Over recent years, virtual learning and online training have seen a significant boost in popularity, particularly as more individuals work from home. Professionals across all sectors and levels are embracing the convenience and round the clock access to online training, and recognise that it’s an effective way of enhancing their abilities, improving their skills and accelerating their progression.
Just like classroom-based learning, online development requires commitment and focus from participants throughout the duration of delivery to guarantee maximum results. Self-discipline is key. We have compiled five top tips to help you to make full advantage of virtual learning and ensure you maximise your time investment.
Treat an online course like a ‘real’ course
Although online learning may be easier to gain access to and is often less regimented than a classroom-based course, it doesn’t diminish its value and still requires the same dedication and commitment from participants. In the comfort of your own home, we recognise that it isn’t always easy to maintain full concentration and block out distractions. Whether it’s juggling parenting or work emails coming in thick and fast, it can be easy to get sidetracked from the valuable learning materials and information being shared with you. This is why we’d advise that you prepare your mindset and working environment in advance.
Block out a set time in your schedule and ensure you set up in a quiet, distraction-free area, with all work emails and phones turned off. By clearing your diary and your mind of potential distractions, you’ll be more likely to fully engage with the course facilitator, content and resources made available to you.
Also, remember that you are free to take breaks. In a real-world learning environment, participants would have set comfort breaks, so ensure you do the same as a virtual learner. Don’t rush through tasks or modules simply to get it out of the way. Ensure you maximise your learning experience by treating it in the same manner as you would with a standard face-to-face programme.
"remember that you are free to take breaks."
Hold yourself accountable
You’ve committed to engaging with online learning, so make sure it’s worth your while by holding yourself accountable. We would recommend that you set some predefined goals at the beginning of the course which you can then check in on and reference throughout your learning experience. Embarking on professional development without clear end goals could see you left unfulfilled at the end of the course. Make sure you know why you are participating, the value it should bring and what you want to achieve upon completion.
Having these goals from the outset will not only guide your learning journey but will also allow you to liaise with the facilitator if you feel there are gaps in the content and it’s not delivering the results you envisioned. If you struggle to hold yourself accountable then it may be worth buddying up with someone else who is on your course or liaising with a family member who can check in on your progress.
"Make sure you know why you are participating, the value it should bring and what you want to achieve upon completion."
Consider how you learn
Whether you’re learning in a face-to-face environment or online, it’s important to consider and react to the way you learn best. According to the VARK model, there are four primary types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. To guarantee maximum results from your virtual learning experience, it’s worth considering your learning type, which in turn will help you to plan what materials you may need on hand or what additional post-work activities you may need to conduct. For example, if you tend to learn more effectively by re-reading information, then taking notes and revisiting materials post-session will undoubtedly be worthwhile. Auditory learners, on the other hand, prefer to listen to information and ask questions to cement their learning, so if this is your learning type then we’d encourage you to ask questions and speak to others wherever necessary.
One thing we would stress is not to compare yourself to others. Everyone has different ways of working, and similarly, every individual has a different approach to learning. Some may take the information in immediately and be ready to put it into action. In contrast, others will prefer to digest the information and then consider how best these insights can be harnessed. No approach is wrong. Also, speed of learning can vary, but if you do feel you may be falling behind in your virtual learning journey then have the courage to speak up and liaise with your facilitator.
"Everyone has different ways of working, and similarly, every individual has a different approach to learning."
Engage with the course and your fellow participants
During interactive modules or collaborative activities, ensure you’re proactive with your questions and get involved with others. Holding back your thoughts and ideas could prove detrimental to the effectiveness of the course for you as an individual and could also prohibit you from forming new connections with fellow attendees.
Just because you’re not surrounded by a classroom of fellow participants doesn’t mean your online learning experience needs to be in isolation. One of the most valuable aspects of virtual learning is getting to know your peers. Harness this opportunity to connect with individuals, form online groups and discussions and ask others what they thought about the content, just like you would in a face-to-face capacity. Many of us will have acclimatised to communicating virtually during the lockdown period, so harness this opportunity to make valuable new connections.
One thing worth bearing in mind is your online tone; be respectful when you disagree with other participants, and always write in clear sentences to avoid misunderstandings. Something you say face-to-face may not necessarily be translated in the same way online.
"One of the most valuable aspects of virtual learning is getting to know your peers."
Check your technology and save your work
As all learning will be delivered virtually, it’s vital that you check that your internet connection and the device you will be using are reliable. Technology glitches happen all the time, but the last thing you want to happen is to get cut off in the middle of an important course module. To avoid any technology glitches we’d recommend testing your internet connectivity and hardware prior to your online learning session, ensuring that it won’t be tampered with or moved by others in your household.
We would also encourage you to regularly save your work. Backing up content and any of your written materials on platforms such as Dropbox or Google Documents can prevent you from losing valuable work. It also allows you to revisit documents and downloads from your mobile device whilst on the move.
Finally, it’s worthwhile saving all of the emails from the company or facilitator that will be conducting your virtual learning into a folder. If mishaps do occur then you’ll be able to easily revisit old emails and source contact details where necessary.
"Backing up content and any of your written materials on platforms such as Dropbox or Google Documents can prevent you from losing valuable work."
Virtual learning is undoubtedly here to stay and will rapidly evolve over the coming years as we enter and adapt to the ‘new normal’ - it is essential that you become acclimated to using technology to enhance your skills and capabilities. The same value can be taken away from both mediums, so it is up to you as the learner to embrace the experience and ensure you maximise your time.