In our last post on hybrid learning, we shared some of the challenges hybrid learning entails and watchouts for L&D practitioners navigating hybrid working. As we move deeper into 2022, and hybrid continues to be the word of the day, it’s worth evaluating how you can ensure the learning you provide to your hybrid workforce meets their needs and your organisation’s ambitions.
In the learning community, hybrid refers to simultaneous in-person and remote participation during learning sessions or workshops. Hybrid learning aspires to combine the best features of face-to-face and remote learning to enhance learning experiences and maximise outcomes.
However, with current technologies, event organisers are struggling to deliver a cohesive experience to two entirely different audiences; 67% of event organisers cite technology as a concern or challenge for delivering hybrid experiences.
Facilitators also feel increased pressure to deliver online and in-person instantaneously, with 71% saying that connecting both in-person and remote audiences is their biggest challenge.
But most importantly, hybrid poses barriers for audiences: they want to be in the room rather than calling-in. More than half of learners say they would rather attend a session or experience in-person rather than signed-in remotely.
Here are three considerations to make when separating out your learning into virtual and face-to-face events, and three tips on how you can achieve the best of both worlds—just not necessarily at the same time.
Humans are social creatures. We thrive and grow when we are a part of communities and collectives.
To navigate our networks and understand people outside our social circles, we spend a lot of time and energy evaluating our place in the world, society, community – and we do this with people on our teams and in the events we attend.
We are constantly comparing ourselves to those around us.
The comparison between ourselves and others can elicit the unpleasant feeling of envy, what Bertrand Russel deemed ‘an unfortunate facet’ of human nature. Envy arises from an awareness of another person’s achievements, possessions and experiences which we deem greater than our own.
In hybrid events, this green-eyed monster can take the form of audience envy.
Remote attendees can experience technical issues, Wi-Fi drops and sound difficulties, whilst in-person attendees reap the rewards of in-person learning experiences.
When you have disparate audiences, it’s easy for remote participants to feel separated from the ‘in-crowd’; one survey found 39% of virtual participants feel unincluded when attending hybrid events.
This is a particularly difficult challenge to overcome when facilitating hybrid events. It’s difficult to provide the same energising, immersive and collaborative environment to remote attendees, which may be why 72% of participants believe they get more value from attending a hybrid event in-person.
There are certain benefits to virtual experiences, and certain (often different benefits) to face-to-face experiences. Consider what outcomes you want your learning experience to hit, and accept that you may have to make some trade-offs. For example, is it more important for your learning experience to build human connections through in-person events? Or enhance inclusivity and global reach through virtual experiences?
Once you have the answer, the single-best way to guarantee a shared collective experience is to create equal opportunities for access and pick either virtual or in-person, rather than combining the two.
How we process information shapes the kind of learning that resonates and sticks most with us. Specifically, human cognition is dependent not only on the information provided, but on the environment in which that information is received.
Being physically present in a learning environment can improve information retention and help us correctly interpret another person’s personality and demeanor. This enhances our ability to build successful and lasting relationships within learning experiences, too. Something that has become all the more important due to the isolation caused for many by the pandemic.
We also learn more when our senses are engaged, which is harder to do in virtual. So, once you’ve separated out your face-to-face and virtual experiences, per tip 1 above, you encounter your next challenge: replicating the full ‘physicality’ of in-person face-to-face experiences through virtual. Otherwise you run the risk of uneven learning retention and development within your hybrid workforce.
This is currently a challenge because, with the technology we have now, we can’t provide equal experiences to in-person and virtual participants simultaneously in the same event.
Consider building in opportunities for what psychologists call ‘felt senses’ or ‘felt experience’ in your virtual experiences.
A felt sense is a physical experience and bodily awareness of, in our case, a situation. Eugene Gendlin, philosopher and psychologist who coined the term describes it as follows: “Think of it as a taste, if you like, or a great musical chord that makes you feel a powerful impact, a big round unclear feeling.”
Leveraging the senses and bodily feeling can be very powerful when it comes to virtual learning experiences, where face-to-face ones are not possible. And it can counteract implicit disparity and inequality among your learners.
Face-to-face interactions create emotional connections through nonverbal signals. Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell deemed this the “Human Moment“.
These moments of connectivity are usually triggered by chance encounters that include emotional and intellectual attention and physical presence. For example, chatting to an attendee, comparing findings with another group or having a discussion with a facilitator, are all happenstances likely to create a Human Moment.
These moments of connectivity increase empathy, energy and collaboration. In fact, The Human Dynamics group discovered that regular face-to-face interactions outside structured meetings were the best predictor of productivity.
According to Hallowell, the benefits of Human Moments are long-lasting; mental activity is stimulated allowing creative and innovative thought long after the interaction. But similarly to exercise, to reap the full reward, you must engage in Human Moments on a regular basis for them to have continual and meaningful impact.
When communication takes place digitally, the Human Moment can lose its power. In digital communication, the crucial aspect of physical presence is missing; making non-verbal cues difficult to identify.
MIT organisational psychologist Tom Allen suggests you need only be 50 metres from another person for the quality of communication to decrease. Our experience shows the impact of being miles from others, in different environments, very much impacts the quality of communication.
To encourage regular and seamless Human Moments, consider opportunities to bring your people together to learn, face-to-face. This could be in smaller groupings or cohorts, as large gatherings may be subject to restrictions. Use these as opportunities to facilitate discussions, collaborations, and teamwork. The payoff could be significant.