of delivery but they've had it on the roadmap in the future. They've been somewhat calling it the future and they will get there eventually. Obviously, this current situation and crisis has pushed them there rapidly and that's been interesting to see how quickly people can adapt when they need to.

Robin: The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated digital learning in L&D. Do you think the adoption of live sessions is actually a good thing at the moment, Cheryle?

Webcam Fatigue

Cheryle: I'm certainly reading a lot about what people are calling Zoom fatigue or webcam fatigue. So, yes, there's a lot of debate emerging around the different demands of being live online and particularly when you're not only doing your learning live online, you're doing every single meeting and communication. So, you're bouncing from one live online session to the next, to the next, to the next all day and that's different from how we behave when we go to the office, to work. Typically, we go to the office to work and we have some standup meetings, some sit-down things, we go to the coffee shop, we have a range of environments to choose from and a range of different things to do. Whereas, I'm certainly reading some people being chained to their webcam all day at the moment and it makes me think about how we will adapt or what is going to be the new normal when we get to that point.

Robin: While there has been a rapid move from face-to-face to online, I'm sure there are some people who have been focused on face-to-face facilitation in the past who are thinking "Yes, it's going to be back, face-to-face and it will be the same." What are your thoughts?

Cheryle: Yes, I'm seeing two different groups of L&D professionals, I'm seeing one group who are saying this is a temporary or interim measure for them to be able to service their clients and keep programmes sustainable and keep them going but they intend to go back. I'm also seeing another series of L&D professionals who are discovering for the first time the capability of this environment, the richness of it, the benefits of it and are embracing it as part of their ongoing portfolio of work.

Not to say I haven't really seen anybody who's saying, "I will never go back to face-to-face." I haven't seen that yet but it does make me wonder about what the new balance will be. I'm also seeing a lot of participants or clients enjoying receiving learning in the live online way and enjoying being able to do that, whether they're at home in their pyjamas or whereever they are and we're seeing that elasticity being stretched in our schooling, in our K-12 and our vocational as well. And it does still beg the question of, some people complaining about it, other people embracing it, where do we land with that?

Robin: I think we need to think through in terms of L&D what's going to happen with our physical workplaces? I suspect we're going to be more distributed. Some people will return to offices, some people will work from home, this is going to change how facilitated sessions happen.

Distributed Learning

Cheryle: Yes. Absolutely. Or people are choosing their days and so, how do you get a cohort, a group of learners together for some face-to-face learning when some people say, "Well, I'm only in the office on Wednesdays and Fridays" and the other people say, "I'm only in on Tuesdays and Thursdays" and the other person says, "Well, I don't work Mondays or Fridays" and you get all sorts of combinations.

I think what I see, also, is global, I deliver a lot of training into the UK and South-east Asian regions and globally, I can see people becoming more elastic about where they're working and when because I guess we're becoming a global economy in a lot of ways as well. This situation has caused a lot of people to retreat to what they call their home country but still wanting to be working for what was their temporary or host country according to their career pathway.

Robin: There's going to be interesting trends around what it means if an organisation is semi-remote, what it means in terms of recruitment. Tech companies talk about global talent pools rather than local talent pools and the reason they're virtual is so they don't have to employ people that are local, they can employ the right person for the right job, anywhere in the world.

Cheryle: It's also the skill set. I'm seeing the skill set developing rapidly for being able to collaborate and communicate in a live online environment, being able to manage remote teams. I'm seeing people being able to rapidly upskill and use technology, whereas previously they thought it would take a long time to teach people to use these things.

I know I work with one client who has an audience that is over 65 years old and they were previously resistant to putting too much of their learning online in case that would disengage people or they would be unable to use that. But in recent weeks I've seen them not only do their learning, the over 65 cohort, not only do they learn live online but being quite teched up with headsets and the full kit. Embracing this way of working and seeing it as, perhaps even a transition to retirement type of option for some people as well, to be able to mix working and learning from home and from work and still being connected with people.

Robin: I think that's a lovely example of this new type of hybrid way of working. One of the things I'm really interested in exploring is, as learners are becoming more used to the tools, I think that actually offers us as facilitators, really different possibilities for different types of collaboration.

Cheryle: Yes.

Robin: We are not just doing basic inductions into how to turn microphones off and on. You can start to sit there and build really powerful group experiences and have more conversational formats.

Web Conferencing Tools

Cheryle: Yes. I'm definitely seeing that. It used to be, the webinar formula used to be a set of slides and a presenter or a lecturer and a Q&A and chat panel and it's amazing how we adopted all of that kind of techie language. Now, I'm seeing people becoming more fluid with the web conferencing tools and being happy to just hang out with webcam on and have conversations, whether coaching or just catching up and connecting. We've seen all the social stuff like virtual coffees and virtual drinks and things like that. So, I think the social needs and use of web conferencing has expanded people's minds around the business needs and business uses of this kind of technology and allowing us to relax a little bit more into this is just another way of communicating and collaborating. It doesn't have to be constantly content driven.

Robin: Yes and I think that's the real powerful thing, where people are realising it's actually a collaboration not a push format and still sit there and quite often do a whole ... so many things are faster face-to-face than what is online but there's also so many different powerful things you can do. Especially the whole, recruit the right person at the right spot rather than having to deal with your own local talent pools.

Cheryle: That's interesting about that speed one. I can see what you're saying but I can also see the flip side of that as well, that I think sometimes things are faster online because people are fatigued from long web conferencing meetings, so they don't tend to faff around as much in a meeting. It's like, let's make the decision and move on or they're sick of looking at themselves on webcam all day so they ... Yeah, I don't know. I'm seeing a number of different behaviours change.

Robin: I normally wrap up a question about what's your gem of wisdom? I'm actually going to ask you a different question, which is, what's your hope for the future of online facilitation?

Cheryle: Yes. I hope we continue to explore it, continue to not lock it into defined settings like webinar or virtual classroom. I hope we continue to see it as a broad-based, inclusive, global, diverse collaboration and communication tool that we can do many things with and for many purposes, with many different audiences. I hope we continue to expand. It's been rapidly expanded, I've seen and yes, I hope we continue on that. But I hope we don't ... we've stretched the elastic, I think we've become very elastic with this. I hope we don't retreat back to old ways and I'm pretty confident we won't be doing that, to be honest.

Robin: I'm with you, Cheryle, I don't think anyone actually knows what normal is anymore, it gives a chance to reinvent the way we learn and work.

Cheryle: Mmm, and when you think about it, it takes a while, a few weeks to form a habit, we have formed new habits by necessity. It's almost another change initiative if people want us to go back to the same old ways, I think it's going to be near impossible to go back to the way we were. There's going to be a, as you used the word hybrid very well before, I think there's going to be a hybrid in the future of what we do.

Robin: Thank you for a lovely conversation. If people want to hunt you out online what's the best way to find you and some of the programmes you run?

Cheryle: On LinkedIn, you can find me Cheryle Walker. It's Cheryle with an E or cheryleewalker.com so that's two E's in between there, cheryleewalker.com or LinkedIn is probably the best way to contact me.