Keeping the Magic in a Virtual World

I have been thinking a lot about ‘the magic’ in adult education lately. Is it possible to keep the magic as we move forward in a virtual world? What is missing and what is gained, as virtual education becomes a mainstay?

I have been designing and facilitating workshops and courses in the Inclusion and Equity space for many years. When Covid hit one of my main clients asked me to translate a 3-day Cultural Humility staff training into an online learning course. I paused for a second, and confidently said, “No”. I thought to myself, “What about the magic?” Certainly, it would not be possible to virtually re-create the brave and courageous conversations that happen when 20 people come together in-person – people from around the world with a common mission to explore making their organization more culturally humble and safe.

Fast forward to January, 2023. We are still working largely virtually and the organization where I am presently employed is starting to collect demographic data. Over the phone we are asking service users about, among other things, their language, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Our staff team is hesitant to ask these demographic questions. When asked how they were feeling about this new practice, they responded: nervous, uncomfortable, unsure, apprehensive, and anxious. They requested training to increase comfort levels and build empathy. How could I say no to the prospect of supporting our staff to build knowledge and confidence to better support our equity deserving clients. So, knowing it had to be virtual, I hesitatingly said, “Yes”.

I began the design equipped with my general skepticism of all things virtual, and limited experience as a learner with two online courses. In the weeks that ensued I developed a curriculum to meet the objective of, “increasing confidence and empathy to ask our service users very personal questions about their identities.” What followed was the development and design of a learning process that pushed me to explore new ways of teaching and learning, and ultimately was so much fun!

Learning about and designing new ways to deliver interactive content online was eye-opening. The design outcome was a hybrid in-person/online, synchronous/asynchronous 8-module learning experience for our 20 person staff. We used webinars, learning nuggets, small group learning circles, word clouds, hybrid first voice guest speakers, and more. Over a period of three months staff had the opportunity to engage in the material on their own, in small in-person groups, and together online. The learning modules were intentionally spread out to allow learners time to digest the material. The learning outcomes were amazing.

As a result of the training, learners spoke of feeling empowered, confident, comfortable, resourced, knowledgeable, and compassionate related to asking the new demographic questions.

We were indeed able to keep the magic I valued so much during in person events – it just manifested itself in different ways. Learners had courageous conversations in their learning circles guided by pre-designed questions. Big important learnings were brought forward to the larger online learning group. I, the facilitator, finished with a renewed sense of hope for the possibility of learning magic in the virtual realm. Learners finished with a deeper sense of community and cultural understanding.

I am happy to report that, when care is given to creating brave spaces and acknowledging the principles of adult learning, online courses connected to Inclusion and Equity can still hold the magic.

Where have you experienced ‘the magic’ as a result of using principles and practices of a learning-centered approach? What helped this happen?

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Kirstie Creighton is the Manager of Education and Belonging with the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia.

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