Resources Article

Hybrid delivery: our learning and navigation

Our Head of Programmes, Kate Atkinson, shares how, through planning, trial and error, hybrid-learning emerged as our new ‘go to’ model for residential delivery – a central feature of our offer until the pandemic.

Like many organisations, Clore Leadership had to adjust quickly to new ways of working over the last two years and with this comes an acceptance that trial, error, repeat and return is the new normal.

In Autumn 2021, as we tentatively started face to face activity again with Covid still very much a presence, hybrid learning emerged as our new ‘go to’ model for residential learning delivery. Hybrid, for us, meant blending those attending in person, with those attending online via Zoom.

The team prepped up. Some research into how others had managed this quickly threw up the challenges and pitfalls of this new way of working, so sleeves were rolled up and once again the online learning gear was engaged. I do wonder how quickly, pre-pandemic, we would have embraced a new way of working like this.  I suspect we’ve all become more open to experimentation and change.

Successful residential-based learning has been at the heart of Clore Leadership’s model for nearly two decades, so it was imperative to work to achieve the best outcomes – that carried our USP, even as we adjusted both form and content for learning-with-Covid.  And so for this Lead On I share 5 tips and some insights into our model of hybrid working (with caveats, of course), that this is what we found worked in our context, for our resource and medium-term needs. But also that this learning gear is very much still engaged!

Tip 1 – allow time, space and energy for planning and learning 

The additional ‘load’ of doing things for the first time is a concept that I hooked onto many times during the last two years. First time activities are hard.  And the thinking, learning, trial and error involved is activity in its own right, so allowing time for this to work through has been keen. Hybrid learning does require facilitative and technical know-how so, within our planning, we brought on board additional expertise to integrate the detail of what was needed. Briefing speakers and facilitators before the residentials was also key – we needed to gain the trust of contributors, to secure their buy-in to this new process, and with it, multiple potential scenarios.

Tip two – consider how your two worlds will work together, and apart

One surprise was the extent to which hybrid cohorts can gel together. But it was down to thorough planning, and great facilitation (in our case a facilitator pairing in the room plus one dedicated to the needs of the Zoom group) to fully consider and manage how each group was working both separately, and as one. Supporting a variety of access needs in the blended environment was further learning for us, not only around the support needed in place and how and where that was hosted for optimal outcomes, but honing an understanding that new ways of working can potentially themselves create disabling factors, notably fatigue.

Tip 3 – Invest in the right equipment and support with additional people

We opted for Zoom as our platform alongside In-Real-Life (IRL) learning. We had continually developed our organisational knowledge on this platform throughout the pandemic but, working with hybridity, became a whole new adventure! We swiftly realised that to meet our valued standard of interactive learning, we needed good quality AV provision in place – in our case two cameras and a vision switch device, plus an operator.  In addition, the purchase of a handful of low-cost tablets enabled us to extend the interactive experience of breakout rooms with anyone attending online as the tablets were carried to different parts of the room, outside for ‘walk and talks’ and in corners for discrete conversations.  ‘Zoom in the room’ as it affectionately became known, even included stationing online participants amongst the croissants with the morning coffee at times!  We also needed to double up on hosting laptops, ensuring that we were able to host and project those attending online safely and confidentially (remember anything in the chat becomes visible to all), as well as needing resources for presenters too.

We soon learned that supporting really great hybrid learning can be financially costly and staff resource heavy! With residentials as a primary activity, this was about investing in accessible, safe, interactive and effective learning environments to give ourselves, and our groups, the best chance of a meaningful hybrid experience. But it certainly comes at a premium, and we are hugely grateful to our funders and Board, who supported this gear shift to navigate to success.

Tip 4 – codify your process

The learning did come thick and fast, and it was well worth regularly documenting this in the moment. Each hybrid scenario comes with its own requirements: ratios of group members online v IRL; online speakers; break out room numbers and configurations;  the type and functionality of venue AV resources; nature of session content, access needs and with internationally based attendees, the time of day… It’s well worth spending time reflecting on the difference between each scenario, what works for you and codifying processes for next time around.

Tip 5 – it can’t always work

In all honesty, there were sessions that just didn’t work as well as we wanted. Particularly in sensitive subject areas, great care has to be taken to provide the support required for those taking part, and it’s hard to replicate this at a distance. While remotely accessing a course provides a layer of additional accessibility, it can mean that boundaries to attendance while at home may become blurred. There will also always be sessions that just don’t land well that day, be it online, blended or offline.

So for us, the online learning gear is still engaged. Who yet knows if, when and where we’ll land, but we are navigating through, and hope that by sharing our learning we can help with some shortcuts and good routes to quality hybrid experiences for the sector as a whole.

Themes Digital Innovation