2. Recalibrate lessons and learnings for a virtual setting
Several organizations stressed the importance of challenging assumptions when seeking to translate in-person programs into a virtual offering. As ABCN noted, “all of our in-person programs are highly interactive, so we were keen to test the assumption that online delivery would not be as engaging.” ABCN has found success in developing interactive sessions by utilizing digital tools such as interactive polls, music and games to keep students energized and engaged.
Session format and structure should also be reconsidered. Just because an in-person mentoring session was two hours long doesn’t mean a virtual one should be. In fact, in a virtual environment and the circumstances of the pandemic, more frequent, shorter sessions are likely a much better fit for mentors and mentees. Curricula may need revamping, so that content and activities are better suited to be provided virtually. Better collaboration with schools, program leaders and mentors may also be required, for instance to develop communications and guidance for maintaining a meaningful human connection in a virtual setting.
In thinking about how to optimize a virtual delivery model, nearly every organization we spoke with emphasized the critical importance of a modular and human-centered approach to design — of splitting content into more bite-size pieces, of creating an intuitive user experience and of actively involving participants in a continual process of testing and iteration.
100mentors, a digital mentoring and community-answering platform, built out their offering for virtual connection in the days preceding the pandemic and quickly learned that both curriculum creators and student users should be involved in the design process from the start. After feedback signaled the need for greater user input, “we transitioned toward a bold engagement of the user from the early stages of building any new features, putting the user in the center of the app building process.” 100mentors also uses surveys and focus groups to gather feedback from students and ensure the service is meeting their needs and iterates their platform as needed.
Another organization, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), leveraged curriculum improvements and technology investments made prior to the pandemic to provide more continuity of learning. NFTE staff mobilized to help educators adjust to remote learning, offering practical guidance on adapting lessons to different conditions across different school communities. Its project-based, modular curriculum design allows for implementation in a variety of scenarios — e.g., whether learning is individual or group-based, self-directed or teacher-led, in person or remote, online or offline, high tech or low tech. This offers great flexibility for both students and teachers, helping to make sure that learning could continue whether everyone was in the classroom together, online together at the same time, or working independently and at their own pace.
Coupled with clear road maps that empower students to record and track their progress, such flexibility can help provide students with a real sense of accomplishment and motivate them to reach new learning milestones — vital when you consider the importance of self-directed learning outside of a classroom environment. It can also provide organizations with the ability to more seamlessly capture and evaluate data to improve their services.