With schools and offices closed around the world, both students and professionals have been forced to adapt to a new way of increasing their knowledge base: virtual learning.
Virtual learning, or distance learning, can take many forms: from listening to a recorded video, to clicking through a self-paced module, to attending an online training session with a group of other people. Regardless of the form it takes, you should see virtual learning as an investment in yourself and your future success. And since you likely want to be a successful person, you should also want to be a successful virtual learner.
The first thing you should do if you want to be a successful virtual learner almost goes without saying: minimize distractions. That’s easier said than done a lot of times, but it’s absolutely critical. To start, tackle the biggest distraction of them all: your email. Turn off the notifications, even if only temporarily. Better yet, close your email entirely. Let that number in the inbox grow. It’s ok, really it is. Allow some correspondence to go unanswered while you focus on training. If you’re worried about someone feeling ignored by not receiving a quick response, set an out of office message. State in it that you’re stepping away from your email for a while to focus on training. Maybe even include the topic of the training session in that message. This will only make you look like a more serious and dedicated professional. Consider implementing this as an organization-wide best practice if you’re someone in a position of influence.
Since you’re closing your email, go ahead and close all other distracting programs too while you’re at it. Close your messaging program. Close your web browser. Close any other software programs you might have running. Ideally, and whenever possible, the only windows you should have open are the ones you’re using for training.
Now that those digital desktop distractions have been eliminated, it’s time to do the same for any physical desktop distractions; chief among them: your phone. Put it on silent. Flip it screen side down. Maybe put it in a drawer or across the room. Better yet, put it on silent it, flip it down, and put it in a drawer across the room. It’s going to be very tempting to want to pick up your phone during a virtual training session. Do whatever you can to avoid that temptation.
If you need something to do with your hands to stay focused, take notes. Study after study proves that when it comes to learning, virtual or otherwise, for various neurological reasons, everyone retains more information when they take notes. That is to say, handwritten notes. Keep some paper handy during virtual training. That way, you can record your notes the good old-fashioned way. Not only will it help you better retain what you learn, but it will also give you a reference resource after training ends.
While old-fashioned paper is best for taking notes, new-fangled digital technologies are what make distance learning so easy and convenient. There are any number and variation of platforms available for virtual learning, each with its own bells and whistles. To be a successful virtual learner, it’s important that you know your tools.
Invest some time in practicing with the learning platform. Familiarize yourself with the various features and functions it has. Know the appropriate way to use them to participate in training. A best practice to consider is implementing mandatory training on the learning platform itself. Many vendors offer self-paced or recurring instructor-led sessions free of charge. Take advantage of them or customize one specifically for your organization. It’s an important step in making all other learning initiatives successful.
There are often many features available in digital learning platforms to help enhance the remote learning experience, and even if they won’t all be used for every training session, it’s still a good idea to be familiar with them. Does the platform have file sharing capabilities? Then know how to share files through it. Are there ways to participate with buttons or icons? Know where those are and what they mean. Is there a whiteboard? Practice using it. Can you draw or annotate? Learn how. Might you use breakout sessions? Understand how to participate in those. Know how to send chat messages to the host, presenter, and fellow participants. And, perhaps most importantly, know where to find and how to use your mute button!
Be aware, too, that technical problems can and might occur, so know who to contact when that happens to you. Have the technical support info ready and available should you need assistance. The best person to inform might be the host, but it’s typically not the speaker. Interrupting the session because you’re having technical issues only serves to distract everyone and takes time away from learning. Organizational leaders should make it clear who to contact and how to do so should there be any need for troubleshooting.
Another important key to being a successful virtual learner is staying engaged. While the best virtual instructors will make every effort to keep their audience interested, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the virtual learner to stay engaged. It can be very easy and tempting to approach virtual learning as a passive event; to simply sit there and let the presentation play out or to let others do the work. This is a mistake, and it robs you of an important growth opportunity. You’re investing time in training for a reason. Maximize that time. Participate in the activities. Ask questions. Be willing to answer questions. Contribute your thoughts and ideas to discussions. Be a leader and model this behavior for others. It only takes one person to get the participation ball rolling. Be that person.
This is easy to do if you come prepared. Invest some time beforehand readying to participate. Read up on the topic. Become familiar with the basic concepts. Be ready to talk about possible discussion items. Prepare some questions. It’s quite likely that your questions will be similar to those others might have, but it’s also possible that you’ll think of an angle nobody else considered. In either case, everybody wins when you’re prepared to participate.
Stay engaged afterward, too. Just because your module was completed, or your session ended, it doesn’t mean that your opportunity for learning has concluded. Keep reading about the topic. Keep discussing it with your colleagues and friends. Be ready and willing to share your new knowledge with others. Often the best way to gauge how well you understand something is when you have to explain it to others.
As the famed bluesman BB King once said, “the beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” This is absolutely true; and learning is a beautiful thing. Nobody can take learning away from you, it’s true, but you can take yourself away from learning. That’s particularly easy to do when learning on a virtual basis. When you keep learning, though, you keep growing, and only by continuing to grow can you continue to achieve. Make sure you’re maximizing your potential to grow and achieve by being a successful virtual learner.
Tips for Being a Successful Virtual Learner