A core premise in addressing the pedagogical virtues of a virtual environment is the distinction between teaching and learning (see https://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.) The premise being that learning is a process of discovery, experimentation and exploration rather than telling, instructing and teaching.
If we accept such premise, the virtual workshop environment is ideal.
For starters, it has a built-in fail proof aversion for lecturing as engagement is a critical variable for successful virtual workshops. Failing to engage the participant will quickly result in multitasking and focusing on everything other than the learning (email, taking calls, surfing the net, etc.)
Given the need to maintain almost constant engagement, there will be minimal prescribing and advocating on the part of the instructor as this would require too much talking time. As the instructor is relieved from having to impart “knowledge” and compelled to set the stage for participants to experiment and explore, there will be an automatic shift that will lessen prescriptions and instructions.
There are several reasons why prescribing is so learning adverse. All we have to do is observe the extraordinary learning capability of the child and realize how much of that learning is coming from experimentation and trial and error. It would be almost impossible to teach a child how to walk or accomplish successfully the tremendous learning that infants progress through.
Besides the child analogy, other reasons that create learning failure with lecturing and instructing are:
- Motivation: A loss of commitment on the part of the participant when he or she is told what to do (social psychology research places it at a fivefold loss)
- Diversity: The fact that human being are very diverse in terms of perceptions, interpretations and how they process data making it quite obvious that what works for me “my brilliant idea”, might not work or be at all brilliant for another
- Crowd wisdom: we now know that crowd wisdom consistently beats expert wisdom and the idea that few super intelligent and wise human beings have kept our species alive is a myth.
With the above in mind and with the understanding that the best learning is a cooperative effort that requires participation, the virtual environment facilitates engagement as social norms have not yet formed and it is quite acceptable for the instructor to bring forth a participant and query his or her own thinking.
Another advantage is that the virtual environment forces greater attention to subtle cues, such as tone of voice and, if web cameras are used, body language and eyes as these cues become much more of an imperative to determine engagement.
With the instructor needing to focus on engagement cues, he/she will exercise an increased awareness of social sensitivity. Social sensitivity will usher emphatic listening, greater psychological safety and ultimately confidence in learning as an opportunity for development and growth.
Last modified: March 8, 2018