THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

Virtual learning and the role of the producer in creating learner engagement

Virtual learning isn’t about being a better or worse option to traditional face-to-face learning, it is simply a different option, allowing you more choice to meet your learning needs in the most appropriate way.

Nick Mongan and Dawn Smart


10 Minute read

3 September 2020


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Virtual learning offers the same benefits as more traditional learning environments in that it:

  • Caters to the full range of learning styles
  • Offers a range of ways for learners to interact with each other and the facilitator
  • Is an active and participative way to learn, creating learner engagement

And for learners to take advantage of the virtual environment, all they need is a laptop and a headset.

Over and above this, there are a number of reasons why virtual learning may suit your needs as an organisation and as a learner:

Speed

  • People expect fast, convenient and engaging ways to learn – learning in the virtual environment is bite-sized, dynamic and stimulating
  • When learning needs are urgent, virtual sessions can be organised and delivered within a short timescale

Flexibility

  • Typically in 90-minute ‘chunks’, virtual learning can be scheduled to suit the operational needs of your business
  • As teams become more dispersed it is an effective way to bring them together without the associated time and cost commitments
  • Virtual learning sessions can be combined to create effective learning programmes
  • The virtual classroom can accommodate learners in small or large numbers without impacting the level of engagement and interactivity
  • Recorded sessions allow learners to revisit the learning when they most need it, aiding knowledge retention

Convenience

  • Integrates more easily into learners’ day-to-day activities and priorities
  • Learners can access the learning from wherever they are, reducing travel time and costs (including environmental costs)
  • Learners can apply their learning to their job immediately

Hemsley Fraser virtual classrooms are led by experienced and qualified virtual facilitators and supported by experienced technical producers. The producer enhances the learning experience by:

  • Supporting the facilitator, the learners and the technology
  • Troubleshooting learners’ technical issues in the background
  • Enabling the facilitator to focus on meeting learning needs
  • Capturing valuable learner input in the chat, picking up learner questions, adding in-the-moment content (e.g. web links) and maintaining the dynamics of the session
  • Serving as a back-up facilitator
The role of the producer

Resolving technical difficulties

The producer has the technical expertise to be able to support the participants as they are joining the session and getting connected to the platform. This includes connection of microphone and speakers as well as an initial orientation; they will explain the tools that are used throughout the session such as annotating slides, the feedback and chat panels, and some good practice for maximum engagement with the platform, other participants and the facilitation team. The producer also fills a crucial role during the session to provide local support to participants by chatting directly to them, enabling the facilitator to carry on working with the rest of the participants so that the main group dynamic is not affected. Under extreme circumstances, the producer will manage any agreed back-up process; in the case of a session-wide technical issue that affects everyone in the room and instructions need to be issued relating to emergency protocol. This may be introducing a short break, taking on facilitation duties for a period, or potentially transitioning the participants into an alternative platform.

Working with facilitators to ensure sessions are interactive

The producer has an active role in the session as well, working with the participants during exercises, either contributing directly to the group discussion taking place or adding another perspective to the session topic. They also act as an additional pair of eyes and ears in the room – a VILT is fast-paced with multiple channels of information being managed at any given time by the facilitator and producer. The producer can draw attention to a comment in the chat panel or on a whiteboard to ensure that it isn’t overlooked in the session. The producer can also assess group dynamics, identifying quieter participants and those that are dominating group discussion, to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get involved and share in an interactive experience.

Effectively managing real-time communications during sessions

Through mastery of the tools utilised in the virtual environment, the producer manages the two-way flow of information in real-time across the room. This could be directly responding to participants’ interactions as they make them across the various channels, such as acknowledging a question and advising a participant that they will be approached for further input over the mic, or encouraging the group by recognising individual contributions. The producer aims to create a dynamic interactive experience for all participants elevating it from a group-wide broadcast to a virtual learning experience. The producer also manages real-time activities such as polling questions and whiteboards during the session leaving the facilitator to focus on the group discussion and input.

Session preparation and setting up the platform

During the instructional design of any HF VILT there are supporting documents prepared for both the facilitator and the producer in the form of a session checklist. This breaks the session down into its components and interaction points so that on the day of delivery the producer is fully aware of when and how to operate the platform to support the learning activities taking place. When a new programme is being launched, or if a producer and facilitator haven’t worked together before, then it is good practice to meet in the platform ahead of the session with the materials and checklist to hand to confirm the handover points, how they will work together and get to know each other ahead of the delivery taking place. This is also an opportunity to check that the platform is set up and ready for the session so that on the day the complete focus of the facilitation team can be on the session and participants.

Providing expertise in platform functionality

The producer will be fully proficient in managing the technology being used for the VILT – often taking the lead on activities such as breakout rooms, working with and briefing the participants on the exercise to follow, and working in tandem with the facilitator to manage this aspect of the VILT. The producer will also be on hand throughout the session to take over from the facilitator should there be any interruptions to their connection, meaning there is minimal impact on the flow of the session for participants. Occasionally, the facilitator may choose to introduce an alternative approach to some of the exercises being used in the session because of group dynamics, connectivity or group size. The producer will be able to create polls, whiteboards, chat panels or breakout rooms on-demand without being phased by this.

Rehearsing with facilitators and contributors

Run throughs or dry runs with facilitators ahead of live delivery result in a more polished, practised and confident VILT session on the day. The producer is often the first point of contact for these rehearsals with the key contributors; key speakers, panel members, presenters, other stakeholders as well as facilitators. The producer is responsible for putting the contributors at ease by orientating them to the platform, covering webcam, local mic and audio set up, managing multiple presentations and adhering to the session agenda including timings. This role is valuable to any VILT but particularly in larger scale broadcast events where timing is crucial to the overall success of the VILT.

Creating session evaluation reports and follow-ups

The producer role is well-positioned to manage any post-session activities such as consolidating evaluation reporting or outputs that were captured. This could be from annotation exercises, whiteboard activities, poll responses and other activities that participants worked on either together or individually. As a result, the learning outputs can be worked on after the live VILT. Importantly, the producer is responsible for capturing and reporting on the attendance of the event. They will also manage the agreed protocol in the VILT for late arrivals. For instance, if a participant arrived 30 minutes after the session start time and it was pre-agreed that they would need to ask them to book on to another event, they would do so discreetly without affecting the main session. Finally, the producer can feedback post-event on what worked well and what could make the VILT even better in the future based on their experiences.

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