Lessons from the Corona times

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash
Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Running web-based training sessions is like hiking with my family

As many of you - especially the ones who follow my disability-related posts - know, I love hiking, being out, and physically active in the hills. And while I am often out there on my own, I also enjoy walking together with my family; i.e. my wife and three kids. And my experiences of preparing for a hike with the family, then set off on a joint journey to hopefully get to the top of a mountain and then safely back down again came in handy when Corona forced me to move all my training offers online.


Why? Well, preparing for a walk in the hills with my family is in many ways similar to preparing an online learning process for a group of development practitioners. 


What Do People Expect?

When we head for the hills, we all want to get different things out of the experience. The kids want adventure and ice cream afterward. I want physical exercise out in mother nature combined with a challenge that teases me out of my comfort zone. My wife wants to feel the sun in her face and the wind clearing away all the day-to-day thoughts to get her into a more creative headspace. Sometimes we are aware of what we hope to get out of the time in the hills; very often we are not.


Similarly, people expect a wide variety of different things when signing up for an online course. Especially now, during the Corona lockdown. Some want to learn new concepts and gain new insights. Others want to increase their confidence in handling skills they have learned some time back (but have not really used in between). Others again look forward to the exchange and mutual learning with other practitioners. Or they sign up because they are curious what this online learning thing is all about - and now is the chance to give it a go. Sometimes people have a clear understanding of what they expect to get out of an online learning experience. Very often expectations are vague and rather general.



Many Ways To reach Your Goals!

There are many ways of reaching the top of a mountain. Just as there are many different options to accomplishing your learning objective. As an amputee, I had to develop my own approach to hill walking. And over the years and after lots of try and error I have a pretty good idea of what works for me. Generally speaking, I like well-paced steady progress; 50 minutes walking, ten minutes break with a longer break every three hours. This way I can walk for miles and miles. My kids like the adventure of it all and are bored by proper paths and well-marked trails. They like short sprints up steep slopes, shortcuts, and plenty of breaks to be rewarded with sweets and the like. My wife can be motivated by the views, the time to think, the chats with others in the group.


Similarly, there are many ways to get the most out of your learning journey. Some like to dive into the course head-first and cover as much of the material as possible right from the start. Others like to take one step at a time and only move on to the next module once they feel confident in having a sound understanding of the introduction material. Some find a well-structured approach very rewarding while others like the meandering exploration of new topics. Others again are not really sure what suits them best but are open to go with the flow of the group. 



Of Moutains and Online Courses

This has implications for keeping people motivated and engaged. During the walk as well as during my online courses. 


A clear idea of what people want to get out of a certain experience, some information about their personal preferences and favored styles of doing things, and some educated guessing about what keeps them motivated when the going gets tough can act as a strong base to start from. 

Offering an interesting learning journey that meets people’s needs is essential. Mixing online and offline methods and allowing ample time for personal reflection are key ingredients to any online training offer. 


And - just like walking with the family - this builds on trust. Trust from the part of the facilitator in the participants to take responsibility for their own learning journey. Trust that they will stick with the process even when they are offline. Trust that they will let you know when they need help. But also trust from the participants towards the trainer. Trust to feel safe and in good hands that you keep an eye out for them when the road is tricky and the terrain difficult. Trust that you will offer assistance without being over-protective or condescending. Trust that you prepared well for the journey and while we all might have a different approach to the journey, we will all reach our aims and objectives. It’s the trust that builds confidence. And it’s the confidence that creates rewarding learning experiences.



The right Tools for the JoB

Over the years I have tried a variety of different ways to create memorable, enjoyable, and effective online learning experiences. And while at the moment, Zoom is all the rage, there is so much more out there. Yes, I still use Zoom and it works well for me. In addition, I use Teachable as a learning platform for self-paced online-courses and for hosting additional material used during or in combination with live sessions. I am a great fan of well-designed worksheets, questions for personal reflections, case studies, and simulations. I encourage people to engage with each other via chat room/comment sections and do my best to react to questions and comments in a timely manner. And I recently started experimenting with immersive learning and computer simulations. While I know that there is always room for improvement, I like the current mixture. And so do the participants from my courses from the last couple of years.


What are your experiences with online learning? And how can we bring it to the next level? I am looking forward to hearing from you and your experiences.



Post by Bjoern Eser from The Peacebuilding Practitioner.