Re-imagining powerful developmental experiences online

There’s no doubt that during 2020 large numbers of us started embracing online learning in a way that we never had before. Perhaps it’s been a forced migration for many, but people who are hungry to learn may have been surprised at the abundance of online courses and their accessibility even if they still miss the social nature of in-person learning, the enforced discipline it provides, the informal learning and of course the engagement. However, if we think about development as opposed to learning and replace ‘personal growth’ for ‘training’, what possibilities are there? What truly powerful developmental experiences can an online setting offer? And what is it that makes them powerful?

I posed these questions to a group of senior global leadership development professionals during a virtual knowledge exchange last month run by @iventiv. The results were quite interesting;

On the whole, the experience was limited – some action learning, coaching, simulations and small group work had yielded some positive results but many had not experienced anything particularly developmental online. For those with positive experiences, what made them engaging and powerful were things like creative use of breakouts that provided informal and intimate experiences; facilitators taking time to pause and take the pulse; and use of enabling tools such as polls and quizzes. Good practice rather than breakthrough thinking.

So, how can you create true growth experiences in an online environment?

For me, in our work at Emerging World, it rests on two principles – how can you Bring the outside IN to the virtual learning environment and how can you Bring what’s inside participants OUT to create engagement?

Bringing the outside IN

The longer that we spend with restrictions on our day to day travel and engage with our working life through screens, the more we need to find a fresh perspective that helps us to think and see things differently. New perspectives have the power to shift the way we see and do things and integrating new perspectives into our way of being is a key component of adult development.

To enable this type of growth in a virtual environment, Emerging World has developed the INmersion Experience – an approach focussed on bringing diverse groups of people together to learn and grow from each other. As part of an INmersion Experience, we facilitate perspective sharing sessions where people feel comfortable to share how they see the world and become open to learning how others may see things differently. Our skilled coaches work with participants to help them integrate these perspectives into new ways of understanding which helps them grow as individuals. We also challenge participants to work on novel problems faced by others and challenge them to apply learning and insights into their own problems using the process as a leadership skills development opportunity.

Our goal is to bring a sense of higher purpose to their work to create engagement and inspiration. It’s a heady cocktail and while the principles are no different to what we do in our in-person Immersive Experiences, one advantage of online is that we have the potential to bring diverse people from across whichever ecosystem we are working in, into the same environment more easily. What is more challenging is creating the visceral engagement that really helps enable deep adult learning when you are deprived of the senses that in-person experiences bring. Here you have to work even harder and that’s where Bringing the INside out becomes important.

Bringing the INside Out

IN an online environment we are deprived of some of the information that helps us to sense things and we need to work at overcoming that barrier. Storytelling is one way we can do that – encouraging and enabling people to tell powerful stories of how they are moved and what moves them provides rich potential for learning. If the right settings are in place, the virtual environment can be a more comfortable place to reveal things to others. People can become less self-conscious when they are located in their familiar home surroundings and other people present are a screen away. This can lead people to open up in quite profound ways but creating the conditions of comfort are key to helping the stories to come out.

Emotional literacy is another quality that we need to enable. Allowing people to talk about their emotions and helping them create the language to communicate these emotions is often developmental for participants used to putting up a front at work. But it also helps others to emotionally engage with the experience and gives them permission to share as well.

The ability to ask great questions is another facet we bring into the experience. The tangible value of learning to ask great questions in a world of rapid change is high but skilled questioners help to bring new perspectives into the learning environment. They invite engagement and participation from others and reveal what the questioner considers to be important. In our INmersive Experiences we use a process of Action Learning that places strong emphasis on enhancing questioning skills.
Finally, we embrace the discipline of Personal Knowledge Mastery and the adoption of a seek > sense > share framework that helps people to share what’s important in their learning and invites others to engage. This too helps bring what’s going on INside participants out into the learning environment and provides opportunity for asynchronous engagement in between real time learning sessions.

In my opinion, we need to be learning more and faster now than ever before. The rate of change simply demands it and the consequences of not learning are frankly, dire. True development actually increases an individual’s capacity to learn and so we must find ways to overcome the current constraints and reimagine what developmental experiences look like virtually.

To find out more about INmersion Experiences and learn how the approach could be applied in your organisation contact matthew

To register your interest in joining an INmersive Experience as a participant please click here and we will make you aware of upcoming opportunities.