The term virtual classroom was first introduced in 1986 in an article entitled, “The Virtual Classroom: Using Computer-Mediated Communication for University Teaching”. In 1986 - yet with 3 months left in 2020 we feel detached and bored with a serious case of virtual meeting fatigue. How can this be?
The sharp increase in the use of the virtual to substitute the physical in various aspects of 2020 living is certainly a contributing factor. Another key consideration is that since 1986, innovators have developed social media while considering digital interaction, but as users we often overlook what is happening at the core of online engagement. During a virtual meeting or class the focus is on relaying information. While that is a key function- the reason we have chosen a virtual meeting (opposed to sending an email or taking a correspondence course) is to connect and collaborate.
Sproull and Kiesler (1986) suggested that virtual interactions may feel less personable, because of the absence of subtle social cues, such as facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice, which we use to form meaning in-person (Reduced Cues Theory). In contrast, Walther (1996) believed online connections become more intense and feel more intimate because self-disclosure happens sooner and more freely (Hyperpersonal Model). People have more time to present themselves more favorably and to 'edit' their responses virtually (selective self-presentation).
From Habermas (1972) we understand instrumental (or experiential) learning as task oriented problem solving to determine cause-effect relationships; communicative learning as using dialog to explore the values, beliefs and reasons of others; and emancipatory learning as using critical reflection to identify and challenge personal perspective. From Knowles (1984) we understand adults want agency or self-directed activities which draw on their prior knowledge or experiences as a resource. With internal motivation, an adult's readiness to learn is orientated towards the developmental tasks of their social roles (shifting from the subject-centered learning of their youth to problem centered).
Take advantage of the concepts presented by Walther, transition between the types of learning described by Habermas while considering the adult profile described by Knowles to create a more meaningful and educative virtual experience. Here are a few simple ways you can boost the sensory impact of your next video call:
Set the stage with an inviting virtual space using soft lighting
Establish purpose or an objective early
Use ice breakers (self disclosure) to get people acquainted with each other & the platform
Get other people speaking as soon as possible
Keep everyone engaged by giving listening tasks or a reason to listen
Ensure everyone feels heard and understood with active listening techniques
Maximize space by moving closer to the camera for increased intimacy at key moments
Be expressive with face and hand gestures, especially while others are speaking
Modulate your voice and mirror body language to set the pace
Keep interactions short, for every 45 minutes of focus the brain needs a break
Check out the role-play below to see if you can spot examples of these tips in a business setting.