Rework Online Training Part 5: Design for Online Interaction

fractalI suggested that I see three kinds of people in online “workshops:” attendee, student, or participant. I want to design for the outcomes these people can expect.

I first start with this question: Who does the teaching?

Who Teaches Whom?

We have a model of teacher-led teaching, in both in-person and online workshops.

I prefer a mixture of participant-led and facilitator-led teaching. Notice I've used two different words (participant and facilitator) and “teach” is in neither of them.

I do expect to teach significant content in all of my workshops. And, I expect the participants to also teach each other (unless it's self-study or self-paced).

In all cases where I want interaction, I expect the participants to show me their work.

I facilitate their learning. And, if I'm lucky, I also learn from the participants. (So far, I have.)

In real-time workshops, I ask people to create the artifacts we're discussing, such as a project portfolio or a project charter or product roadmap. In self-paced workshops, I ask people to send me their writing.

Yes, I ask for visible progress. (See Visible Progress and Discover Normal with all the experiments and feedback loops.) I ask people to work in short timeboxes in real-time, or do homework if we don't work together in real-time.  For online workshops, I more often opt for discussion in the workshop and homework after the workshop ends for the day.

In my in-person workshops, I use a combination of discussions and simulations. I tend not to use games other people have created. However, you might find them useful.

Each kind of interaction offers me, as the workshop designer, something different.

Interactions Need Debriefs

Each kind of interaction offers me, as the workshop designer, an alternative:

  • Discussions: I use discussions to explore a topic. Sometimes, I want to surface objections or previous experience. I create open-ended discussions, in response to specific questions.
  • Games: Games create a stark contrast to how people work now and what we want them to consider. Games tend to be closed. Assuming people follow the rules, you can predict the game's outcome. For example, the Penny Game is a closed game.
  • Simulations: Simulations use the experience to mimic how people might choose to work. Simulations are open-ended. I use a simulation so people can see how the simulation might mimic work.

I tend to choose simulations over games. Not that I think games are bad. However, too many games require significant time both for the game and the debrief. And, if you don't debrief the game well, people have no idea why they played the game.

It doesn't matter what kind of interaction I choose. The debrief is the most important part of the interaction.

See How One Interaction Changes

I want to get everyone's voice in the room to prime the rest of the real-time interactions. (My objective.)

When I'm in-person, I can ask people to go around the circle/room and say their name, where they're from, and what they do. I often say, “Make sure you take less than a minute to introduce yourself.”

We change introductions for online interaction.

First, in an online workshop, what does “go around the room” mean? We might not see everyone in the same location on the screen.

Second, everything takes longer. People tend to forget to unmute, so they start to talk, and then I have to say, “We can't hear you” or “Please unmute.”

Third, people might not realize how long they take to introduce themselves. I've been on webinars where people want to share their screen so they can share a slide with all their credentials. In my never humble opinion, that's crazy. We all need to write a one-paragraph bio and use that. (I have a file of bios of varying length and detail, so the host/leader/facilitator can choose what fits.)

Consider this: the most important interaction which sets the stage for the remainder of our work together challenges everything we “know” about interaction.

I do not encourage verbal audience-introductions in a one-hour event. I do encourage written intros in the chat.

My Guidelines for Online Interactions

As I've practiced my online training, I've discovered these guidelines work well for me:

  • If you want real-time verbal interaction, limit the workshop to 9 people, max. If you don't want real-time verbal interaction, specify that.
  • Offer unlimited chat-based interaction.
  • Tell people if you want them to use chat, raise-hand, or some other method to ask questions. Tell them at the start, when you ask for questions in the middle, and at the end. (Yes, pervasive communication.)
  • Ask for questions as you proceed. (I do this in-person and online.) When I teach in person, I look for visual cues each person understands. When I teach online, I can't see those cues.
  • If you want real-time interaction, everyone uses their camera. No camera, no participation.

You can see what this means for my online workshops, where I encourage real-time discussion. I need to limit the number of people in any one workshop if we want discussion.

And, when I participate in online webinars and panels, I do not ask people to introduce themselves. I don't ask them to go into breakout rooms. That's not reasonable for the length of time or the kind of interaction.

Chat Matters

All of these restrictions on online interaction means the chat function matters more than you might imagine.

I've been on webinars where someone else “managed” the chat for me. They don't understand my material, so they don't understand which questions are essential.

I've been on other webinars where people didn't want me to see the chat. And, they wanted me to wait until the end of the session for questions.

These nice people don't understand online interaction. If people think you're not going to answer their questions, they leave. Or, they multitask while you drone on. I want people to remain engaged with my material and me.

Plan the Games, Simulations, and Debriefs

I was planning to address this in this series, but I want to write other posts. So, I'll do the short version here.

Every in-person interaction that's not a discussion needs redesign to work online.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the objective for this game or simulation?
  2. How do I redesign it to take advantage of our remoteness? (Hint: how does remote work change this situation, the objective, at work?)
  3. Do I still need this particular interaction? Maybe remote work means we don't need this interaction.
  4. How can I organize the work so I can recreate the interaction with just three people? (Three is a great number. Four or five people might work, depending on the interaction. More people and several stop participating. The group size matters in online interactions.)
  5. How do I debrief this group work? Do I debrief as a single team and then with the entire group? Do I debrief verbally or also with some form of drawing or other physical activity?

If you create interactions of any sort, you need debriefs. An interaction without a debrief might mean people have fun. They don't learn anything.

The series:

4 thoughts on “Rework Online Training Part 5: Design for Online Interaction”

  1. Ronald van Vliet

    Hi Johanna, I’ve used the penny game during in-person workshops. Using the 10 penny batch and 1 penny sequence in 2 rounds. We’ve usually found the 1 penny performance to take half the time of the 10 penny batch. I’ve used the same in an online workshop. I’ve found that the result is the opposite. The 10 penny batch was 2 times faster than the 1 penny sequence. What alternative can I use to prove single piece flow is the better proces-alternative to batches?

    1. Hi Ronald, when you debriefed the online experience, what did you discover? I often discover that people don’t follow the directions 🙂 Or, the directions are insufficient, or wrong, based on the context.

      I also don’t understand how you can play the penny game online. The game is based on people physically flipping and moving the penny. How did you emulate that? In particular, how did people flip the coin and then pass the coin to the next person? If the people just moved the coin, that would account for the speed. That’s because the people didn’t “process” the coin, they just moved it.

      Let’s start with the basics. You and I both know from experience (and from theory) that single-piece flow makes the work finish faster. What other simulation/game can you use to help people see single-piece flow?

      I often use the alphabet in one direction, numbers in the other direction with managers. That simulation works online and in person. It only works for one person, not a team, so it’s not a good substitute for the penny game. I have other simulations that only work in person because they require physical pieces.

      If you really want to use the penny game, you (maybe I?) need more information on how people worked. In particular, how did you change the game so people had to process the coin? What did you use for the coin? I wonder if they actually followed the directions.

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