I am a strong believer in virtual work. My team is largely remote. My boss and I are almost never co-located. I know that I am not alone as a member of a virtual work team. More people work virtually today than ever before.

Just a few days ago, I was facilitating a virtual learning session on boundary spanning leadership with 25 learners. The participants were in small groups discussing their personal leadership challenges and where they need to span boundaries.

I had a few observers of this session – people I respect and trust to give me their objective opinion. My breakout groups were going to meet for another 10 minutes and so I asked one of my observers what she thought of the experience. It was her first time observing a fully virtual learning experience.

Her initial response was that the experience paled in comparison to a classroom experience. I kept listening.

Then, she said that she was surprised by how seamlessly the technology was working, and went on to add that the true determination of the success or failure of a virtual session would be the attitudes of the group chosen to participate in the session, and their willingness to embrace and achieve the learning objectives.

In my opinion, these indicators of success and failure are true in both real and virtual classrooms.

Why, then, can’t we learn virtually?

The traditional belief about deep leadership development work is that you need to break away from the everyday work and take the time to step away and be able to invest in yourself. I agree with that.

However, there are some new factors that CCL believes we should consider as reasons for why virtual learning experiences, tied together into a learning journey, can complement and augment the traditional face-to-face sessions.

1. Obstacles to truly connecting online are becoming obsolete.

  • Technology is better than ever before. Webex, GoToMeeting/Training, Adobe Connect, Zoom, BlueJeans, Skype for Business, ON24… the list goes on. All of these firms are continuously improving their platforms and adding more features that make collaboration easier and easier.
  • Bandwidth is greater than ever before. YouTube much? Netflix? Track back just 5 years and could you ever have imagined consuming the amount of video information that you do today? 

2. Learners can prepare, engage, and apply in a continuous cycle if they are in a virtual experience.

CCL has pioneered work in the space of learning transfer, and our rule for any learning experience that we design is that they must

  • Prepare: learners must have opportunities to prepare for their development.
  • Engage: learners must be engaged in their development experience, not just lectured.
  • Apply: learners must have opportunities to apply what they have learned. The content is just the first step in your learning journey. If learners don’t try out their new behaviors and show up differently at work, then we haven’t really achieved much together.

In a traditional leadership development experience, we can bring learners together for a few days, help them practice new skills in a safe environment, and then let them back out in the real world, and give them learning partners, coaches, and mentors as a way to keep the learning going.

Across the entire talent development industry – this is where learners struggle the most – applying the learning once they get back on the job.

We believe virtual learning has an advantage that makes it a brilliant complement to traditional face-to-face experiences. Our learners are successful senior professionals and we treat them like the leaders they are.

We leverage virtual learning to share concepts quickly and offer open spaces and opportunities for our learners to practice. This keeps the practice of prepare-engage-apply in continuous motion.

Moreover, isn’t that what we all really want – an organization of continuous learning?

CCL is committed to virtual learning as a powerful way to help our learners apply what they learn and deliver results that matter.

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