Think Virtual, Act Local

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 | Category :

By Matthew Murray

Matt Murray Photo

Live virtual delivery? Tempting, isn’t it? But how do you hold onto the core elements that have made classroom workshops so effective: deep dialogue within teams, facilitation that adjusts to the dynamics of participants, strong networking and interpersonal communication opportunities.

You can go virtual without losing impact. Going completely virtual requires you to rethink what you can accomplish and demands you to redesign your sessions (make them shorter, incorporate more interactive exercises, and optimize the virtual classroom environment). Or you can go hybrid -- keeping the impact and reducing the shift in focus.

One approach we’ve found to be highly successful combines face-to-face local teams that are virtually connected with other teams and a lead facilitator. The exchange between the dispersed locations can be through videoconference, virtual classroom, or smart rooms. The key benefit is that this approach maintains the high-touch of the face-to-face with the reach and flexibility of the virtual. For the highly experiential and action-oriented sessions that BTS provides, we cycle between exercises and simulation rounds run in local, face-to-face teams with virtually-facilitated know-how sessions and debriefs. By varying the flow – and limiting the virtual interchanges into manageable chunks – day-long and multi-day workshops that hold interest and build engagement are entirely possible.

The flexibility and scalability of the system is key. It allows you to add local sites easily and split larger groups in high volume locations into multiple smaller teams. IT managers will appreciate the reduced network bandwidth requirements (one connected laptop per location). Facilitators benefit from the live presence of participants in their location. A richer participant experience can be achieved by taking advantage of locally-distributed expertise that can be easily shared with the broader virtual group.

The following are 4 important keys for successful virtual deliveries:

  1. Focus on team interactions at the local level: Don’t introduce virtually participating individuals into the mix – it’s too hard for facilitators to engage them, they don’t benefit from the team activities, and the session design for completely virtual classroom delivery should be very different.
  2. Design for virtual delivery: You can’t just take a classroom workshop design and drop it into this format – you have to redesign it to ensure that all sites are participating equally, the technology becomes invisible (or enhances the learning), and the facilitators can establish a virtual presence.
  3. Organize key parties for success: Local facilitators/moderators/team leads are a must – this is the primary difference between local sites that become cohesive and participate with their virtual counterparts, and those that remain disconnected and remote.
  4. Manage time for optimal engagement: Stagger breaks and durations to accommodate time zones – 6-hour sessions fit well for east and west coast locations, 2 extended breaks allow for bi-coastal lunches.

About the Author: Matthew Murray is a Director at BTSinteractive.

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