Virtual L& D – Flatten the Curve

Tom GibbonsLearning, Organization Development, Virtual L&D, Virtual Teams4 Comments

I imagine in whatever publication lists the most used sayings of 2020, ‘flatten the curve’ will be right up there! So hey, why not contribute to its popularity here!

This post is not about flattening the covid-19 curve by doing more virtual learning and development however. While virtual L&D might certainly contribute to flattening the covid-19 curve, it certainly does not seem to be contributing much.

The option seems to be more or less just stopping L&D!

My guess is there are two primary reasons for this:

  1. With all the turmoil getting organized for virtual working, there is just no time for development. Best to wait until we have more time.
  2. Virtual development is seen as ineffective and a poor second choice for development. Best to wait until we can do face to face.

Reason 1 makes some sense for a period of time; reason 2 needs to be challenged. In many cases virtual L&D is much more effective than face to face. As long as your design flattens the curve.

To the left is an example of the type of graph that we’ve been seeing a lot of lately. It can teach us quite a bit about why virtual L&D can be better than face to face. The red lines represent the start and end of the actual face to face or virtual encounter.

The pink shape represents face to face. A tiny bit of stuff to support the learning before and and after and a big blast of face to face time typically jammed with content.

The blue shape represents a good virtual design. Quite a bit of time spent in learner preparation, much less time on Zoom (or whatever) than the equivalent face to face design, and quite a bit more time spent on follow up.

The blue horizontal line represents some kind of capacity; for our pandemic situation, usually the capacity of the health care system. In our L&D case let’s say it’s our capacity to actually learn.

With just a bit of reflection, it is quite evident that the blue shape is much more effective for learning. And our current situation helps us quite a bit to make these kinds of designs work! Ask most people if they would like to spend 8 hours on a Zoom meeting and they will run screaming from the room. Ask them if they would like to spend 2 hours on a Zoom meeting one week, another 2 hours a week later and have some interesting stuff to do before and after, that they can self manage with their colleagues, and you’ll get someone interested.

You’ll also get someone that learns way better!

This pandemic is offering us in the development world a unique opportunity. There is far more openness to pre and post work, far more openness to owning the learning and far more openness to accepting different learning designs.

We have a real opportunity here! Let’s not mess it up by designing virtual learning as ‘face to face with our web cams on!’

Also, people need L&D right now, things have changed dramatically, exactly the environment where learning is important, necessary and people are receptive. What’s interesting here is that a ‘flatten the curve’ learning design is nothing new; this type of design has always been the most effective! We just seem to have had a fetish with that red, face to face shape above. So now that we can’t do that anymore lets take this opportunity to prove that ‘flatten the curve’ designs work better. That virtual L&D can be better than face to face!

4 Comments on “Virtual L& D – Flatten the Curve”

  1. Tom – I really appreciate the metaphor of L&D and the pandemic. This really is an opportunity to co-design virtual sessions that are engaging and help transfer the knowledge to real life application.

    What I think is most effective is the the blended learning approach. This consists of some face to face, virtual, pre-work, home/play noticed I didn’t say homework and real application. For now let’s focus on getting better at working virtual. Yes, this will assist in ‘flattening the curve’ even more.

    As I continue to learn from the TMS team and how they have mastered the virtual piece, I look forward to the day when we can really blend the learning effectively. My strong extroversion preference is missing the face to fact and I’m learning quite quickly, there are some great ways that you can feel connected albeit virtually. I concur virtual learning is NOT ‘face to face’ with our webs cams on 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your insight on this important topic.


    1. Thanks Wendy… always good to see your comments! I would agree that a blend of virtual and face to face works best. I too miss the face to face interaction right now and have a strong preference for introversion! I think in person connection goes beyond preference, to biology, and maybe that’s why we have that fetish for face to face L&D. However, if we don’t figure out how to learn virtually, and learn well, we’re all going to be stuck in our current mindsets and skill-sets… and that’s kind of scary!

  2. Great post Tom! Love the point that virtual learning is not ‘face to face with our web cams on!’ As you point out, we need to design a learning process over time with multiple elements and methods, not a one-off session. Your phrase “fetish for face to face L&D” gave me a chuckle too. Thanks Tom.

    1. Thanks for your comment Clio; always nice to have you here! Over the past couple of months, like most of us, I have participated in numerous virtual meetings. I have been quite surprised how many have been simply the same as face to face with web cams. It’s very unfortunate since these examples give virtual learning a bad name and makes it harder for people to see a real value rather than something that must be endured…

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