Remote and virtual learning activities are commonplace today. In fact, some people prefer the convenience and accessibility that these activities offer. But many have commented they miss the focus and engagement of being in-person for their learning activities. At ConvergenceCoaching®, we conduct learning in person and remotely and have learned that remote learning requires an even greater intentionality in our preparation that we might apply when heading into in-person learning.

Most of us have a mental checklist of to dos before heading out for an in-person workshop, conference, or meeting. It’s time to create that same preparation checklist for distance learning events where we participate from our desk. That way, we can be just as immersed in the event and glean just as much as if we had been sitting in the same room as the other participants.

Here are some best practices for preparing for and maximizing your next remote learning event.

Preparing for the event

  • Block time to do the pre-work. When traveling to the event, many of us will do our prework while in the plane, train, or car. For remote pre-work, block your calendar for the pre-work (or post-work) because you won’t have the travel time.
  • Plan your login location. Your normal workspace may not be the most conducive for you to speak up, share, and fully participate in remote learning. Consider the type of discussion that may take place and plan a location where you can comfortably have your camera on and be heard when you unmute.
  • Install updates to the video conferencing platform being used at least one day before the event. There may be features used in the system that require being on a current version. Trying to install updates may require a reboot of your computer and can take several minutes. You don’t want to be late because you had to install updates and ran into difficulties.
  • Set expectations on your availability. Just because you are “in the office” shouldn’t lead your team to believe you can be interrupted at any time. Manage expectations with your team that you are participating in a remote or virtual event and when they can expect you to be available. Keep in mind, you will need to take breaks, so when they are offered in the session, try not to fill them with team meetings or client calls. These breaks are offered so you can get refreshed and stay engaged in the event.

Minimize distractions

  • Turn off notifications on the computer and phone! Obviously, your emergency/break through contacts will be able to still reach you, but all others should wait until you are out of session (just like when you are at an in-person event).
  • Set up do not disturb in your systems. Turn on Do Not Disturb in Microsoft Teams (or like systems), set an Out of Office message in Outlook, use the Focus options on your phone to block notifications or send automatic replies to text messages. Technology can support your focus if you use it properly, versus allowing it to distract you.
  • Post a sign to indicate when you are online and unavailable. This is helpful for office and house mates that may be accustomed to knocking or just walking into our cubes or offices.

Make Yourself Comfortable

  • Have snacks and beverages available. One nice thing about in-person events is someone arranges for fun snacks and a steady supply of beverages to be available at break time. You can replicate this. Choose some fun snacks to have on hand. If there is minimal time for lunch, schedule a delivery from a service like Grub Hub.
  • Move on the breaks. It is easy to pop open email and start plowing through it, but when we are in-person and its break time, most of us stand up, walk around, and talk to people. Talking to people might be harder remotely, unless you exchange phone numbers in the chat so you can connect. But you can go for a short walk, stretch, or do some yoga (many of us are sitting there in shorts or yoga pants anyway).
  • Set your screen and camera at eye level. Avoid the discomfort of neck strain or having the camera at an unflattering angle. If you like to stand during long meetings, stack some books or boxes on your desk so you can periodically stand up and still have the camera at eye level.

Participate

  • Cameras on, microphones/ headsets ready, Chat windows open. All three of these will give you the ability to jump into the conversation in a timely manner. When you can’t interact in the moment, the conversation moves on and most of us won’t revisit a topic. Your body language and facial expressions are VERY helpful to the facilitator or instructors to know how you are engaging with the material and where to customize the material to aid in your learning.
    • If you hate seeing yourself on camera, or you find it distracting, go into the settings and turn the view of your camera off (here are directions to do this in Zoom and Teams).
  • Speak up! When in-person, the facilitator can more easily read the room and body language. They need us to be more vocal to indicate where there are questions, or where we are excited about a topic. Unmute and share comments. Just like in-person, when the first person starts sharing, others usually jump in. It is this level of interaction that we miss about being in-person, but you can choose to shift engagement by being engaged yourself.
    • Use the Chat function. Add comments, communicate with individuals and share thoughts with the group at large. You can also use chat to ask questions. This is part of speaking up and participating.
  • Leverage multiple monitors when possible. This way you can have the slides, or material visible on one screen and still have the video, Chat windows, and a note taking program open without obstructing your view.
  • Make one commitment to truly follow up. You’ll likely learn a lot in the remote learning experience. Commit to truly follow through and apply one specific, measurable thing as a result. Establish specific timing for your “one thing” and share your commitment with someone – the instructor will love it if you share it with him or her, for sure!

Many of us love the flexibility and option to participate in more remote learning, and we need to acknowledge our responsibility to maximize the remote experience. Let’s get more intentional in our preparation and participation and make remote learning as effective for us as in-person has been.

All the best,

Samantha