A different kind of post today. I honestly didn’t know what to write today – I had planned a post but it didn’t seem right right now with so much uncertainty and restrictions placed on our daily lives.

With little sign of the Coronavirus crisis abating and more countries closing public organisations and encouraging social distancing, many people have been thinking about how they might offer online alternatives for their offline services.

My business has relied on face-to-face contact for the last 7 years. I’ve already been developing new online courses over the last 6 months – my new Slow-Looking Online Masterclass, for example and my ‘Visible Thinking in the Museum’ training will be offered as an online version from May onwards. But, significantly, both of these courses were created with plenty of time and no real urgency.

Last week I was asked to adapt a 6 day museum education in-person training into an online course in just a few days. I found out that it is possible (despite the initial worries!) and you can quickly and successfully adapt an in-person course into an online one.

Here’s what I learned in the process – I hope it’s useful:

Take an inventory of what you already have:

Make a list of all the information and resources that you already have. All your handouts, reading materials, slides, notes and any videos etc. Then ask yourself:

  • What will work ‘as it is’ in an online training?
  • What of your existing content will need to be redesigned for the online version?
  • Is there anything new that you will need to create from scratch?

Looking at my existing content, there was quite a lot that would work as it was (with a few minor tweaks) and there were some parts that would need to be redesigned – for example, creating discussions around objects and paintings with me as the facilitator.

On a live call, it makes sense to be muted when you are not speaking. However, this makes creating effective discussions quite difficult as people tend to talk over each other when they ‘unmute’ themselves.

However, I knew from experience that we could experiment with using the chat function on the video calling software (Zoom), so that participants could still interact with me and the artwork.

I also created some new content for the group – quick videos with extra information and exercises on key subjects, so that participants can do some self-study linked to the reading material that I’ve already provided.

Think about how you want to deliver the new online version:

  • Will the online version take place live (synchronous) in real time with the trainer working with the participants digitally?
  • Or will the students have autonomy over the pace of their learning with less communication between trainer and participants (asynchronous).
  • Or will you use a mixture of both (blended learning)?

As time was tight, I decided to go with a live version of the course online as I felt this would be the fastest way to convert the training in the most interactive way and would involve the least amount of amendments.

Think about the needs of your group and the outcomes you want to achieve. If you have more time, you can redesign your course as an asynchronous self-paced programme or a combination of the two approaches. But for speed, I would definitely go for a live version happening in real time.

Redesign activities

All of my trainings are interactive. I try not to spend more than 10 minutes at a time explaining anything. Otherwise, I feel my participants start to switch off. I like to ask lots of questions and keep it fun, engaging, and interactive throughout. So, how could I translate this to an online version?

I’ve been on a few video calls in the past and the people who are masters at online teaching know how to navigate around the software that they are using. Whether it’s by using the chat function regularly every few minutes to keep people interacting with you (Janet Murray does this so well) or by using the breakout room function (Zoom has a good one) to split participants into separate sessions or discussion groups – they know how to keep it fast-paced and engaging. You never want to find yourself in the position where you’re monologuing on an online call – everyone will start to switch off or check their email, messages or Instagram…

I took an inventory of all of the in-person activities I had already planned and then one-by-one thought hard about how they would work in an online situation.

  • How will think-pair-share or working in small groups work online?
  • How will groups present the results of their findings to you when you are not in the room with them?
  • How can groups simulate being in a museum with the collection when they are not?
  • How will the group brainstorm or add responses to a question in an online format?(perhaps you could use a tool like Mentimeter to gather responses, collate and display them on screen).
  • Do I need to add quizzes to my content to ensure that required reading gets done?

All of these simple activities (and more) needs to be thought through and reconfigured so that they work just as well online as they would have done offline. Don’t be tempted to skimp on this part, as all of these activities are the parts that can make or break an online training.

In my case, I really had to think hard about how I could bring in (museum) practice in small groups into the online version. This involved thinking about having facilitators in the room to manage the group, a moderator for the chat (that could round up answers and collate questions as they came in) and finding ways of using the digital collection. I found it easier to imagine myself as a participant taking part step-by-step in each of my activities as this helped me to think about what would and what wouldn’t work online.

And finally…add more breaks

I always include plenty of breaks into my in-person trainings, as we cover a large amount of content that needs time to sink-in. In an online environment, it’s worthwhile evaluating whether you need to include more frequent shorter breaks at regular intervals (rather than two breaks in a day as you might do in-person).

You may want to think about including a 10 minute break for every hour of training – particularly in a full day training – with one longer break for lunch. In an online training, this helps to revitalise participants so that they can digest what they have already learned and get ready for more learning later. It also provides an important opportunity to step away from their laptops and to stretch.

Transforming your existing courses into online versions quickly needn’t be a painful process. It can be done relatively fast once you’ve completed a quick inventory and decided on your format. It’s worth spending quality time thinking creatively about how you can redesign activities to engage participants just as much in an online format.

Having to adapt a course at short notice also prevents you from overthinking the situation too – stop thinking about what you can’t do in online training and start thinking about how you can do it online and you’ll realise that there are a myriad of possibilities out there.