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Reporter's Notebook: Highlights of Sunday's ATD21 Education Sessions

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Mon Aug 30 2021

Reporter's Notebook: Highlights of Sunday's ATD21 Education Sessions
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ATD21 started Sunday with a full day of education and networking sessions. Here's a recap of just a few of the many learning opportunities.

Dive Into Facilitating Immersive Virtual Learning

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In the Sunday Super Session “The Immersive Virtual Classroom: Facilitator Skills for Success,” Cindy Huggett, CPTD, principal consultant for Cindy Huggett Consulting, relayed that 7 percent of respondents in her 2020 State of Virtual Training survey reported using some sort of virtual reality. And based on a poll via the online chat feature for virtual attendees, many—despite little experience—are eager to get their feet wet with the immersive classroom.

When people think about the immersive experience, they often think of the technology itself, such as immersion glasses that create a simulated environment. But augmented reality goes beyond that—it is an enhanced reality, for example, where a participant in a Zoom meeting adds a background or makeup to their appearance.

Given technology’s prevalence in our personal and professional lives, when are facilitators even needed in an immersive environment? Huggett outlined three situations: when human intervention is required, when there may be a lack of trust with technology, and when learners could benefit from a shared debrief.

She called out five facilitator skills in particular that are critical in an immersive virtual classroom:

  1. Master the technology: Know it well. “Start playing with it,” she encouraged.

  2. Prepare and support learners: This could entail shipping headsets to learners and preparing them for the virtual experience, such as advising them to test technology in advance.

  3. Engage with learners: Provide clear, explicit instructions. Huggett relayed a story of when she thought instructions for an activity were clear but the outcome of the exercise proved otherwise.

  4. Enhance the virtual presence (voice, visual): Record your voice to hear whether you are expressing enthusiasm, using filler words, or speaking too quickly.

  5. Debrief the learning experience: Know how to unpack the session, especially if it may be emotionally charged or intense.

To close, Huggett left attendees with this question: How will you begin to upskill yourself or fellow facilitators to begin to use immersive technology?

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Drive Games With a Global Mindset

If you are facilitating a training session for a global audience, be sure to consider the effect culture can have on participants’ learning experience. Games and activities, for example, are popular tools for fostering engagement, energizing learners, and creating connection in a relatively quick manner.

In the Super Session “Games for Global Audiences,” an international panel of learning leaders—David Brown from Nigeria, Deniz Senelt Kalelioglu from Turkey, Claudia “Clao” Salazar from Colombia, Donna Steffey from the US, and Hamza Taqi, MPC from Kuwait—shared insights on how to successfully manage trainings with global audiences.

Panelists covered the value that games have in learners’ training experience and emphasized the importance of facilitators having a global mindset. Early in the session, participants looked at the various ways people greet each other, ranging from firm handshakes to bowing to sticking out their tongues. Panelists even discussed best practices for engaging with people from high-context versus low-context cultures.

At the crux of this interactive session was engagement and connection—panelists invited attendees to try some activities, which were designed for both in-person and virtual attendees.

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Throughout all the games demonstrated during the session, winning or losing wasn’t the objective. As one panelist noted during the session, games make it comfortable for people to make mistakes, and when they are comfortable failing, it’s easier for them to learn. Via Pathable, the conference platform, access the highlighted activities in the session’s resources section.

Use Disruption to Make Learning Last

What does weak learning design look like? That’s a question panelist Jon C. Thompson, director of learning experience and innovation at the Coca-Cola Company, posed during the Super Session “Disrupting Design: How Behavioral Science Drives Learning That Lasts.” Attendees responded with “passive,” “content dump,” “boring,” and “overload.” Strong learning design, however, can be described as engaging, tailored, transferable skills, and relevant.

In introducing the session, Mary Slaughter, global head of employee experience at Morningstar, shared that audience members would get insight into how to use design thinking to improve business performance—that is, how to think about reconsidering learning design. Janet Ahn, chief behavioral science officer at MindGym, presented a primer on how the brain works, learns, and applies what it has learned. The brain encodes, stores, and recalls information. Learning is attained through associated networks—the stronger the associations, the easier it is to connect or pick up the new piece of information. Applying is about motivation, either intrinsic or extrinsic.

The trio then outlined the CLICS (capacity, layering, intrinsic enablers, coherence, social connections) framework, a research-based model that helps maximize learning in the organizational setting. Each component has both learner- and workplace-relevant considerations. For example, Ahn described capacity as cognitive overload—the amount beyond the level of what the short-term memory is capable of storing. Just as instructional designers, subject matter experts, or managers need to be aware of how much information they share with individual learners, Thompson pointed out that there is an organizational consideration. What else do employees within a team or company have going on? If the audience is comprised of tax professionals, for example, trainers probably should avoid a major training program in the March-April time period in the US when individuals are filing their taxes.

Ahn advised attendees to think of layering as an additive effect: How does the new skill build on existing knowledge? From an organization standpoint, Thompson called out the way onboarding is designed to first provide background on the company before detailing specifics about an individual’s job so that the new employee can understand their role within the company.

Additionally, role modeling and watching others within a team or organization is important to normalizing and reinforcing learning. It is also an aspect where senior leaders can make a critical difference in culture, learning, and well-being.

Engagement Is Key to Master Facilitation

More than half of virtual training is as useless as the G in lasagna, said Sardek Love, president and founder of Infinity Consulting and Training Solutions. He based that on his research. He found that more than two-thirds of training professionals say a lot of their virtual training content isn’t helping learners produce better, faster, or more. To help, in his session “3 Master Facilitator Secrets for Delivering High Engaging Virtual Training,” Love covered the top three mistakes that many facilitators make when delivering training, and he proposed practical solutions for overcoming those barriers.

Many sessions are too focused on content and constrained by time, he said. Love added that trainers are often change resistant. To foster engagement, he advised trainers to focus the learning on the problem, where the content addresses the challenges participants are facing. Second, drive training with curiosity by continuously engaging participants. And reinforce the training with action, having participants practice the concepts they’ve learned.

Love also called attention to storytelling and how master facilitators “create narratives, and they interweave these stories into the training instead of just being stuck on content.” Love then shared four ways that master facilitators can trick learners’ brains into paying attention: delivering content in new ways, doing something unexpected or surprising, challenging the numbers, and presenting old ideas in new ways.

Love further discussed the ways in which master facilitators use platform tools, such as chats, polls, training activities, and breakout rooms. While he said that “most trainers are overusing chat and polls,” nearly half say that they don’t use breakout rooms, based on his research. And he called out that as a big missed opportunity. He noted, “If you’re not using breakout rooms in virtual training … you’re not engaging your people.”

Think Beyond the Classroom

A major takeaway from Jonathan Halls’ session “Classroom Dilemma: Reimagining the Future Workplace Learning Landscape” was to think outside the box—that is, the training room. While he did not advocate eliminating it entirely, he encouraged attendees to focus on what people need to do rather than thinking in terms of a learning session.

He compared trainers to navigators and shared his navigator model, where learning is at the center of the overlapping components of mechanics, ecology, and strategy. Learning mechanics revolve around learners conceptualizing, performing, and mastering a task. Conceptualizing requires the learners to make sense of the world through their memories; the performing entails practice: talking about a skill or concept, solving for it, and simulating the task. That requires days to weeks, certainly outside the scope of a typical classroom. And finally, Hall defined mastering a task as being able to perform the action better than most people, faster, and with fewer mistakes.

The ecology involves the outside dynamics that affect learners and how well they will be able to learn: the physiology (emotions, energy, and diet); outlook (mindset, resilience, and motivation); and environment (culture, politics, and physical space).

When thinking about strategy, weigh how learners’ experience relates to the organization. What does the company need learners to be able to do? Hall notes that you may be passionate about the topic and want to share everything you know. But from an organizational standpoint, that may not make sense. Halls will conduct a virtual Q&A today from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. MT.

Shoring Up Executive Presence

Amy Glass, president and CEO of BRODYpro, led the high-energy session “Elevate Your Executive Presence: Virtually and In-Person” on Sunday. Early on, she made the case for why executive presence is more important than it’s ever been, especially for people in the training profession. She said that executive presence is about how you act, communicate, and look. Acting the part requires soft skills, such as empathy, warmth, and connection.

To help session participants understand what empathy is and is not, Glass showed a short video clip of researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown explaining that “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.” Being able to feel the room and understand others’ emotions are skills that are key to connecting with others, Glass noted. She shared some practical pointers on how to demonstrate empathy in daily interactions, such as identifying with the feelings of an individual’s situation even if you haven’t specifically experienced it.

Glass also explained how participants could apply the PREP (position; reason; example, explanation, evidence; position) framework as a guide for effective communication. This formula can help people avoid information overload and best handle impromptu conversations on the job. For PREP, state your position; provide a reason; offer an example, explanation, or evidence; and restate the position. During the session, Glass invited all attendees—in person and virtual—to suggest topics she could address using the PREP model in real time to demonstrate its efficacy. She also cautioned them to beware of power robbers—things people do or say that take away from the power of what they’re saying—for example, tag questions, overuse of jargon, and public self-critique.

After covering how people with strong executive presence act and communicate, Glass segued to the look and the importance of crafting your virtual image. She reviewed the basics of virtual communication, such as good lighting, using hand gestures, and being eye-level with the camera. ATD21 participants can download Glass’s entire presentation from the resources section of her session in the conference platform. The presentation also includes a QR code to download Leadership Presence: The Influential Intangible, a free e-book Glass co-authored with Majorie Brody.

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