Transforming physical workshop into an online program - An experience sharing.
From 5th-8th May 2020, SSI India conducted the first-ever Fundamentals program on-line, for a batch of enthusiastic Maverick fans from Mumbai and Pune. It was a week of learning for our upcoming group of Master Consultants as well as for Team-Maverick Minds.
The nature of this Semco Style workshop is such that it wasn't all that obvious when we first thought about this. The program's success depends a lot on learning participants draw from the role plays, experience sharing, and reflective conversations amongst the participants. The sharing really starts like a bush fire as participants begin to interact with each other, "break the proverbial ice," and build trust. In that sense, these workshops are designed for in-person (even residential in some countries) set-up. But with continued locked-down, nothing of this was an option. We had two choices, either do nothing till travel and social distancing restrictions ease out or embrace technology and prepare ourselves for new normal taking this workshop on-line. We, of course, chose later.
But organizing a highly experiential and social learning program on a platform other than face to face, without compromising on the quality of learning was no small challenge. Experience said participants in an in-person workshop engage more because they are away from distractions of work and home. A full-day in-person workshop is not usually strenuous because of breaks and the possibility of participants walking around. Learning workshops like these leverage role-play, team games, and small group discussions in break-out sessions break the monotony and accelerate learning. The facilitator can change speed, depth, or scope based on participants' reactions.
There were many questions. How do we keep participants in their chairs for 2 full days? Can we hold their attention when all are participating from their homes? How will we make it equally experiential while being on-line? Can technology support such a situation? What is the optimum class size that would ensure the most optimum experience for all?
Even for a team of all veterans, we knew we don't have answers to all questions. And we were comfortable with that. We decided that the best way to find the right answers was to not allow the experience to become the burden. We relied on the collective wisdom and lots of common sense. Decisions like designing 4 sessions of 4 hours, limiting total participants to a max of 9, including facilitators, picking up the time slot of evening 4.30 to 8.30 to tackle the network bandwidth challenge, choice of break-out session activities and content to trigger deep reflections, had one thing in common. A shared purpose of delivering the highest and near personal learning experience to all participants.
Technology - availability of sufficient bandwidth to support video all the time, as well as the familiarity of tech platforms, can make or break the effectiveness of on-line programs. The idea of having a separate introduction session, scheduled a day before, turned out to be a great idea to give everyone ample time to know each other, to get familiar with technology without the time pressure of the actual session. Introducing a "home-work" for participants at the end of each session to cement the learning of the day turned out to be a key to mitigate the risk of participants losing the momentum and connect when content is delivered in short bursts.
In hindsight, the actual workshop went well wasn't a surprise. It was built on the foundation of some critical Semco Style practices. It was designed using common sense, "planned-rehearsed-and course-corrected," expecting unexpected. And there was an upside. Technology turned out to be a great leveler. In a classroom setting, the facilitator, by standing in the front and facing participants sitting in whatever formation, assumes a position of power. With the on-line platform, it all changed. The relationship between facilitators and participants was more of a peer. Ideal for workshops like these. Seeing everyone on screen at the same time, even when some content is being shared and exchanging thoughts like peer-to-peer, certainly raised the quality of social learning.
While Mumbai Mavericks laid a strong foundation on Semco Style, learning from us as well as from each other, we also learned a lot on how to effectively facilitate on-line experiential learning. Now, as they prepare to take on the next module, we are also ready for the new normal on another dimension.