In March 2020 we were all sent home and we discovered we could meet using video conferencing instead. Suddenly our wide-angled world was sliced to a quarter of its width. Our body language receptors had to cope with just head and shoulders rendered in a tiny square. And our brains had to work much harder to make sense of this reduced world view.

Just because we have lost something doesn’t mean we have to replace it anew. Just because we can substitute IRL for Zoom doesn’t mean we always should.

As we plan our work and our meetings we can take these remote working conditions as a creative constraint. What can we strip away, what can we do entirely differently?

In training design I have seen people map face-to-face teaching to online, recreating the physical experience online. This is the continuity-of-service response. It is necessary to carry on working and is entirely justified when the ends remain important. But at some point we have to interrogate the means otherwise people will have just had enough.

The next question to ask is does learning in this way make sense any more?

I have come to the conclusion that people don’t need to watch slides simultaneously over video conferencing any more.

  • People read and digest information at different speeds.
  • We are spending far too much time in front of our screens.
  • When learning different learners need different information.

It was a dubious use of classroom time before lockdown in any case – doing it remotely seems hard to justify.

We can think instead about what opportunities does this new working paradigm give us. For certain, it is easier to gather people, albeit for shorter periods of time. We can now assemble people from around the world. And that it is so exciting. So let’s use that time for what people do best: talking. When we talk and listen to each other we do some of our best thinking.

One of the things that I am most excited about is using just audio. With almost universal adoption of smart phones we can send people audio files that they can listen to wherever they like: on the sofa, while taking a walk, while hanging out the washing, or even in front of their computer.

I am learning and appreciating that richness of understanding comes when you leave gaps and allow other people to fill them in. Just as I feel radio has more impact than television, because it allows me to construct my own image, I suspect learning via audio can help you do the same.

My current experiment is using audio to share journaling exercises with participants on the course I am co-leading at Constructivist called ‘Training on what to do after declaring a climate emergency’. In this case, the topic is understanding culture of emergency. We could have created a whole slide deck on the subject, but instead through seven audio exercises, participants construct their own understanding relevant to their own experiences and context. And then we can come together on video conferencing to do what we do best together – talking.