At Hyper Island we are obsessed with designing learning experiences that really engage participants in all our short and long courses. For the past couple of years we have been experimenting with creating new formats and activities that can be used when our courses are offered online and, of course, the current Covid19 situation has accelerated the need for this initiative. While the world turns to webinars and presentations we know we can do better.
So how do you engage learners for hours online? It’s easy; give them something interesting to do!
We’ve recently launched a murder mystery to help people explore data and problem solving with data, and a virtual tour format that lets people “visit” companies in Silicon Valley to discover their culture, ways of working and tools. These formats can be adapted to different topics and we have many in the pipeline that will be woven into our deliveries in the coming weeks.
The principles of designing formats are as follows:
1. Design with learning outcomes in mind
An introductory course is different from our Masters Level modules and we need to make sure that every learner has the opportunity to achieve the specific outcomes. These are usually expressed in terms of what they will be able to do after the module such as “following this module, participants will be able to describe current developments in Fintech and discuss how some of these could be relevant to their own industries”
These outcomes will not define the experience but guide our thinking.
2. Give learners a goal or challenge
Which is the most agile company on the planet?
A goal sets the direction of the session and a vision for what we will achieve. Challenges are normally open-ended and there may not be a simple answer but they frame what we can expect to be doing during the session. They are a great place to start and solving them can be very rewarding and motivating.
3. Give learners a role to play during the session
Lawyers, pilots, actors, archeologists, detectives, scientists. They all see the world differently. Ask learners to think like a lawyer and you conjure up a whole world in which they try to answer the challenge or achieve the goal.
Spend time finding the right role for the right challenge and then research their professional ways of thinking and the tools they might use in their problem solving.
4. Give them data and tools
Instead of telling them what to think or explaining the topic, help them explore the subject through original data, documents, research, evidence, artefacts and people. Use professional tools chosen to fit their role that will enable them to explore this data: give them a gallery to curate, evidence to sift or a map to draw.
Make sure you have assembled enough data to get them started or have them crowdsouce data from recommended sites.
5. Give them choices
I am more engaged in my learning when I can follow paths of enquiry that interest me and so are my learners. Provide them with a few alternatives ways to move forward that let them make choices and stay in control of the learning.
6. Let learners work together
Although there are times in a session where it may be appropriate to have them work on their own, participants are far more likely to stay engaged if they collaborate with others. We recommend groups of 3-4 as this is small enough to get things done while big enough to have them motivate each other when energy sags.
7. Make it interesting
Choose formats that feel interesting, relevant and fun to the majority of your learners. Think about what people watch on documentary TV, what they buy (when allowed to shop) and how they want to invest their time. They are going to spend time with you and you must be prepared to provide value in return for that time.
8. Nudge them
Don’t design a format that leaves them on their own for too long (even in break-out groups). You need to help them progress in the challenge you have given them. Check in regularly with each group to let them show you what they are thinking and give them additional stimulus (questions, clues or data) to move them forward. Provide multiple ways that they can signal they need help; we use more than one platform to alert our attention.
We check on their progress every 10-15 mins so they don’t feel abandoned and have tools for monitoring their activities so that we can identify groups that are struggling.
9. Let them achieve milestones on the way
Like a good 3 act play, story or movie, the learner journey should provide intermediate successes that can be completed by the participants. Let them achieve levels, unlock new content or provide a stretch challenge if they are doing well.
10. Reflect on the journey
Spend time at the end not only sharing back what everyone has achieved but also lessons from the journey. What did they do well or badly? What assumptions did they make that turned out to be false? How did they work as a team? There are lots of additional learnings that can be drawn out from a proper reflection so don’t rush it. Use survey tools to capture reflections if the group is large but make sure that you respond to what they say to show that you are listening.
11. Relate back to work
During reflection time ask them to consider how they can take lessons from the experience back into their own work. This is vital to capture value from the experience. We find it useful to summarise what we hope is transferable from the session to the workplace.
Every session needs closure and a celebration (and then a break) can round things off nicely. Thank people for being so engaged and highlight your own learnings from the session.