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Reflecting on the Learning Needs of Roomer’s and Zoomer’s

I've been working to meet the learning differences between remote and onsite learners for a while now. More than 15 years ago I sat alone in the small TV studio in an old, remodeled Quonset hut on the main campus of a local university.

I was getting ready to teach a night class on learning theory to 17 remote sites around the state. Some locations had just one learner and others had 3 or 4. It was a typical land grant university model for delivery via interactive satellite TV. Back then, even the on-campus learners where sequestered in the room next door, so every learner was on the same footing within that remote delivery format.

At the other end of the continuum, prior to the Covid work-from-home spike, one of my clients wrestled with extending the reach of in-person workshops to their employees located far from their home office. They invested in mobile telepresence robots to mimic a learner’s physical presence on the main campus, without the associated travel costs. However, both learners and facilitators struggled to find value, in their particular situation. Without any adjustment to the way the workshops were taught, it was difficult for the learner to connect to the content or the other learners in the room and they inadvertently become second class participants. Just having the robot represent them didn’t automatically resolve their psychological distance, remove everyday distractions, or address learner equality in the room.

Today, it's becoming more common to be asked to develop and facilitate concurrent learning for both roomer’s and zoomer’s. Everything I learned about good virtual workshop engagement began in an old Quonset hut but these lessons have proved to still be relevant. The tools have changed dramatically in the past 15 years, but the same solid instructional design principles still apply:

1. Create equity in the learning environment.

  • Treat everyone like they are remote. It can be very tempting to default to prioritizing the roomer’s.

  • Plan for more equitable collaboration opportunities by encouraging learners in the room to use remote tools to complete breakout assignments.

  • Rely more on being clear and less on in-person charisma for the zoomer’s.

2. Call on individuals by name.

  • Rotate through the sites so they’re equally motivated to stay engaged and feel heard.

  • Reinforce the positive behavior you want in the way to elaborate on learner comments.

3. Require/encourage them to be visible.

  • Look right at the camera and talk to your learners.

  • Cycle through your participant feed to connect with as many learners as you can.

  • Respond to what you see so they feel visible.

4. Use active voice to explain your content to increase engagement.

  • Spend less time telling them about the content.

  • Spend MORE time showing them how they will use it.

5. Create clear setup/debrief for every activity (purpose, process, product).

  • Use breakout tools to create conversation across locations.

  • Plan for teamwork that requires them to apply their personal experience to the content.

  • Use the activity feedback to drive home your key learning points in the debrief.

Over the years, my teaching environment has evolved from a Quonset hut at a large university to my personal home office with a thriving ID consulting company. Hybrid working and learning now seems to be the new norm. So many things have changed, but as I reflect on the learning needs of roomer’s and zoomer’s, so much of what was good learning design still holds true.

We've found that with a little work, you can update your workshops to be more conducive for both roomer's and zoomer's. To find out more about our instructional design workshops where you can learn more great insights like these, click here.

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