Virtual learning – is it worth it? (Part 2)

By June 1, 2020 Leadership

Hello readers.  Last week we looked at some of the positives of learning online in a group or with your team and promised a counter-argument to follow.  Well, here it is – some of the downsides of virtual learning and why we need to balance it with some close contact learning experiences once our country leaders and our common sense give us the green light.

We gave you 8 benefits for learning remotely so in the spirit of balance here are 8 of the disadvantages.  Or maybe not.  Because when it comes down to it, there really is only one disadvantage.  But it’s a big one. Huge.

Here it is.  When you engage in online learning, however skilful, however much group interaction is part of it and no matter how many polls, breakout rooms, whiteboards, and interaction you include, it is NOT the same.  Human learners need connection and that means being in the same room as others, at least some of the time.  Whether it is your coach, your manager, your team, or a learning group you are part of, there is just something about the warm body experience that takes learning to a different level.

We are professional facilitators, used to being in a room with others.  Since Covid-19, we’ve adapted our business to deliver entirely virtually for now, and we’ve adapted well.  But two months on, the cracks start to show, as people crave that connection and inclusion you lose virtually.  As one colleague puts it “You can’t get the smell of people”.  Don’t take this literally.  They mean that the senses are dulled online.  You don’t pick up on the finer nuances of what others say and how they are feeling.  When you’re in a room, you somehow get more from the unsaid – that someone is feeling unsure, has additional questions that need teasing out, or that in a team session there is a tension that hasn’t been expressed.  It is odd that we are staring intently at each other’s faces during online learning (as well as staring at our own faces for hours on end – note to self – smile more) yet we don’t pick up nearly as much as we would do by being there.  This has a major impact on learning and limits its effectiveness.

This whopper of a disadvantage is less of a thing where you are looking to gain knowledge or pick up a set of skills.  Which is why online learning really comes into its own for a quick how to or to gain know how.  As soon as the learning focuses on relationships, interpersonal skills, customer care or anything requiring practice and feedback, the disadvantages of trying to do it all in the virtual space become apparent.

So here are our conclusions as we all start to dip our toe back in to the world.  Virtual learning is serving us well in many ways.  It existed before this pandemic and it will endure in the future.  It’s great for knowledge, remote coaching and self-development.  But when it comes to team coaching, team development, skills practice, and anything where relationships are the first priority, you can’t beat the face to face, scented option.

Seen on social media earlier today: “Human contact and face to face interaction is what keeps us healthy.  The rest is just background noise.”  Over and out.