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What we’ve learnt about online learning

As necessitated by Covid-19, we moved our Learning programme online – and it fast-tracked a move towards a flexible and accessible approach to blended learning.

Defining the brief was easy: Continue to deliver interactive learning experiences.  As were the constraints: No face-to-face events – oh, and everyone is using a different online platform.

Without time for the usual approach of designing, testing and evaluating before we went live, we dived headfirst into Google Classroom, SharePoint, Teams, Zoom meetings, Zoom rooms, Zoom webinars and, most recently, YouTube.  We developed resources, formats and templates, and found workarounds along the way, learning very quickly that there is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to accessing online platforms.

We talked to people who had teleconferencing burnout; we developed teleconferencing burnout; and we decided quickly that the interactive side of learning should be done live, in meeting or webinar format, and that anything which could be done independently – reading, researching, watching again, developing questions for speakers – could be done with a coffee, whilst simultaneously dealing with new ways of working, home-schooling, and household broadband negotiations…

In addition to one-off webinars, the two main formats we’ve tried each include an introductory webinar, independent reading and a follow-up discussion webinar.  Initially we scheduled the webinars two weeks apart, then we tried a one-day approach with the introductory webinar in the morning and the follow-up discussion in the afternoon.

The results are now in from these first online learning events, and whilst they confirm that one size does not fit all, the results also confirm that 100% of respondents want online learning to continue after lockdown.  When asked whether or not online learning should continue:

  • 30% of respondents said, ‘Yes, it’s so much easier than taking a full or half day out and travelling somewhere’
  • 70% said, ‘Yes, but it would be nice to have a combination of online and face-to-face events like study tours’
  • 0% said, ‘No, it’s fine for lockdown but I’m all Zoomed out and I want to see real humans again’

The jury is still out on the best platforms to use, and the best format.  Interestingly, 0% of the two-week webinar cohort would like a one-day webinar format, and 0% of the one-day webinar cohort would like a two-week webinar format!  This might take us right back to the live testing and evaluating stage, but we do it armed with a wealth of knowledge and experience – and a whole new digital skillset.

We’ve included below a flavour of the feedback we’ve received and the steps we’re taking to continuously improve our service.

Some headline figures

  • 100% of respondents said they’d like online learning to continue
  • 100% of respondents said their overall experience of the online learning programme was good or very good
  • 95% of respondents said they found it useful to hear both design and planning perspectives
  • 98% of respondents said they found it useful to have access to learning resources which they could access either immediately or in the future.
  • 2% of respondents said they’d rather just attend a webinar and/or face-to-face learning event
  • 59% of respondents said that 1.5 hours is the ideal duration for a webinar

‘This was one of the best online conferences I have experienced so far during lockdown.’

‘I found the webinar very useful and well set out. The opportunity to ask questions and have professional speakers to answer them. I like the format. Thank you.’

‘I think this was really well organised and presented and I liked the slightly different format of split sessions and additional relevant material.’

‘Was not as bad as I thought it would be.’

Improvements we’re making

We will continue to provide learning resources, and where possible, we’ll make them available ahead of the online learning event date

  • ‘Possibly the background reading could have been made available a little earlier.’
  • ‘It would be good if the learning materials were available before the event.’

We’ve set up a new password protected area on the Kent Design website so you don’t have the hassle of logging into SharePoint or Google Classroom

  • ‘SharePoint access to resource – best know this further in advance so participants can prepare – or preferable not use SharePoint.’
  • ‘Too complicated to locate the documents through a third party, so I gave up.’

We will use the webinar setting for larger groups for improved audio visual, but we’ll use meeting format for a small cohort

  • ‘Really easy to join up and as we get more familiar with using Zoom it will become easier. The Webinar format helped reduce all the background noise you can get on a meeting.’

We’re going to state only the start and end times of an online learning event, so you’re not kept waiting

  • ‘Start times – prefer clarity over actual start and when you would like participants to login; seeing ‘waiting to start’ after advertised time does not give confidence.’

We’re going to continue to experiment with different durations between the introductory and follow-up webinars

  • ‘From a time management point of view I found it easier to book a day ‘out of the office’ so I could read the resources provided as well as searching out additional literature that was signposted in the resources and presentations.’
  • ‘I think the set up was brilliant having a week in between, really gave a good opportunity to review all the resources which I think were such a positive of this online learning session.’
  • ‘Well managed, I think the format worked well. Webinars could have been closer together to keep some focus, but overall I think it went really well.’

We’re going to continue to deliver online learning once lockdown is lifted, and we look forward to combining this with face-to-face events and study tours when safe to do so

  • ‘I really enjoyed the fact that we did not have to travel anywhere, made learning less of a rush and really appreciated the time to put together. Study tours etc would need to be actually face to face but I think this is a fantastic option moving forward.’
  • ‘I would be more inclined to attend more online training sessions in the future as it eliminates the need for travel and provides much greater flexibility. But study tours are invaluable so I wouldn’t want to see these disappear.’
  • ‘Thinking about the environment, it is really a good idea to run these sessions online in the future. That would help reduce trips, traffic, CO2 emissions etc…’

A huge thank you to everyone who has participated in our online learning events so far, and for your support in the move towards a blended learning programme, making learning more accessible and more environmentally friendly!

We look forward to seeing you online (and eventually in person) soon!

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