Taking the plunge with an eLN Team Membership

A few years ago I served a tenure as eLN Board Director. I’ve always been a huge advocate of the eLN, and the work it and its great team do.

Its core philosophy is one of digital learning professionals giving back to other digital learning professionals. Getting involved doesn’t mean getting sold to or being told by ‘experts’ that everything you’re doing is wrong. It’s a community focused on the sharing of practical insights and is one that I have extremely fond memories of playing a small part to help cultivate.

When I joined my current organisation, Flow Learning, a few months ago I knew that I would be inheriting a learning design team who were eager to learn more about the sector, and the skills that they could cultivate. When I was thinking about their professional development, one of the first things I thought of to do was to sign them up to the eLN.

Given the situation with pandemic, however, I wasn’t sure if this was the right time. When I was a Board member of the eLN one of the elements that I was highly active in was running its events. I got so much out of these, not just as an organiser but also as a delegate. Lots of learning and development events are very large, frenetic, and can sometimes feel a little intimidating. But this was never my experience of those organised by the eLN. That sense of community fostered, of connecting with like-minded professionals, was always very keenly felt.

With face-to-face get-togethers almost exclusively curtailed, I didn’t want my team to join the Network and not have the same positive experience that I had of it. But after talking to Joan Keevill, Chair, and Board member, Gemma Wells, I completely appreciated the effort and determination being put into ensuring that the eLN experience was not being compromised. Given the stellar series of online professional development events being lined up, I knew I’d be a fool to not sign my guys up.

So far, the team have been most active in joining in the fantastic webinars being held. Some of them, still quite young and finding their feet in the sector, were unsure what to expect, and were a little nervous about joining in. But as my colleague Stacey Wylie, a learning experience designer, explains:

“I’ve really enjoyed how welcoming the eLN webinars have been and feel like part of this wonderful community already. There’s always a bit of anxiety before showing your face as a newbie in these things but I can tell with each webinar that the hosts are really genuinely happy to see me there. It really feels like a resource where I can ask a fellow LXD or ID their thoughts on a process or a problem, and I’m happy to say that I’ve stayed in touch with several people I’ve met through the webinars already!”

I’m also looking forward to signing the team up to the mentorship programme. Although I feel I have a lot to contribute to their ongoing professional development, I’m excited about them being exposed to new ideas and insights outside of my own experience and context and bringing these back to the team and their work.

Given all of the benefits on offer for the incredible value for money fee, I would encourage any manager thinking of signing up for a team eLN membership to do it. And if you’re a team member, go hassle your manager to get them to enrol you and your colleagues without taking no for an answer!

What to do next?

If James’ recommendation has sparked your interest, please email our eLN Virtual Administrator and she will detail the process.

Get to know the eLN Chair: Joan Keevill

Joan Keevill joined the board of the eLN in 2016 and was elected to Chair in 2018. She was due to step down as Chair in November 2020 but stayed on an additional year to steer the eLN through the pandemic whilst bringing new board directors into eLN. Joan and husband Paul have just relocated from Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire to Hinton-in-the-Hedges, near Brackley, Northamptonshire. She runs her own learning design consultancy, Designs on Learning, which was set up in 2008.

What do you like most about the L&D field?
It’s got to be the people! I’ve met so many interesting colleagues over the years and many of them have become really good friends. They constantly inspire me and are there for me if I need support.

What made you decide to stand for the eLN board?
I had reached a point where work had dropped off a bit and I found myself with some free time. I wanted to do something useful and thought being on the board would give me a chance to give something back to the profession.

What would your dream job be?
I’m nearing retirement so it’s a bit late for that but if I had the opportunity to go back in time, I would love to have been a singer in a band, probably a backing singer – harmonies come easily to me, even though I don’t think I have a great voice!

If you could change 1 thing about the world of L&D, what would it be?
If I had a magic wand I’d use it to charm the folks in L&D, who insist on doing things the way they’ve always done them, to adopt new practices, ones that are more effective in achieving behaviour change and performance improvement. It never ceases to amaze me that UK productivity remains so low and we constantly have a skills shortage, when £££s are poured into training and development activities year on year. There’s something we’re not doing right and that has to change. The pandemic gives us that opportunity to do things differently. I’m an ex-teacher so I think we need to look at how we educate our kids at school, too. It should be less about knowledge transfer and more about learning to collaborate – and learning to learn effectively!

What does a typical work day look like to you?
I’ve been working from home since 2008 and have a good set up – iMac with large screen, superfast broadband, etc. I get started around 9.00am and usually work through till 6pm or later, if I need to. The pandemic stopped me from meeting clients in person but Zoom has been a godsend and I have lots of meetings on that or on Teams during the week. Working for myself allows me to flex my hours so that, for example, I can go for a walk during the day if the weather is nice.

What book are you reading right now? Or what podcast are you listening to?
I’m listening to the Women Talking About Learning series but not getting through them as fast as I’d like! I tend to listen to the radio a lot. I’ve just started reading The Learning & Development Handbook by Michelle Parry-Slater and am really enjoying her writing style. Otherwise, I’ll be reading some detective story or other.

What is your favourite type of training to either build or deliver?
I love writing scenario-based learning. I started doing this with (eLN Director) Jason Baker in 2010 for a client who needed a global anti-corruption programme and have been doing it in one form or another ever since. I like to have what I call ‘consequential feedback’: instead of telling the learner if they got the right or wrong answer, you explain the consequences of the decision they just took. I find it helps learners to empathise and imagine themselves in that position – and hopefully think twice before doing the wrong thing.

If you could give yourself advice when you were first starting out, what would it be?
Be clear about what you want to do and map out a way to get there – and be confident in your own abilities. I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do after university and drifted into teaching. I was successful at it, rising to Head of Department but the poor discipline wore me down. I think I was very fortunate that a job came up in BBC Education (as Languages Advisor) and I got it. It was a big step from BBC Languages to BBC Training but that’s when I realised that the skills I had were transferable. My old boss gave me the confidence to set up my own business and I’m so glad I did! It feels like I’m in my 3rd career now.

What has been your proudest moment?

I think my proudest moment was having my son, Jamie. We had tried for years to have a family and went through years of IVF. I had to be very resilient but it was all worth it in the end. He’s turned into a delightful young adult and a competent racing driver (in the amateur series we do).

If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to?

I chose 2008 in a recent podcast with Jane Daly, as that’s the year I set up my own business, but there are so many years I could choose: 1978 when I met my husband, 1979 when we were married, or 1994 when Jamie was born…

If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?

I think right now it would be to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine even faster than is happening now, so we could all return to normality! I can’t wait to get back to travelling, the theatre, pubs and restaurants and seeing friends in person.


If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?
I could choose someone well known but, instead, I’d go for my own parents and my in-laws. They’ve all gone now and there’s so much I’d like to update them on. You tend to take your parents for granted then they’ve gone and you have so much more you wanted to say to them.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
I don’t do daring, I’m a coward! I did once canoe down the white water rapids in Cataract Canyon in Utah which was amazing. I stayed in the bigger boat with an instructor while Paul and Jamie went into the small canoes – Jamie got tipped out but loved it!

What three items would you take with you on a deserted island?
Sun screen – I’m very fair and would burn instantly otherwise! A constant supply of contact lenses or tinted specs – I’m blind as a bat without them. Thirdly, snorkelling gear: I’ve snorkelled in places like the Maldives and the Caribbean and I’m sure there would be coral reefs to explore around this island.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?
As for Q13, I avoid things I don’t like the look of, including shellfish, octopus – anything that looks too much like what it is!

Would you rather win the lottery or work at the perfect job?
It would have to be the lottery, as I’ve had a few perfect jobs already and am now thinking about my retirement, albeit a gradual one. Having a decent amount of money would allow us to fulfil our global travel aspirations, as well as help out the family. It’s not easy trying to get onto the housing ladder when you’re paying rents in London of £800+ per month, as Jamie currently is. Mind you, he’ll be in a strong financial position once we’ve gone!

Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?
The media – listening to the radio, reading the paper, watching the news, even using social media as it keeps me in touch with what’s going on. A colleague at the eLN told me recently that my social media notifications were right up there on her feed, along with BBC News. I must say, that got me thinking I should rein in a bit! Plenty of time for that when you’re old and decrepit, I say.

Remote working: were you ready?

In May 2019 the eLN published an insight article titled ‘Remote working: Is your organisation ready?’: little did we know then what was going to happen in just over 6 months.

For throwback Thursday I’m going to look at that article and put a 2021 spin on it, given that many people in our industry are now working from home.

The stats

The article predicted 50% of employees were expected to be working from home by 2020. That prediction wasn’t far off, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) records 46.6% of people did some work from home in April 2020. 

At this point we were in the beginning of the first UK lockdown.

Initial results from the eLN and PeopleStar research, which is open until 26 February 2021, show some of the impact working from home is having on people.

For instance, 34% have transformed their business model in the last 6 months. I can understand that, especially if your business was specialising in face-to-face training.

One of the worrying statistics which is coming out of this research is that 50% of people are less active. Now, I’ve never been an active person at the best of times and now I can quite easily go a full week without leaving the house. Most of my day is spent sitting at my desk. I have become a little more active since I bought a wireless headset so I can walk around my room when I’m on meetings. But before the first lockdown I was commuting to Manchester every day, walking 1-2 miles which I’m simply not doing right now.

Productivity and efficiency

The original article stated 53% of people would feel more productive and 58% would feel more motivated when working remotely.

The eLN and PeopleStar research indicates that 28% of people say they are working longer hours; I know myself I spend longer at my laptop because I’m not rushing to catch the train home. So, another aspect is that people are expected to be available at all times. You don’t have to commute so why not squeeze in another meeting, or an extra half an hour of design work?

Personally, I feel I have always been more productive when working from home, but that could be due to my set up. Many years ago, when I was employed, I would work from the living room with my laptop on my knee. Fast forward to 2017 when I became self-employed: I created a dedicated working space with an additional screen, which greatly increased my productivity. 

I remember when I first started working from home and there was a little bit of a stigma around it. People would think you were just taking the day off and watching TV instead of working. They didn’t realise that I was actually doing more work when I wasn’t in the office!

Is flexible working here to stay?

The original article stated 67% of people wish they were offered flexible working and 70% of workers felt offering flexible working made a job more attractive to them. In 2019 some organisations were already listening to their employees and offering flexible or remote working.

Our research suggests 25% of people are now juggling work and home schooling, with self-employed people finding this more challenging. 

I wonder if the original article’s statistics would be lower if they factored in the home-schooling element? And I wonder how this has affected people’s morale?

Once the pandemic is over and people have the opportunity to head back into offices, will they?

Challenges we overcame

Recruitment, induction and onboarding

Organisations have had to step up when it comes to recruitment. They’ve had no choice.

Gone are the days where you had a 2-week face-to-face induction, followed by 3 weeks’ buddying (that was standard at the call centres I worked in).

Now people are interviewed online, complete virtual training, eLearning, virtual coaching. 

The pandemic has forced organisations to evolve: the question is, could we or should we have done this sooner?

Collaboration and communication

Our research shows 34% of people are feeling less connected but on the flip side 16% have started to connect and network more. If you’re reading this as a full eLN member, you’re in the right place!

The original article states communication is key, and it’s right!

When I was in the office, my team all sat together so communication was easy. Now we have check-ins 3 times per week on top of our weekly team meeting. We have made the effort to be more connected.

That’s what we need to do, make the effort, speak to people, not just over instant chat like Teams. Actually, pick up the phone and talk. Which leads us on to the next point.

Stress and wellbeing

During the pandemic, stress levels have increased. This is down to many factors, some of which are listed in this article.

  • Working longer hours
  • WFH and home schooling
  • Feeling less connected
  • Exercising less.

Organisations have a responsibility to look after their staff wellbeing. But what about self-employed people?

Just after the first lockdown, the eLN started the monthly Tea & Talk sessions which allow members to chat to other members. This can decrease stress as you are getting some face-to-face connection, can talk and know people are listening, as well as sharing your concerns. As I said before, we need to make the effort to decrease our stress, finding things which work for us individually. For me it helps to have a couple of people I can call at any time to vent to if I am feeling stressed.

In conclusion

Nobody expected a pandemic to happen or for most people to be working from home or even forced out of work. If you are struggling, reach out, join a network because there are people out there who feel the same as you and can help, even if like me you just need someone to listen while you vent your frustrations.

The internet is flooded with articles, webinars, blogs and videos about living and working in a pandemic-stricken world. The MIT Sloan Management Review published this article on ‘Redesigning the Post-Pandemic Workplace’. It talks of the changing work-world we live in and offers hope about how it can bring new opportunities to people. Read it and see if it resonates with you.

David Kelly’s blog from his recent session at #LTDX21 discusses ‘The Now and Next of Learning & Technology’. He looks at the technology that will shape our future and he includes many links to useful information and articles. Many of contents of the articles still ring true and can help us navigate 2021 and beyond.

One last statistic for you: our research shows that 25% of people are now studying to improve their employability. If you are a full eLN member, you could benefit from having an eLN Mentor or from attending one of our interactive webinar series on all aspects of eLearning and learning design.

What do you think? Keep an eye out on LinkedIn and get involved in the discussions.

Get to know the eLN Director: Jason Baker

Jason Baker is Director of Learning Product Design & Innovation for global Integrated Risk Management solutions provider SAI Global. He has over 20 years of experience in the design and development of effective digital learning experiences and today helps organisations manage their ‘people-risk’ through impactful learning programmes and campaigns that deliver measurable behaviour and culture change. Jason has been a member of the eLN for six years and is in his second year as a director.

What do you like most about the L&D field?

I love the talented and inspiring people that I get to meet and work with within our digital learning community. Tools, technologies and methodologies are changing rapidly as the need for digital learning evolves and grows, so I love how we’re all continually learning from each other.

What made you decide to stand for the eLN board?

I’ve been on the fringes of the eLN for many years and have always enjoyed and found great value in the eLN CONNECT conference. I chose to stand for the board as I wanted to give something back to a community that has supported my own digital learning journey.

What would your dream job be?

Assuming that my chances of being an international rock guitar god, Olympic skier or Tour de France cyclist have long since passed, I’d be quite happy to be an indie music producer, discovering and nurturing some cool new bands.

If you could change 1 thing about the world of L&D, what would it be?

Do I only get one? I think most of all I’d like to see an acceleration in the fundamental shift towards ‘substance’ over ‘form’. In other words, I’d like to see many more learning projects initiated with a very clear idea of the business impact they need to achieve, and then designed and implemented to measurably achieve it. We need to leave far behind the days of building pretty learning courses “on a topic” and measuring them on consumption, rather than on whether they actually made the desired difference.

What does a typical workday look like to you?

Working with a US-based team from the UK, I usually have my mornings to myself, so that’s when I can get my head down to imagine, create, design and define as I work on new POC or MVP projects. My afternoons, and sometimes my evenings too, are usually spent on video calls working with my team.

What book are you reading right now?

I wish I had more time for books, but I do have a soft spot for history. The Floating Brothel by Siân Rees is a fascinating story of the journey of the first female convicts sent to Australia just a year after the first fleet.

What is your favourite type of training to either build or deliver?

I’ve been designing digital learning experiences for over 20 years, using all sorts of different tools and technologies, but most of all I’ve enjoyed building simulations. Providing learners with opportunities for safe practice by applying situational judgement in relevant and credible scenarios can be a hugely valuable part of a learning experience and helps shift an experience from ‘knowledge’ to ‘performance’. My focus today, however, is very much on data and analytics and the capture of meaningful data from learning experiences to generate actionable insights, which is fascinating.

If you could give yourself advice when you were first starting out, what would it be?

Trust your instincts, be confident and back yourself. But most of all engage with the digital learning community whenever you can. They’re lovely people and you’ll learn a lot!

What has been your proudest moment?

My first Gold eLearning Award is certainly high on the professional side of things, but aside from my great pride in my wonderful family, cycling 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the AIDS/Lifecycle charity event is definitely up there.

If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to? And why?

I certainly wouldn’t mind going back to the 60s/70s to catch some of the greats in concert; Hendrix, Zeppelin and the rest…

If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?

That would have to be the power to fly. I wouldn’t be a very good super-hero, as I’d be too busy flying around exploring new places!

If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?

The Dalai Llama always seems like a good laugh, but I’d have a few 18th century explorers and mad Victorian adventurers along too. Imagine the stories they could tell…

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?

Probably becoming a dad. If bravery is overcoming fear of the unknown, little can prepare you for parenthood. You just need to grit your teeth, strap in and enjoy the ride.

What three items would you take with you on a deserted island? And why?

A good hat, my guitar, and a few cases of good wine. What more could you need?

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?

I’m not really much of an adventurous eater. I tried durian (a weird fruit) once – let’s just say it’s an acquired taste…

Would you rather win the lottery or work at the perfect job? And why?

Perfect job for sure. Have you ever seen a truly happy lottery winner? I would feel bad knowing I’d done nothing to earn the cash aside from being a lucky so and so. I’d much rather get paid to do my hobby.

Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?


Setting your project up for success when using a freelancer

I defy anyone to say that they don’t want to save money, time and sanity on their projects, without having to cut corners, features or quality. And the great news is that when hiring freelancers there are ways you can improve efficiency and processes to do this, and most of them are quick and easy.

Here are my top 10 tips for creating a fabulous relationship with freelancers.

  1. Explain your processes upfront

Let your freelancer know what will be expected of them. Every company I work for has totally different approaches when it comes to processes and paperwork, especially in the kick-off phase. Sometimes there isn’t even a kick off – just ‘here’s the content, off you go’.

Other companies are very rigid in their processes, documents and expectations. When you are at a distance from companies, as freelancers are, it makes it even harder to understand the processes and what to expect.

By having a guidance document or exploratory call to explain your processes (and offering a recap if it is a while between projects) this can help get everyone off to a great start.

  1. Give all the information upfront

It sounds an odd point and many of you may be thinking “well, of course” or “why wouldn’t you?”, but you may be surprised how many businesses don’t provide all the relevant information upfront.

There have been a few projects lately where I have got part way through before someone has told me either:

(a) they had another file that clarified things a lot more

(b) they already had a version of that resource I just created, or

(c) they have realised they had forgotten to give me the input (or feedback) from a key stakeholder.

This leads to wasted time researching answers to questions, emailing queries, creating resources from scratch and more.

  1. Have a company or project style guide ready (and give it to them!)

The style guide should include any preferences you – or your client – has around language, how buttons work, instruction formats, brand guidelines, even on how to use punctuation on bulleted lists! It may take time for you to put together at first, but it will save both you and the freelancer time in the long run (get them involved at the start of the project and your freelancer may even be happy to do this for you).

If you do have a style guide, make sure you send it to the freelancer – it is for everybody’s benefit. I actually worked with someone recently who was hesitant to send it on as if it was some long-sought golden treasure, and would just tell me the bits from it as and when things came up or when I asked the right questions. Needless to say, this isn’t an efficient way to work.

  1. Trust their guestimations of how long a project is expected to take

By all means give an idea of how much time is available in the project plan and is budgeted for. But if your person says it is going to take 4 days to do it, avoid bartering them down and giving ultimatums.

Not only does this provide a negative start to the relationship, it shows you are not valuing their time or expertise. They are the best judge of how much it will take them to get the quality and their work speed. Trying to barter time down can give the impression you are not bothered about quality or doing a job properly, or do not trust them.

  1. Trust them

As with the point above, bear in mind that it is extremely difficult to give exact figures and timings at the start of a project (especially if you have not even seen the content yet). I am frequently asked to provide exact figures when I haven’t even seen how well developed the content is and the inclusion of factors like narration have not been decided on.

Plus, there are always caveats needed for late content, customers taking twice the length of time to provide feedback, a change of minds mid project and more. Hopefully a contract is in place that will help you all to see what is out of scope, and sort costs accordingly. But if a project is looking like it may go over/under time specified, don’t presume the freelancer is out to pull a fast one or doesn’t know what they are doing. There are so many variables that it is difficult to work out timings and costs up front and it is rare that a project will come out exactly as planned.

  1. Give specific feedback

“I spotted a couple of typos”

“I don’t think this page works”

“This information isn’t quite right”

“Some pages need expanding”

And every freelancer’s favourite – “can you just add a bit more ‘something’?”.

More ‘wow factor’. Some ‘pizazz’.

If something isn’t right, provide the specifics, tell us how to correct or amend it and tell us what screen or slide it is on.

Send screenshots or make notes as you go through. Even just a slide number will do. Time spent hunting through 63 slides with multiple layers for an erroneous hyphen is not time well spent.

Aside from this creating an emails and queries back and forth, it also avoids the frequent “I can’t remember what the problem was/where it was” when you do revisit it to clarify – on both sides.

  1. Combine feedback before sending it on

This is a favourite tip that saves a lot of time for me when done right.

There are often multiple stakeholders who inevitably all have differing opinions on a piece of work, and often it can be conflicting and/or unclear. By making sure you have one designated person to collate feedback and send onto the freelancer you will pick up on any queries that arise as a result of differing opinions and be able to answer them before sending on – saving confusion on the freelancer’s part, avoiding a make amends/undo amends loop going on, and a lot of back and forth with communications.

  1. Send feedback via one format

In extension to the above point, try to stick to one feedback method. My clients vary in their preferences – some provide it in an excel doc, some by email, and others by the Articulate Review tool. As long as they stick to one method (or 2 max) for their project it is a lot easier to track what needs doing and what is complete.

I have lost many an hour hunting through message trails, emails, my notes and submitted comments to find feedback when something has cropped up again or queried. Sometimes they are never found.

  1. Make them feel part of your team

Not everyone will take to this, some freelancers prefer to stay at arm’s length, and some businesses prefer to keep them there, but again, every company I work for has a different approach.

With some of my clients I never speak to anyone other than my one designated project manager or contact, and may never cross paths with another soul.

Others invite you in as part of the team, make you a part of their virtual spaces and invite you to team sessions so you can understand what is going on and other people whose brains you can pick, and (in a pre-pandemic world) invite you to their offices to meet face to face.

Guess which one gets me more motivated and eager to give more bang for their buck?

  1. .. Pay them on time

You only have to glance at any freelance networks online to see that chasing late payments is the bane of any freelancer’s life. Most of us hate talking money as it is, so when we have to repeatedly chase payment this becomes not just frustrating, but can damage relationships.

If a freelancer asks you for part (or full) payment upfront, understand that this is likely to be why – they have been burnt too many times. Paying on time will help ensure that they want to work with you again too should the opportunity arise.

Ultimately you are paying for a freelancer’s time – so the less time they have to spend working out what is going on the better. The more time they can spend creating and firing marvellous ideas out of their noggins. And it of course works both ways.

As freelancers we learn from every project and will refine our processes and the questions we ask throughout the project, hopefully getting braver at asking for what we need with time and experience.

And as a bonus they will spread the word as to how fabulous you are to work with and there will be great freelancers fighting their way to your door.

Helen Hill is a self-employed Digital Learning, Content & Graphic Designer at Unlikely Genius Ltd. She has been working in content and learning design for five years, combining the skills gained during the previous nine years working as a graphic designer, a Further Education lecturer and developing literacy and e-learning in schools. Unlikely Genius is based on the principles of ensuring the user comes first, communicating in plain language and making content available and accessible to all. 

E: helen@unlikelygenius.com 

Avoid the dreaded Zoom fatigue

As we start 2021, trainers around the world share a collective hope that perhaps now we can plan a return to face-to-face classrooms and head towards normality once again. From a UK perspective, this New Year optimism has unfortunately left the building, as the nations are all in lockdown again.

We have at least six more weeks of restrictions – which for us means more Zoom meetings, live online learning and the risk of Zoom fatigue. It’s all very Groundhog Day, but just as Bill Murray’s character finds that changing his approach allows him to come out on top, we can do the same with live online learning – without the annoying groundhog nipping at our ankles!

During the first lockdown and rapid switch to home working, much was made of Zoom fatigue, where people were exhausted from staring at computer screens all day, cheeks hurting from feeling obliged to smile more at the webcam, and drained by the ubiquitous “you’re on mute” comments. As with anything that’s different, there’s the challenge of the new, amid a context of change and uncertainty.

Zoom or meeting fatigue?

I think an awful lot of Zoom fatigue is actually meeting fatigue. It’s not about using Zoom (or Teams, or Webex or anything else) so much as being in back-to-back meetings all day. In any modality, that would cause fatigue and have an impact on the other work we need to achieve.

However, the live online element is not without its issues. Some recent research revealed that 73% of those working from home have experienced video call anxiety, with 83% of respondents dreading technical problems, 41% concerned about lack of time to prepare their appearance, and 34% worrying about what’s visible in their background.

These findings could easily reflect the mood in virtual classroom training whereby we, inadvertently, cause consternation for our delegates. Covid winter or not, some elements of virtual classrooms and remote working will be here to stay and it’s up to us to make sure that, as designers and facilitators, we are making the best of virtual – for ourselves, our teams, our learners and the organisation as a whole.

The right skills

In my recent blog I reference various pieces of research on the status of digital delivery at the end of 2020 and the strategy needed for 2021. I highlight that for people to develop the necessary skills for virtual design and delivery, they need time, skills and investment – in ways that are appropriate for the individual, the end goal and the budget.

Any learning intervention needs to be right for the problem it’s solving. And for that you can look towards Action Mapping resources from Cathy Moore. Once a learning intervention has been decreed as the correct approach, it’s then about deciding which type of learning intervention to apply.

Using the time wisely

As much as I am a passionate advocate for virtual classrooms, they aren’t always the right option. You need to use the live time you have with people wisely – it shouldn’t be a lump of content that you “have to get through”; it should be a conversation and an opportunity to have activities and collaboration. If you have too much content, you should be looking at resources rather than courses.

Assuming you have the appropriate ratio of resources and content for your live session, it’s then about focusing on the design and delivery, all in the aid of supporting yourself and others while developing these skills, and avoiding Zoom fatigue. The structure of your live online session isn’t too different from what you do face-to-face. If the activities work for the learning points in your physical classroom, they probably will in the virtual classroom, too.

What will be different is some of the initial setup, as the location and environment are very different. I have a session structure you can look at which highlights just how similar face-to-face and virtual sessions can be, along with what new elements you’ll need to add – such as explaining the basic tools of your platform right at the beginning. That means, for example, getting people to open a chat window in Zoom or Teams so they have a way of communicating from the start. I also highlight how important it is to get people involved on the microphone early to normalise this way of interacting and ensure people don’t switch their attention from the session and start churning through their email.

Interact frequently!

Planning an interaction every few minutes is important – anything from a quick “green tick if…” through to using the chat window or whiteboard to answer questions and collaborate on discussions. And yes, it’s every few minutes, because not only do you want to keep people’s attention, you also want the feedback from your attendees. Just like face-to-face where you would constantly scan the room to ‘read’ your learners, you can do that live online by monitoring how people respond in the quick activities you facilitate.

Having a good facilitator guide can really help. It brings you three advantages: helping you break up your delivery so you keep people’s attention and don’t overload them; allowing you to plan a variety of interactions; and keeping you on schedule as you get accustomed to this new way of working.

Following these points can improve your skills at any level of teaching, training and facilitation, helping you to level up for the live online challenges of 2021 and avoid your own Groundhog Day of virtual mistakes.

Meet the Director: Dharmesh Chauhan

Dharmesh Chauhan

Hello, I’m Dharmesh Chauhan, a Digital Learning Consultant for Domestic & General. I look after our digital learning provision for third-party clients, working with organisations ranging from online and national retailers to domestic appliance manufacturers.

I’ve been an eLN Director for 14 months and a member for around 2 years.

What do you like most about the L&D field?

Whilst I’ve worked within an L&D function previously, I’m currently part of our Client Sales & Business Development function. What I enjoy most about my role is building relationships with client organisations as well as leading a team who are new to digital learning.

What made you decide to stand for the eLN board?

As an eLN member I wanted to be part of a collaborative network where we share and gain knowledge from each other’s experiences. As a Director I would like to help grow our community and raise awareness that the eLN is here to mentor, support, guide and inspire.

What would your dream job be?

Growing up I always wanted to be an archaeologist because of the Indiana Jones movies. As a child I believed that’s what archaeologists actually got up to when not lecturing!

A dream job now would be working within the CGI industry for movies. It involves technology, photography, getting out and about on location with some time working from home, all quite creative elements and right up my street.

What does a typical work day look like to you?

I’m usually with clients 3 days a week and spend a lot time travelling around the UK or down to our Wimbledon head office.

Given the lockdown, a typical day consists of checking in with my team to help them with any issues, keeping in touch with our clients to update them on various initiatives or projects, scoping out new client launch plans, working with the wider L&D team on blended learning initiatives and keeping on top of statutory and regulatory program completions.

Something a little bit different we’ve recently completed was our Move for Mind challenge which focused on wellbeing. This involved an entire department running, walking or cycling 3410 miles from London to Dubai (virtually), and we raised a staggering £1559 for Mind which was seriously impressive.

What book are you reading right now? Or what podcast are you listening to?

Currently on my playlist is the Eddie Hearn podcast No Passion No Point. I’m not a huge boxing fan but listening to people’s candid stories, challenges and successes keeps me inspired and focused.

In terms of a good read, I’m about to start The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which tells the story of a lady whose cells were taken from her body without her knowledge and were used to form the HeLa cell line, which became one of the most important tools in medicine.

What is your favourite type of training to either build or deliver? And why

Whilst a lot of my time is spent keeping on top of clients’ statutory and mandatory learning, what I most enjoy working on is our Engaging Conversations sales training program, which focuses on areas such as effective questions or converting product features into customer benefits.

It’s amazing how a few simple techniques can make a huge difference to both the customer experience and the learners’ performance in the workplace.

If you could give yourself advice when you were first starting out, what would it be?

Have confidence and believe in yourself.   Also, keep it ‘simples’ – usually the best ideas are the simple ones.

What has been your proudest moment?

In terms of professionally, I was delighted to win a Learning Pool award for the most innovative use of learning technologies in 2018. At the time I’d only been in digital learning for around 10 months and the project involved a full-scale rollout of a multi-tenant learning platform. It was a fantastic team effort with a lot of late nights and to receive that type of recognition and pick up the award made it all worthwhile.

Personally, I’d say my wedding day as we had two ceremonies in one day! We kicked off the day early with a traditional English church ceremony followed by the wedding breakfast, and in the evening, we condensed down what is usually a 4-hour Indian ceremony to a 90-minute blessing. All of our guests got changed from their traditional English attire into Indian clothes for the second ceremony, and despite the crazy schedule and many logistical challenges, everything turned out perfect on the day!

If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to and why?

I’d probably like to go forward rather than back in time to be honest, as I’ve always fancied trying out that DeLorean.

If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?

I’d choose to have the power to speak, write and communicate in any language. From human to non-human, from programming languages to extra-terrestrial communication. That would be a very useful superpower!

If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?

It would be great to enjoy a meal with both sets of grandparents as I never really knew them, and I’d love to introduce them to my daughter. Since becoming a father I’ve become more interested in hearing stories about what my parents were like as kids and I’m always trying to find out more about my family history.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?

Manta Ray snorkelling in the Maldives. Although they are not dangerous, they are huge, up to 7 meters in width! Scary as well as exciting! I would definitely try it again, but I’d probably like to opt for diving next time.

What three items would you take with you on a desert island and why?

My Indian spice tin! I’m not sure what my diet would consist of on a desert island so my spice options would be a real treat.  A football to help keep fit. A good quality spiced rum.

 What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?

Bone marrow soup when I was working in India – interesting!

Would you rather win the lottery or work at the perfect job? And why?

I’d want to win the lottery for obvious reasons, and then build a business enabling others to work their perfect job!

 Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?

Daily cuddles from my 14-month-old daughter, Isla. They make my day and always put a smile on my face.

Let’s talk about Learning Styles

You may be aware of Learning Styles and their well-argued and increasingly publicised demise. So did they ever have merit, or should we ignore them?

Learning Styles claims

Learning Styles state that learners have different modes of learning and their learning retention will be improved if they study in their preferred learning mode or style. The proposition of “modes of learning” can be identified as ‘impulsive vs. reflective’, ‘linear vs. holistic’, ‘reasoning vs. insight’, and ‘visual vs. verbal’ and beyond. 

These claims are not new; in 1944 the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was published, based on work by Carl Jung, mandating on four basic psychological functions: ‘Extraversion vs. introversion’, ‘Sensation vs. intuition’, ‘Thinking vs. feeling’ and ‘Judging vs. perceiving’. MBTI was a self-completed questionnaire that aimed to identify differences in psychological perspectives and decision-making. Whilst seemingly useful, MBTI produces a view to psychology that is rarely replicated within real life.

From 1985 to 1996, Kolb developed the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) to allow students to ‘discover their learning style’. During this time in 1992, Fleming categorised learners as ‘visual’, ‘auditory’, ‘reading/writing’, and ‘kinaesthetic’ within his VARK Learning Style Questionnaire. Learners self-identified with a particular style, and learning content was adapted as a result.

Whilst it is important for learners and education providers to understand how people learn, can the ‘auditory’ learner learn geography through hearing it, or a ‘visual’ learner become better at music by seeing it? If these subjects were taught against their self-identified preferred Learning Style, would the results be less effective?

The Nobel prize winner for 2000, Eric R. Kandel, discovered through scientific research that involved studying a marine snail that the brain’s memories are programmed by nerve cells. As the snail learned, chemical signals changed the structure of the connections between cells – synapses – where signals are sent and received. This is how all animals, including humans, learn.

In further studies, from 2006 onwards, Kratzig and Arbuthnot asked participants to self-identify and complete a Learning Styles questionnaire. Fewer than 50% of the participants identified the same Learning Style using both assessments. Consequently, no significant correlation between Learning Style and objective memory performance was demonstrated. 

Differences in ability

I would think that we all agree that people differ in ability, so would advocate that we should treat learners as individuals, planning for the differences affecting their performance. Some learners may have a specific disability, such as blindness, deafness or dyslexia. We should also consider that learners differ in their background knowledge, and that those differences influence their learning. However, these learners may not benefit from the application of Learning Styles: a learner who is visually impaired surely couldn’t be categorised as a visual learner.

Regardless of delivery method, a key aspect to learning is retrieval of content from memory. Learners can benefit from varying methods for memory retrieval, from simple multiple-choice quizzes to drag and drop, image recall, sequential process mapping, gap fills, and sentence completion. These are all valid methods and improve their ability to learn.

In a previous L&D role lead for a US Insurance multinational, I designed and delivered the induction sessions. Over the following 4 years, I had first-hand experience of learners confronting their abilities to learn. Many advocated that they had preferential styles. I used a variety of techniques: clean feedback loops, peer groups working in safe practice through closed door peer feedback and informal formative assessments; the learners successfully passed their inductions. The methods of learning varied, not because I used a specific Learning Style, but because I was able to assess their learning ability and adjust accordingly.

In summary

So, to clarify, Learning Styles are not valid as a theory of instruction – they are a hypothesis of how the ‘mind’ works. Interestingly it seems that neither Kolb, Jung or the inventors of ‘Implicit Bias’ theory ever intended their theories to become training or analytical tools.

As learning professionals we should always critically analyse the providence of a theory, and its timely application, to consider whether it is still relevant today. In doing so, we can present the most appropriate information to our clients, ensuring that content is created with consideration of a learner’s level of prior knowledge, ability and interests.

The important points I’d ask you to remember are:

  • Design and learning specialists should take into account the differences in learners’ abilities.
  • Tailor a lesson/session/module to a particular group of learners, taking into consideration their level of prior knowledge.
  • Factors such as ability, prior knowledge, interest vary from person to person and clearly impact learning.
  • Learners differ in their abilities, interests, and prior knowledge, and learners may confuse this with a ‘Learning Style’.
  • Empirical evidence indicates that catering to those participants’ abilities, interests, and prior knowledge, will lead to improved acquisition, engagement and performance.

The Learning Styles debate is definitely a hot topic. To find out more, or to join the debate, visit the eLearning Network group on LinkedIn.

The views in this article are my own opinion and do not represent those of the eLN.

Meet our new Directors

Gemma Wells

How do you feel about winning a place on the eLN Board?  I am over the moon to be voted back on to the board. It makes me feel like I have made an impact over the last couple of years. This network has helped me so much so the chance to be able to give something back makes me happy!

What are you most excited about for 2021 within the eLN?  I’m most excited about the webinar series we are starting in the new year, it’s going to be a design journey and it’s exciting because a number of our members are involved! I’m also excited about connect happening, it’s such a great networking event and I really missed it this year!

What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?  What I would love Santa to bring me is a night off from mum duties!!!

Do you have any New Years resolutions?  I tend not to make new years resolutions as I never stick to them. But next year I’m planning on running 50 miles in Jan for Maggie’s house so I am committed to getting fitter and this will kick start it!

Hannah Christian

How do you feel about winning a place on the eLN Board?  I am thrilled to have been voted on! There were some brilliant candidates this year.

What are you most excited about for 2021 within the eLN?  Having attended the first board meeting, there’s so much to get involved with. The webinars and coffee mornings will be a great opportunity to meet members. I hope to get involved in the awards too, having been on the presenting side for a number of years now – I know what it’s like!

What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?  Lots of fun adventures and experiences to do with friends and family in 2021.

Do you have any New Years resolutions?  Make time to get through my ever-growing reading list! Recommendations always welcome.

Hannah Gore

How do you feel about winning a place on the eLN Board?  I feel very honoured to be voted by my peers to the board of directors for eLN, I am very passionate about all aspects of L&D so I’m looking forward to contributing to the board, the network and the wider community

What are you most excited about for 2021 within the eLN?  I most excited about discussing and reflecting on how 2020 has positively affected L&D, in being a catalyst for so many L&D specialists to deliver learning either online or blended, the lessons learned, and how this will impact their strategies in the future. From this we as a community can learn from each other as to best practices, how learners have reacted and adjusted, and the impact that these changes have delivered. 2021 can be the year to cement beneficial changes after a year of uncertainty.

What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?  My vaccine! I am missing seeing my friends and colleagues.

Do you have any New Years resolutions?  Normally I make resolutions every year, this forthcoming year will be focussed around gratitude and self reflection, utilising the changes of 2020 to lead to positive outcomes for 2021 and beyond… and be more healthy – 2020 was not good for my waistline!

Kim Ellis

Kim Ellis

How do you feel about winning a place on the eLN Board?  I’m super chuffed! I’ve never stood before as I didn’t feel I had much to give, a little bit of imposter syndrome creeping in I think. Having been co-opted for the past few months and then being officially voted onto the Board has really made my year, it’s a fantastic network run by some really talented and dedicated people.

What are you most excited about for 2021 within the eLN?  The eLN is a community and I’d love to really try and bring that community together. I will be relaunching the coffee mornings in January and it would be great to see some new faces.

What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?  My mum always gives the best presents, and I’ve asked for a large sauté pan (basically it’s a deep frying pan with a lid). My husband says it’s a surprise so it could literally be anything, but probably something he wanted for himself ha ha.

Do you have any New Years resolutions?  This year I have tried to eat healthier which has worked up to a point I don’t drink milk anymore and have cut out lots of fat, so I think it will be getting more strict with my diet. I might even try cutting out refined things like bread and sugar but we’ll see how well that goes. Come to the coffee morning on 15th January and see if I’ve fallen off the wagon!

Paul Service

How do you feel about winning a place on the eLN Board?  Feels great to be back on the board to finish what I started. Super proud to join such a professional team that is stronger than ever.

What are you most excited about for 2021 within the eLN?  Collaborating, working with and growing as a community with the eLN members – It’s the members that make it MAGIC!

What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?  Stronger/Younger bones to keep me in one piece. Just started skateboarding & bought a Onewheel – It’s a steep learning curve!

Do you have any New Years resolutions?

  1. Do more NOW