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Online learning – make it work for you

Person working at laptop

Learning is important because it keeps us motivated, keeps our minds active and means we are more able to manage change. Change is a constant and therefore so must be learning. And during this time of upheaval, we are needing to adapt to change quicker than ever.

Suddenly there seems to be a plethora of online learning opportunities available as more and more people are working from home. There are so many different options available and they are emerging in three broad categories:

  1. Virtual classrooms and interactive sessions: here you interact and participate in real time with a facilitator. You’ll follow along, take part, ask questions, contribute thoughts, work in smaller break out groups, share ideas and be visible to others. The experience of learning is very similar to the experiences you’d have in face to face learning programmes or training days.
  2. Webinars: these are usually shorter sessions where you watch and listen as an expert talks through a specific topic. These often have little or no interaction, other than typing questions into a box or taking part in polls.
  3. Self-directed learning: here you engage in resources which require no interaction with others. It could be watching pre-recorded presentations or discussions, reading articles or blogs, listening to podcasts or even undertaking a structured and self-guided reflective written task.

Woman holding laptop smiling

And you may be involved in a programme of learning that blends all three. So how can you make the most of these types of learning, and know that they are going to help you?

Step 1: Preparing to learn

Whatever the opportunity, one thing that is absolutely critical is that any time you spend on learning needs to be a good investment for you. Ask yourself:

  1. What am I hoping to change as a result of this learning?
  2. What challenges am I hoping to overcome as a result of this learning?
  3. What will the benefits of this be for me and others?

If you don’t have learning outcomes in mind, and find yourself getting lost in the internet skipping through webinars and blogs, you are wasting your time. Instead, share with your manager the outcomes you have identified, and ask them what outcomes they think would be useful too.

When it comes to online learning there are some other specific things to prepare before you begin:

  • Get your mind ready: don’t allow other things to distract you – turn off your other apps, mailbox, phone etc. Close them all down. But also get into the right headspace – have those learning outcomes front of mind, perhaps have them written on a post it nearby. Think about any key questions you want to ask.
  • Get your space ready: when you turn up to a face to face learning event, there will be pens, paper, snacks, materials and toilets available! When you’re going online, you will need to get all this sorted yourself. If you’ve been sent a handout or other materials, have them open and ready. Be comfortable – get your chair positioned and dress appropriately. No ball gowns. No pyjamas. If you are at home and share it with others, make sure your family or housemates know you are working – after all learning is work. Shut the door, make sure someone else is minding the kids, put the dog in the hallway.

Clean workspace


  • Get your tech ready: if you are using a new application for the event, make sure you know how it works before you start learning. This is just as true for self-directed learning as it is for interactive forms of learning. If you’re stuck ask the learning provider for help before you get going. If it’s an interactive session check your audio and video are working.

Step 2: Learning to learn

Learning is a process, and understanding that process can help you learn even more. This means reflecting on how that process is working as well as the content you are absorbing. Ask yourself:

  1. Am I being open to new ideas? If not, why is that and what do I need to do?
  2. Do I understand this content and how it would apply to my real life? If not, what questions could I ask?
  3. What experiences do other people have? How can I learn from those?

If you don’t engage with the learning you won’t get anything from it. Learning is hugely rewarding and even fun. It helps you to identify your strengths and builds your confidence. When it is interactive you can learn from others, and they can learn from you.

But is also uncomfortable – because it challenges you to think differently, and to identify weak points or sore points. This is a good thing! Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Turn that discomfort into curiosity and ask questions.

When it comes to interactive online learning there are some other specific things to help you with the learning process:

  • Be aware of others: in an interactive session it is useful to know where other people are – whether colleagues or strangers. Do they have dependents present that they may need to attend to? Or a nice view of the garden? Or are they working in a shared space and have to be mindful of what they say? This can help you to engage with your fellow participants on a human to human level. Allow others to speak, suspend judgement, and share the experience.
  • Be aware of the tech: If everyone has a camera on, then rest assured no one is staring at you – all eyes are on the person that is speaking or the slides being presented. That said, you can be seen, and your body language is just as readable on camera as it is in real-life. Scratching, picking, chewing – it all gets picked up. At the same time, tech often drops out. If your mic won’t unmute, or your camera fails, or your screen freezes up, let the facilitator know. Send them a message (most applications have a chat box for this). Log off and on again.  Be patient, don’t worry about it. If you’ve missed too much ask to catch up in a break or after the session.
  • Be aware of yourself: learning online may be new for you, and that can make it quite a challenge. For some people, the level of discomfort increases when learning online. For others, using video-conferencing alone might not be enough and they may need additional support such as captions, sign language, transcripts or a slower pace. Contribute to the ground rules and housekeeping at the start of the sessions. Let others know what would help you and / or that this is a new experience. If you need a break, take one. Let the facilitator know and pause for a few minutes. Go back and read your learning outcomes. If you have concerns, ask the facilitator for a private chat or conversation.

Step 3: From learning to changing

Learning is a journey. Attending a session or reading some material is only part of that journey. Learning matters most when you make the changes you wanted to make in step one. No matter the kind of learning spend some time afterwards asking these questions:

  1. What is my main take away from this learning? How can I apply that to my everyday life?
  2. What actions will I take and how will I know those have been successful?
  3. What did I enjoy about the process? What did I not enjoy? How can I use this to prepare for learning next time?

Learning should lead to change; and change is the harder task. Put your learning into practice otherwise you’ve wasted your time.

Here are some techniques that can help you complete this step, available both online and offline:

  • Buffer it: give yourself a buffer before your next meeting or task to reflect on what you have learned. Don’t try to jump straight into something else. Take a few minutes to make notes, check your learning outcomes. This helps you to cement your learning.
  • Log it: using learning logs or journals is a great way to embed your learning and observe the changes you are making. As you put action plans into practice, ask what is working and what you could do differently. Make a new plan. Write it down. Repeat frequently. Reflecting helps you to embed your learning quickly and effectively.


Person taking notes

  • Share it: get real value for your investment and share your learning with others. Let your manager know what changes they can expect to see. Hold a short session with your team to share your new tools and ideas. Write your own blogs and experiences down for others to see. Sharing helps to consolidate your learning.
  • Return to it: Set yourself a reminder to go back and look at the materials and notes you made at a later date. Check your progress against those learning outcomes. Ask yourself what other changes you need. Reviewing helps you to build your confidence in learning.

Learning can be daunting. And online learning can be strange. It is a different experience. But by following these suggestions and planning your learning effectively you can maximise the gains and avoid some of the pitfalls that come with trying new things. And no matter what kind of learning you are doing, make it work for you.

What’s next?

If you have any concerns or questions about online or even face to face learning then get in touch with our experienced trainers. We will help you to identify the outcomes you are looking for and how best to address your needs. Call 020 7978 1516 or email

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...