Tired student or employee working with laptop, doing boring job
ATD Blog

Overcome Virtual Fatigue With a Blended Learning Approach

Friday, October 30, 2020

Imagine this: You just finished your fourth virtual meeting of the day and it’s only 11 a.m. You have a three-hour virtual training to attend this afternoon, plus you haven’t finished the pre-work and you still have all your normal work waiting for you. The last thing you want to do is stare at a screen and struggle to pay attention to the facilitator. Maybe today isn’t the day for training.

Sound familiar? Odds are we have all experienced virtual fatigue at some point during this year, and so have our learners. While our intentions may be to put together a thoughtful, engaging training session, it could look like just another virtual meeting on their overpacked schedule. Using a blended approach to learning can help not only manage our learners’ virtual fatigue but can also provide an overall better learning experience.

Adapt, Don’t Replicate

Nearly every learning professional I’ve spoken to in the last six months has been converting face-to-face training to virtual training. The key in doing so effectively is not to replicate the original program in a virtual setting; it will not work. Instead, look at your learning objectives—the intention of the program—and look at your learners’ needs. Will achieving those objectives still benefit them in the current environment? If yes, press ahead and keep adapting. If no, evaluate why you’re converting this course. Adapting means keeping the same (or similar) objectives but diversifying how we achieve those objectives.

Time Is Your Ally

While virtual learning isn’t usually the first medium of choice for learners, there are substantial benefits. We’re not bound to stuffing as much content as possible into a single session. We don’t have the pressure of getting learners in the same geographical location for a limited amount of time and hurling content at them. For once, we arguably have as much time as we need. Spread your content out to accommodate a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning elements. For example, a three-day course can now become a six-week journey. This can open up the gift of time, allowing learners to apply their new knowledge and skills alongside the learning.


Diversify the Experience

There are many factors that contribute to virtual fatigue—two of which are the main factors we can combat with a blended experience:

1. We don’t currently have a choice: If we need a meeting, it must be virtual.
As learning professionals, we have a little more wiggle room. Give your learners options in how and when they consume content. Using our example from earlier, if our new course is six weeks, give them the first two weeks to engage with any three out of five provided pieces of content (such as videos, articles, or e-learning modules). If we efficiently curate content, we can set parameters like these so learners don’t need to complete everything to be successful. They can personalize their journey and still benefit from the experience.


2. Focusing during virtual meetings is exponentially more difficult.
Every week there are more tips for running virtual meetings and avoiding fatigue. From a training perspective, most of these apply. When we do need to host a virtual instructor-led training (vILT), we should take out any content or activities that learners can complete on their own outside the classroom. Push anything that can be done independently to prework or intersession work (completed between sessions if there is more than one). This gives us the opportunity to maximize interactivity and engagement in the virtual classroom.

Constantly Revisit Your Learners’ Needs

We are not in a “normal” remote working environment. For many of us and our organizations, the future is a constantly shifting variable. That means we are also constantly adapting to new demands or a changing environment. Consider what your learners need now or in the immediate future (roughly one to three weeks) from both a learning and social/emotional perspective. Some learners will need to disengage while others may be craving connection. Spreading out learning and diversifying content will allow us to design an experience that accommodates various needs.

Do Your Best

“Do your best” may sound over simplified or even patronizing, but I mean it in the sincerest way possible. We need to be OK with creating and sharing content that isn’t perfect. We’re feeling all the same constraints and challenges as our learners. Use that experience, but also recognize the challenges you’re facing as well. With learning spread out, you can iterate the design as learners work their way through a course. Evaluate how content and activities are landing and adjust your plan as needed to get the best results for your learners.

About the Author

Jared Douglas is an internal ATD Facilitator. He uses a learner-centric approach to create an engaging, inclusive environment in his sessions. As a consultant, Jared has worked with organizations across various industries, including advertising, transportation, finance, technology, and consumer goods. He helps clients develop and execute in-person, digital, and blended learning initiatives.

Leading the North American learning function for Momentum Worldwide, a global experiential advertising agency, Jared was responsible for the full-cycle learning experience. This included needs analysis, development and sourcing of content, curriculum building, logistics and coordination of learning programs, and evaluating for effectiveness. He built a variety of courses, facilitated open enrollment and bespoke team workshops, and contributed to various projects such as launching an employee experience brand, starting an internal podcast, conducting a manager experience analysis, and redesigning the performance management process.

Jared has facilitated on a range of topics including communication skills, collaboration, relationship building, brainstorming, client mapping, time management, and presentation skills. He is certified in Insights Discovery, a psychometric tool based in Jungian psychology. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from Binghamton University and M.S. in I/O Psychology from Baruch College. Jared is fascinated by psychological perspectives and enjoys connecting theoretical content with practical and relevant applications in day-to-day activities.

1 Comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Great article! Lots of helpful information to consider when flipping from classroom to vILT.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.