This is the third in a series of articles exploring Virtual Learning and how we can design for curiosity and creativity. In the first piece we looked at a definition of Virtual Learning, and how we can use the move away from the office to build learning experiences that take place over time. In the second piece i considered the role of disturbance in learning, and how we each make our own ‘mosaic’ of the truth out of the pieces of our existing, and new, knowledge. The next two areas to look at are how virtual learning works, and how it typically fails.
STRETCHED Through Time: the most effective implementation of learning in virtual contexts creates spaces for people to explore, with an appropriate level of support and scaffolding. By doing this, we create space for curiosity, which relates back to what we discussed yesterday: how we find our own disturbance, and hence drive to learn, rehearse, and prototype, the new. But it shifts the onus onto design approaches that structure that stretched learning appropriately.
TIP – ask yourself whether you (or your Organisation) view spaced learning as the opportunity to ‘train and test’, or whether you use it as opportunity to ‘explore – sense make – implement’
EXTENDED Beyond Walls and Limits: we are able to connect globally, through technology, and also to move beyond the limitations of physics or physical ability, through simulations, and synchronous communication.
TIP: giving people space alone does not unlock curiosity – use structured exercises to do this, for example, journalistic story exercises, treasure hunts, collaborative quests, curation activities etc.
Related: This older piece shares and activity that uses a structured exercise. It’s not beautiful writing, but i hope it helps.
CO-CREATIVE Through Community Sense Making: later in this series we will explore how ‘sense making’ is both an individual, and collective, activity, but for now it’s enough to consider that the activities of our learning communities are central to the effectiveness of Virtual Learning experiences, which leaves us with two tasks. Firstly, we must build expertise in the formation, growth, and support, of these communities, and secondly, we must consider the ways that these communities share the stories that they write, the ‘sense’ that they make. This is a privilege that is earned, not demanded.
TIP: it’s easy to view ‘co-creation’ as the creation of valuable knowledge artefacts, and hence we focus our effort on finding and viewing those things. But co-creation is substantially a process of the loss of parts of an individual story, in favour of a consensus based collective one. So our effort should be on helping individuals learn what to carry forward, and what can be left behind. Or to put it another way: individual, and co-created stories, will never fully align, so we need to help people find trust, comfort, and safety, to share, and to listen and learn (we will also explore the levels of storytelling more deeply later in this series).
Related: my Community Builder Guidebook is free, and explores how we build and support learning communities.
DIVERSIFIED Because It’s Personal: the best Virtual Learning experiences will be diversified in what each individual discovers. We may all explore the same landscape, but the view we have along the way is different. The main landmarks may be identical, but the mud under our boots is different. But this leaves us with a challenge when much of the Organisational approach to learning can be held in consistency, conformity, and tidiness. Virtual Learning creates messy learning experiences, but which are more tightly grounded in our everyday reality. So more validated by the ground truth, and more applied.
TIP: ask yourself how comfortable you Organisation is with mess, and what the benefits are of diversified learning. Consider what you really need to be consistent and you can afford to be diverse. For example: leadership is partly about holding us safely within legal and compliance frameworks, and partly about compassion and excellence. Are both of those things held within rules?
DISPERSED Across Place And Technology: our own research clearly shows that we inhabit diverse ecosystems of technology, much of which is neither owned, nor controlled, by the Organisation that we work for. Our reasons for this are not particularly complex: we don’t trust ‘formal’ technology as much as the social, and true collaboration is a risky business, so we prefer to have edge-land spaces that are safer to engage in. Virtual Learning can hence unlock curiosity only if it ensures that it’s spaces are safe enough, which either means earning greater trust in formal technology, or finding comfort with some of your spaces being liminal or hidden.
Related: my Trust Guidebook asks 72 questions about trust, based on the global ‘Landscape of Trust’ research. It’s totally free, and intended to be very practical and applied.
TIP: go to where people are comfortable and collaborating, rather than trying to bring everyone under your control. And if you don’t know where these spaces are, use simple open stories to find out: ask people to write their story of their diverse ecosystem, and their reasons for being in different spaces.
COLLABORATIVE Across All Boundaries: at it’s very best, Virtual Learning is collaborative not simply across boundaries of space, but also of understanding. Because we are not seeking to build one conformist view of knowledge, but rather a diversified and grounded understanding, we are able to tolerate and indeed welcome different views. We can cross between communities that may not hold consensus. But only if we truly understand what collaboration means (and specifically ‘complex collaboration’), and are willing and able to engage in difference and dissent.
TIP: consider ways to engage across boundaries of difference and dissent. Provide support and training in techniques to listen in culturally fragmented spaces where social safety is not assured. Collaboration in known spaces to face known challenges, is easy. Complex Collaboration, where the problems are emergent, and we have to work beyond our tribes, is hard.
GROUNDED In Everyday Reality. Really this is the most compelling reason for building Virtual Learning journeys, experiences that are spaced across time, and which flow between taught elements, and social co-creation, grounded in the rehearsal of learning in our everyday world. In simple terms, ‘grounded in everyday reality’ means that during the learning itself, we put our emergent understanding into practice. Our task, for Instructional Design, is to create scaffolding and structure to support that. And to evolve our Organisational view of assessment to move beyond simple ‘success’, to include rehearsal and loops of learning, where we iterate our practice. We must also consider community coaching and performance support in these contexts.
TIP: consider how to build ‘loops of learning’, where, during the design, you plan action, take action in your real world, feed back on that action, conduct collaborative ‘sense making’ of your shared experiences, and plan further action.
These factors may all contribute to the design and delivery of successful Virtual Learning: the most important thing to consider is this: Virtual Learning is not a scripted journey but rather a landscape to explore. Curiosity is the driver for individuals to engage, and curiosity is something that we must earn the right to access. It cannot be demanded.
Throughout this week i will share a short, practical series, exploring the context of Virtual Learning, intending to highlight some of the underlying design approaches, and providing some practical tips and techniques.
Tomorrow we will explore how Virtual Learning fails.