Don’t compete with the internet -- you won’t win.
If you are teaching or meeting online, you are competing for your participants' attention with literally the entire internet. Not to mention their phone, every social media platform, and their fax machine, beeper, or Alexa, depending on what generation they’re in.
If you try to compete on the internet’s terms -- that is, text, information, moving pictures -- you will fail. Fancy slides, information-heavy lectures, movie clips... you won’t win. You cannot out-internet the internet. So don’t try.
Instead, win with the main thing the internet cannot provide: true human connection. Relationships. Interaction and care. Helping people learn about themselves and others through provoking thought in real-time. Offer your students the main thing they otherwise will not have in their quarantine: true humanity.
In my work teaching leadership development courses online, I've had the unique challenge of helping people from Malaysia to Tanzania to Mexico connect in deep ways with one another, despite being twelve timezones apart and in different organizations. With such a span of distance, only ever meeting in two dimensions, creating true human connection is not easy. I have had to develop a set of pedagogical tools that I use to increase humanity in my online spaces. I offer a few below, including both technical and emotional elements.
As I teach in my courses, emotion is what creates motivation and movement. In order to motivate people to act and move together toward a shared purpose, you need to help them feel agency, connection, solidarity, possibility, and hope. In this moment of fear, that is needed more than ever.
I believe that we can create pedagogy and structure to design for connection, solidarity, possibility, and hope. I see this moment as a unique opportunity to re-frame our meetings and the way we connect with one another to enable these emotions in our teams and groups. As a meeting facilitator, this is your chance to re-invite your team into their full humanity and motivate them in a new way. While this may sound daunting, I believe that a few structures and practices can actually go a very long way.
So here are ten ideas, from one human to another (with thanks to the internet for enabling our humanity in this moment):
1. Set norms at the beginning, and set them together. Your online community -- just like your in-person one -- will have norms, whether you set them or not. For example, is it alright to log in five minutes late? Is it alright to call in, or have your video off? How do you share speaking time? If you do not intentionally set these types of norms, your group will implicitly set them through its actions. So consider asking: how do we want to be human together here? What a unique opportunity to re-set the terms together.
8. Good pedagogy online is very similar to good pedagogy in person.
I offer all of these with love and curiosity for the unique opportunity and experiment of this moment. Who knows -- maybe once we're back in classrooms and meeting spaces the humanity can continue there too!
Thanks & Credit to: Aditi Parekh, Marshall Ganz, and many others who have influenced these ideas!