Ode to online learning and it's unexpected advantages

29/01/2021

Sarah Metcalfe and Isobel Colson are the founder and co-founder of Happy Coffee Consulting. Together they help companies support employee wellbeing, build stronger teams and create happier working environments. They are also affiliate members of The Adult Learning Hub. 

Happy Coffee are currently working with a wide range of organisations to support their teams through COVID during the winter with short, regular group sessions delivered over Zoom.  

In this week's article, Isobel reflects on the unexpected benefits of transitioning her work online, not only for herself as an educator, but for her adult learners as well.


I can recall my reluctance only a few years ago to consider moving training online. I also remember vividly the thrill this time last year, of a beautiful journey through the snow to deliver a one day workshop at a team away event in the mountains. I remember the piercing sun on my face in the bitingly cold air and the impactful work we did with those learners. We did however, invest three days on the round trip, much of which was spent in fairly fruitless hanging around. 

Oh how the world has changed...

As we stare down the barrel of a gun at our lockdown anniversary, there may seem little to be grateful for. There is Trump's demise, the vaccine rollout, the subtle but perceptible lengthening of the days and the promise of spring. There is also the ongoing and unexpected benefit of delivering training online. 

Now don't get me wrong, at this point in time I think I would pay money to stand in a real classroom, to shake the hands of my participants, to see a look in their eyes, to hear their voices without mentioning mute and to feel that collective energy trainers live for. However, for me, for my family, for students and for businesses, there are a lot of advantages in this new (digital) way of working:

1. Saving hours of travel time

It's good for us and our families. Every trip is time away from them. A couple of weeks ago I gave a training course in Kazakhstan and all from the comfort of my own home . I shudder to think about the travel time that would have been involved, let alone the 20 minute bus journey that I would have had to endure to and from the lunch venue. 

We can also deliver services more efficiently than we could before. One moment I am running a workshop for a client, one small movement break and a cup of tea later and I am back at my desk, as opposed to fighting my way home on the Northern Line in London.

2.  Bite-size content is easier to digest

It's good for adult learners as well, who are no longer sitting through too many consecutive days of training. As we are no longer physically gathering in one place, we can break down the material into smaller segments. We know that there is a limit to how much they can absorb at one time. I was always aware during those three day sessions that quite a lot of what I was relaying would get forgotten, despite my energetic efforts to create an interactive and inspiring event. In an online environment, we now get to break topics down, to give people time to absorb, reflect, practice and review before coming back to review topics together. Learners can learn in iterative stages, deepening their knowledge each time.

3. Increasing the ROI

We know it is good for businesses because it reduces their travel costs, that is the obvious part. It also has the potential to increase the ROI - the return on investment. Breaking the content down into smaller pieces not only helps individuals to absorb the information (knowledge), it also gives them the chance to practice in between, which is how we get to skill (more on this another time). What it takes for people to change the way they work is practice and time - exactly what this new format gives us.

4. Connections are sustained for longer

I too loved those immersive experiences with a group of fellow learners, all utterly absorbed in a topic for three days or more. People quickly build deep bonds with each other, but then we go home, suffer the inevitable 'con drop' (the low that follows the high of conferences) and have to put all that knowledge into practice. Alone. Working online allows us to meet regularly with fellow participants, which means we have access to their support for longer. A great example of this is how Woohoo Unlimited took their three day Chief Happiness Officer training (CHO) online. They spread it out over six weeks and built in masses of activities with coaching and buddy time. Nothing was lost in terms of the strength of those resulting friendships, far from it. Click here to learn more about the Woohoo CHO training.

5. Connecting across continents

I have learned that we can make real connections with people who are very distant from ourselves. I remember my reluctance to do Skype sessions a couple of years ago with my then new business partner who lives on the other side of London. She taught me how to work online and I am forever grateful because we were ready when the pandemic forced us all online.

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Yes, I miss meeting people. Yes, I miss delivering workshops face to face. Running a LEGO Serious Play session with my business partner Sarah Metcalfe, for a group of executives and uncovering some issues that would otherwise have remained hidden, was probably the most rewarding moment of my career but even that can be done online now. Every day I work with different clients and people in different countries, I think how incredibly grateful I am that we have the technology available to continue to work online. Thank God for Zoom breakout rooms (sorry Skype)!

When this is over and we HAVE to believe that it will be, we will have more options at our fingertips to choose the best format for learning, and I believe we may even experience less reluctance from our clients in considering online sessions. We can meet in person when it works and deliver online when it doesn't. I am glad that online delivery has been forced into a kind of collective acceptance as a viable alternative for learning. I see future possibilities not only for myself and my family, but for my learners and their families, for businesses and of course, for the planet.


Isobel Colson has been delivering training to adults since 1993! She works with SME's and tech giants to help them create happier working environments and to keep their teams productive during the COVID crisis. Isobel's background is in customer service, technical support and training for various companies including McKinsey & Company and Oracle Corporation. 

Sarah Metcalfe founded Happy Coffee Consulting after 9 years building award winning customer service and customer experience. She has spent the last 10 years researching and training in Happiness at Work works with clients to embed this into business cultures with our clients. In 2019 she was a keynote speaker in 14 countries around the world. In 2020 she mostly stayed home! 

If you are interested in learning what happiness at work can do for your business and specifically how it can create a direction for you as a leader - join Happy Coffee in their upcoming 'Leading With Happiness workshop.' Click here for details.

In 2020 Happy Coffee Consulting became co-leaders of Woohoo Inc. (Now Woohoo Unlimited), a global partnership of more than 50 happiness at work experts and practitioners from 31 countries around the world.Together their partnership has helped train more than 100,000 people worldwide on being happier at work and provided training and keynotes to companies like Accenture, KPMG, LEGO, Shell, Microsoft, Nespresso and many others in over 50 countries. 

Email Isobel or Sarah if you'd like to get in touch / And follow Happy Coffee on Facebook / Instagram / Twitter


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