NHS Horizons has been producing and providing webinars as a way to engage with our audience both nationally and internationally for many years. For the past four years, webinars have been our main form of ‘broadcast’ for the (virtual) School for Change Agents, the most widely utilised skills-building capability course in the NHS.

In the past year, however, we’ve significantly adapted our approach to virtual delivery. The main shift is away from relying solely on ‘broadcast’ platforms, which are best suited to imparting expertise and information, towards ‘conversational’ platforms which enable all participants to take an equal part and make sense of the information collectively.

In making this shift, we are building on the latest evidence-based research into how learning is changing:

FROM Individual learning TO collaborative learning

FROM content centered TO learner centered

FROM programmes and courses TO platforms for collaborative learning

FROM single channel TO multiple channels, often at once  

This also fits with NHS Horizons’ overall ethos and approach. In applying new era thinking to urgent healthcare priorities, we are very often working with concepts either developed in a different setting (commercial industry, for example) or working with theoretical concepts for which there is no roadmap to implementation. To succeed, we have to remain adaptive and willing to change the way in which we work to get the most from these systems.

In traditional ‘broadcast’ webinars, we essentially take the format of face to face meetings and translate it directly into online sessions. There is a main presenter, the imparting of expertise, and a largely passive audience who are isolated in their own virtual space as they ‘receive’ the learning. This approach uses only a fraction of the capability of the online platform medium.

By contrast, a more ‘conversational’ approach to webinars draws on ‘real world’ facilitation techniques which are designed to facilitate the learners’ experience. It uses ‘flipped classroom’ approaches to use the collective time for discussion rather than dissemination. It uses ‘unconferencing’ approaches to create a space for conversation, rather than imparting pre-determined content.

What we’ve learned is that the choice of platform is important (WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeetings, etc), in terms of the functionality it offers. But it’s not the first question. We go wrong when we’re led by the platform. The first questions are: what do we want to achieve, and how can we best do that?

In the School for Change Agents 2018, we were far more concerned with how a platform could be used to create a virtual learning environment than we were with testing the latest technology. We trialled the use of two different platforms (WebEx and Zoom) to see if each would enable us to compliment the learners’ journey in different ways. Webex allowed us to broadcast core content to hundreds of participants live. YouTube Live enabled us to give thousands more immediate access after each WebEx. Meanwhile, we used Zoom for small, closed-group discussions which provided a space for peer-to-peer learning and support.

Feedback from School for Change Agents participants demonstrates that this blended approach to digital facilitation is the future. It recognises that people need to be taught the concepts before they can digest and respond to them (i.e. our ‘live’ sessions). It also recognises that this method of teaching is insufficient without the opportunity for learners to apply those concepts to ‘real work’ and make sense of the ideas in their own context (i.e. our small-group sessions). As such, the combination of ‘broadcast’ and ‘conversational’ platforms creates a stronger whole. Each in isolation is insufficient.

To learn more about the School for Change Agents, and to access the transcripts, recordings and more, please click here.

The School for Change Agents 2019 will launch in February 2019. Details to follow!