After delivering in-person training to the community and voluntary sector for over 20 years, it was very daunting to face the challenge of taking all of my training workshops online at the start of the pandemic.
I had never attended a webinar let alone delivered one and I had grave doubts about how well a webinar could meet participants’ learning needs or allow them to connect meaningfully to each other and to me.
Now, I have developed online versions of all of my workshops, including new sessions on how to teach and facilitate groups online, I am fully persuaded of the benefits of online teaching (while still sorely missing some aspects of in-person work). It took me several months to get to this point and lots of experimenting and encouragement from clients who were happy for me to do my best and to learn and adapt as part of the process.
All of my workshops have needed a fair amount of development to adapt them to an online audience, in order to ensure that my training is still interactive and engaging. I’ve needed to find creative alternatives to in-person interactive training activities that keep people interested and engaged in spite of the likelihood of them experiencing ‘Zoom fatigue’ as we all adjust to this radically different way of communicating with each other.
Zoom and Microsoft Teams have a range of functions that can really support groups to come together and learn from the trainer and each other. Breakout rooms are great for discussion, peer-to-peer support and making more space for engagement and active learning. You can use the breakout rooms for your participants to solve problems, discuss a set topic, role-play and present to each other. One of my favourite Zoom functions is annotation which allows participants to type text, draw with a ‘pen’ and stamp icons onto a whiteboard or slides that everyone can see in real time. I’ve also really enjoyed using an external interactive whiteboard feature called Google Jamboard that works with Zoom and MS Teams and is a lot of fun for participants!
Over time, I’ve become increasingly aware of the need to be trauma aware and make sure that all my webinars have a plan for supporting participants who may be/become distressed during the sessions. A lot of my content deals with sensitive subjects including suicide prevention, wellbeing and resilience, and equality and diversity. In an in-person classroom it’s much easier to check in with someone during a break and offer some support. Online, support looks different: monitoring the chat box to see how people are doing, private messaging with anyone needing support – often during a break and issuing support signposting information in advance of a webinar. I’m also learning to invite people to move around, keep breathing and find ways to be present. I’ve developed some ways to help group members to centre and ground themselves as needed, or as a simple tool to support their learning.
There are some aspects of online teaching and facilitation that I really love. I appreciate the way that online learning improves access and removes barriers to participation for many people, including myself. People can learn from their own homes and can switch their cameras off if they feel they need some privacy or to be unobserved. Instead of people travelling several miles at a time/financial cost, they can log onto a webinar, and leave the session without needing to travel home. As a result, training providers can reach wider geographical area and more diverse groups of people. I also love the way that I can be really responsive to learning needs as they arise in discussions, for example sharing files and documents in response to participant questions on specific topics. I’ve found that it’s possible for us all to share meaningful connection and learning with each other in a way that quite surprised me.
And, of course, there are things that I really miss, especially the privilege of being embodied in a room with participants and being better able to read the room. I miss one to one and group chats with participants, both in service to learning and as a bunch of humans getting together and enjoying each other’s company. Not to mention the simple pleasure of sharing tea, biscuits and fruit together!
Wherever you are in your online learning journey as a provider or participant, I wish you well with your own adventure: may your barriers be workable-with and your wifi be stable!
Chris Brown is one of BHT’s expert trainers, specialising in Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, Mental Health & Wellbeing and Suicide Prevention.