Online Training: 5 Takeaways from a Social Learning Experiment

This summer, GovLoop hosted its first ever multi-week social online training, called “Your Path to Leadership: Mastering Core Competencies to Get Ahead in Government.” The course examined 10 traits of a great leader, each of which corresponded to one of the Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) of the Senior Executive Service (SES). The course consisted of the following elements:

  • Course workbook with required readings
  • Weekly webinar led by two SMEs (and audience Q&A)
  • Weekly online discussion with all participants about a challenge posed by the SMEs
  • Weekly reflection journals
  • Live “office hours”

We’ve since made all of the course materials available to the GovLoop community (you can access it here) so you can walk through the course at your own pace, but we also wanted to share some thoughts and lessons we learned in creating the course.

Of the People, by the People, for the People

In seeking to make a truly “social” course, we thought setting the tone meant everything. To us, this meant making sure that our content reflected the social experience of GovLoop even before the course began. To do this, we pulled from the GovLoop community’s blogs and discussions when developing the course workbook. If you check out our leadership guide you’ll notice that we draw from a wide pool of GovLoop members who have years of experience dealing with the issues the course grapples with. We also selected Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), all of whom were existing GovLoop members, to present content, rather than bringing in an outside expert. By using experts who already had a feel for the audience through prior engagement on GovLoop, our SMEs were able to set the right tone in their presentations and expected a lot of back and forth in Q&A.

Make it Tangible

When planning activities (discussions, cases, etc.), it’s really important to make discussions tangible. Why talk about a bunch of hypothetical examples when there is a wealth of valuable experience, accumulated over years working in government, represented in the crowd? Chances are, if someone from the crowd puts out an actual challenge he/she has faced, others will be able to relate. Not only does it provide a more concrete way to think about some of the issues, but it can also help some of the participants deal with actual challenges they may be facing in their professional lives.

Engagement is Really, Really Hard

People are busy. Really busy. As a result, it can be hard to keep participants actively engaged throughout an entire course. Even more so when they are participating in a course during their lunch breaks, after hours, or on the weekends. In my experience, GovLoopers tend to be highly motivated and have a lot on their plates. It can be hard for participants to carve out the ideal amount of time to complete a course. As such, it’s important to make a small, live portion of the course “sacred,” where participants should really strive to carve out time to attend a real-time session so they can ask questions and interact with the speakers and instructors. Then, everything that isn’t live should be made as flexible and quick/easy to use as possible. That way, participants can engage whenever/wherever they have time, using whatever means they have available (laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.).

Don’t Dismiss the Instructors

Social learning does not mean learning without an instructor. Instead, it means interacting with the instructor in new and different ways, and also being able to take advantage of the wealth of experience embodied by other participants. It’s critical to ensure participants still have access to instructors for feedback, questions they might not have wanted to ask in a group setting, and for networking.

Finally, on a related note…

Don’t Lose the Personal Touch

There are all sorts of programs and services available to make your outreach and engagement easier. However, if participants don’t feel like you are engaging them as an individual, none of that will matter. It never fails to amaze me how quickly and enthusiastically people respond to personal outreach, as opposed to group messages. If engagement is an issue, or you feel like your participants may be having trouble keeping up, reach out to them personally to find out how the situation can be improved. The personal interaction alone can spur action in many cases and, in other cases, there might be a simple fix you might not otherwise have realized.

Have you ever participated in an online group/social course, where interaction with instructors and participants was the norm? How did it go? What were your big takeaways from the experience?

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