How many webinars have you attended recently? During COVID, professional organizations are putting out content faster than we can collectively consume it. And when we do participate in webinars or virtual conference sessions, it’s only a matter of time before email notifications and text messages from coworkers coax our attention away from the presenter.
With so much informative content out there, opportunities for professional education and development have dramatically expanded. But if we aren’t fully engaging with the content, then we aren’t learning. So what does it take to minimize distractions and make the most of virtual learning events?
In-person seminars and conferences provide a sense of group accountability for learning, says Michelle Sterling, owner and founder at Vis Activa Learning, so you need to build in a framework for accountability in a virtual learning environment, too.
Here are three tips for minimizing distractions and maximizing commitment, accountability and engagement during virtual learning events.
Make a Full Commitment to Learning
Being fully engaged in a virtual event requires more than logging in and paying partial attention while answering emails. “If you really want to learn, you have to do the work,” says Brent Schlenker, user community director at dominKnow Learning Systems. Schedule virtual events in your calendar with a buffer beforehand to prepare your learning goals and afterward to process what you’ve learned.
Here are some of the questions Sterling suggests asking yourself as you prepare for the event:
- What is this webinar/session about?
- What is my goal for participating?
- What do I want to walk away with?
- Who else might be interested in hearing about what I learn?
- How does this fit into what I'm doing?
- Is this long-term development or an immediate need?
Answering these questions helps you set specific goals for learning. It’s especially helpful to apply what you learn to specific work outcomes, Schlenker says. If the webinar is on employee engagement, your goal might be to implement new ways to increase engagement in your onboarding process.
To minimize distractions, turn off your phone’s ringer and notifications and close your inbox. Let coworkers and family members know that you won’t be responding to non-emergency communications. “We live in a heightened sense of importance and urgency,” Sterling says. “Close your mail notifications, put your phone on silent and turn it upside-down.”
Engage With Other Participants
Engagement is key to maintaining interest and developing accountability for learning outcomes. Try to interact with fellow attendees in the chatroom, Schlenker says, or at least see what they’re discussing or what types of questions they have for the presenter. This could spark ideas or perspectives you hadn’t considered before.
If there are opportunities for breakout sessions or small group discussions, join in. Breakouts are common in virtual conferences and often allow you to engage directly with the presenter and fellow attendees. Ask questions relating to real problems you’re solving and share best practices with your peers in HR.
You’ll be exposed to diverse perspectives, and discussing the material will help you process and maintain the information from the session. “It makes you feel like you're in a big conference rather than just passively digesting premade content,” Sterling says. This boosts your sense of community and strengthens your accountability for learning.
Plan to Share What You Learn
You can amplify your sense of accountability by planning to teach someone else three takeaways from the event. If you go into an event knowing someone expects you to share what you’ve learned, you’re more likely to listen actively, Sterling says. It also affects how you engage with the content.
When attending virtual events, we often rely on the recording safety net. If we know we’ll have access to a recording in a day or two we’re less likely to take notes or listen actively. But let’s face it: nobody has the time to go back and rewatch a webinar. Telling yourself that will only get in the way of fully engaging in the live session.
To avoid this, make plans to meet with a colleague or your virtual mentor the same day to share what you learn. Take notes to help you process the event’s content. How you process information depends on your learning preferences, Sterling says. If you’re more visually-oriented, try mapping out concepts shared in the presentation, she suggests. If you’re an auditory learner, record yourself repeating the ideas you’ve just learned in your own words.
If you can record concepts in your own words effectively enough to teach a colleague, then you can work together to apply those concepts in real-life.