Eight Learnings from Eight Months Full of Online Teaching Experiences
December 2020. Eight months of a worldwide pandemic, but also eight months and twenty-one webinars in the Regional Programme, as well as two digital Social Innovation and Management Programme modules later. The ongoing situation around COVID-19 forced the NGO Academy team to quickly adapt their programmes to new surroundings. Today we would like to use this opportunity to reflect on learnings and new ways of providing capacity building opportunities to CSOs and Social Businesses.
Since March, NGO Academy’s offers are almost exclusively provided online. As soon as it became clear that we would not be able to organise our usual multi-day workshops throughout Central and Eastern Europe, we were convinced of the necessity to find other ways of supporting our members. Webinars posed an obvious option at that point. With the help of our wonderful faculty, we were able to set up a variety of webinars and were able to learn with each new event. When it comes to digital teaching formats, we identified the following crucial success factors:
1.Keep classroom teaching short and lively
Similarly to offline formats, long periods of traditional classroom teaching hinder engagement and lessen the learning experience among participants. Although it is necessary to provide crucial theoretical input, it should be well mixed with other ways of teaching content. Moreover, the energy of the trainer plays a crucial role in the classroom teaching sessions. A lively manner of presenting the content helps a lot to successfully convey the message. Additionally, the use of breakout rooms can do wonders, making reflections, group discussions or other exercises more interactive.
2.One hour is not enough
A huge advantage of online webinars is the possibility to learn in a condensed, spontaneous way. However, too short a webinar often equals not enough content which leaves many open questions and dissatisfied participants. Obviously, we do not want that. Our experience and the feedback from participants show: to ensure every participant can take something from the webinar, one hour of content is simply not enough.
3.Make use of online tools, but don’t overdo it
There is a huge variety of teaching and learning tools available online, and most of them are super-helpful when it comes to engaging with the participants. You can collect inputs via a digital whiteboard (e.g. MURAL), ask questions about the participants’ experience in a field (e.g. Mentimeter), or bring a competitive aspect to learning with a fun online quiz (e.g. Kahoot!). The possibilities to allow active contributions from participants are seemingly endless, so it’s important to focus on a few relevant tools rather than trying out every single one.
4.Make room for participants to connect with each other
Not knowing who is participating in the webinar can feel awkward and, thus, hinder conversation. Therefore, participants should get to know each other. A quick welcome and introduction round or a small group task in the beginning of the webinar can break the ice – an important first step when it comes to a successful online learning experience. We made the experience that letting people talk about non-workshop-related topics for a few moments increases overall responsiveness. Break-out sessions are also a highly useful tool to encourage exchange among participants in smaller groups.
5.Webinars with multiple sessions can work out well…or not
Throughout the year, we experimented with many different formats with the aim to find out what works best for our participants. As it is a challenge to provide enough input in one webinar session, we also decided to introduce consecutive sessions for some topics that streched over several days or even weeks. Interestingly, feedback for these webinars was mixed. Some participants perceived the possibility to reconnect on multiple days as helpful and were present at all time, while others decided to drop out for later sessions.
6.Don’t underestimate the role of sound quality
Listening to someone speaking with low-quality sound can be immensely tiring, as it forces participants to focus on the sound the entire time. We experienced two possibilities to improve performance in that area. First of all, make sure to have a steady and strong internet connection. This allows information to be transmitted without interruptions. Secondly, investing in a headset/microphone can help make your voice sound crystal clear, leaving background noise where it belongs – in the background.
7.Think about ways of encouraging discussion beforehand
There is a variety of possibilities to implement discussion episodes into a webinar. Of course, a classic way is to let people who would like to add their thoughts unmute their microphones. However, some people prefer not to speak in front of the whole group and that is okay. Therefore, if someone would like to contribute via the chat, we need to make sure to integrate their thoughts into the conversation. From NGO Academy’s experience, we realised that giving inputs and leading discussions at the same time can be stressful for some lecturers. Therefore, we propose having an additional person as a moderator who can primarily focus on inputs from participants and time management.
8.Last but not least – we can’t wait to meet our participants again
Yes, webinars and online services are a great way of keeping in touch with our network members. But unfortunately, a few central parts of NGO Academy were (temporarily) lost in the transition to online offers. Enlightening talks in breaks, informal dinners, and many other social aspects which are key to the NGO Academy experience are simply not possible at the moment. Therefore, we cannot wait to welcome you to offline workshops in the future!
2020 was a challenging year. Nevertheless, your inspiring stories of how you managed to battle the crisis amazed us. We wish you happy holidays and a strong and wonderful start into the year 2021!
P.S.: This text is a result of our observations and most importantly the participants’ feedback. If you have any additional thoughts or inputs please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.