E29 – Virtual Classroom Learning with Helene Bejjani – Expert Interview

 
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E29 – Virtual Classroom Learning: Interview With Helene Bejjani

For the last 15 years, Helene Bejjani has been empowering people to learn and grow through her focus on 3 key areas: the corporate culture and work environment, leadership development, and employee development. With a brilliant career history to date, L&D BP for Newell brands and HO L&D for Antalis she is uniquely placed to influence significant change that supports business growth, in multiple locations in multiple ways. Including delivering a training program that touches 5000 people in 40 locations globally across a virtual platform. Today, the topic of discussion is virtual classroom learning.

Helene Bejjani

You Can Read the Transcript of Our Interview Below:

Nathan Simmonds:

Welcome to Sticky Interviews. I’m Nathan Simmons, Senior Leadership Coach and Trainer for MBM, Making Business Matter, the home of Sticky Learning. We are the provider of leadership, development and soft skills training to the grocery and manufacturing industry. The idea of these interviews is to share great ideas, great concepts, and great ways these skills are being used to help you be the best version of you, in the work that you do. Welcome to the show.

Nathan Simmonds:

Welcome to this Sticky Interview with me, Nathan Simmons, Senior Leadership Coach and Trainer for MBM, Making Business Matter, the home of Sticky Learning. And today, I have the great pleasure of interviewing Helene Bejjani, I hope I’m pronouncing this right, I didn’t check this last time, just to make sure. Digging into the depths of creativity and understanding around virtual classrooms, so yes, we’ve experienced some unprecedented times, I’m not sure how many times that works been used across the internet in the last three months. This has really challenged us as trainers, it has really challenged us as L&D professionals, it has really challenged us on a social level of how we connect with each other virtually and physically. And having seen some of the work that Helene’s doing and the environment which in which she works in, what is it, 41 different locations. Was it 5,000 employees across 41 locations, I seem to remember something like this?

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah, something like that.

Nathan Simmonds:

That’s a huge spread of people in a huge number of places, it’s not just one or two offices, it’s multiple locations. So I wanted to have a conversation with Helene. I wanted to find out what she does and how she’s coped in these situations. But she’s bringing with her 15 years of empowering people to learn and grow while focusing their work in three key areas, corporate culture, work environment, and leadership and employee development. And her experiences have been previously at Newell Brands as a HR Business Partner, and then more recently as the Head of L&D for Antalis as well. So in this conversation, we’re going to dig into all that, that experience in all these areas and we’re going to be digging into virtual classrooms, getting creative online, and how you use these tools to your advantage in a global arena, such as you do. Firstly, thank you for being here Helene, it’s really appreciated.

Helene Bejjani:

Thank you Nathan for having me, it’s a pleasure.

Nathan Simmonds:

First question for me always is, why do you do what you do?

Helene Bejjani:

So that’s an important one. When you know your why, everything falls into place. For me it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time that, drove my career. I’m lucky that I found my why early in my career and I was able to work towards that. So I always think that, we spend so much time at work and wouldn’t be great if people came to work passionate about what they do, feeling like they are adding value. And this is actually what drives everything that I do, it’s helping build better workplaces, helping empowering people like you said, helping them learn and grow. And I found that through learning and development, we can do a lot of that. Of course, it’s not the only area that touches upon that, but it’s one of the ways that we can help build better workplaces for people to come, to be happy where they work, about what they do and feel that they add value. So I think that from the learning perspective, so I love really identifying needs, whether it’s people’s needs or just the business needs and come up with solutions.

Helene Bejjani:

And when I say solutions, sometimes it’s learning, sometimes it’s something else. So this is where our added value comes into place and yeah, helping people, helping design experiences as well for people, it’s something that we’re hearing more about but I truly believe in that. And virtual learning is part of that so I, like you said, work in global environments, I enjoy that very much. And when you work in global environments, you are working with people from different cultures and most of the time the structure is very matrix-like, it’s cross-functional, and it’s also very diverse. So this difference is something that for me is incredible because it drives so much value, I use the same word value a lot, but it drives so much, the difference is so enriching. So yeah, I love tapping into that and helping people see how it can be impactful, and this is where virtual learning can be very powerful as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah huge. That prime thing that kind of jumps out to me, when you know your why I can’t remember if it was Nietzsche said, “If you can understand why, you can survive any how.” Or at least…

Helene Bejjani:

Exactly. You can. Any road will take you where you want to go. If you don’t know your why, any road will take you.

Nathan Simmonds:

And this is the thing, a gentleman I kind of interacted with a little while ago said, “Your purpose is never unknown, it’s either unclear, unfocused, or unstructured,” So it always exists underneath whatever you’re doing, it’s just whether or not we have the focus to understand what it looks like and the structure in order to make it happen on a daily basis, and luckily for you and the people that you work with, you find that in L&D in connecting with people and helping to increase that level of understanding. The other part that kind of jumps out for me is, there was a post from Darren, the founder at MBM, we go to school, we learn all this stuff, and then we go to work we have no idea how to manage our time we have no idea how to sell a product we have no idea how to negotiate a better deal on something. Now all these things are really, really important to life and we spend the first you know 20 years of our education or whatever it is not learning these things.

Helene Bejjani:

Exactly.

Nathan Simmonds:

Then when you come into L&D, it’s just like, “Ah, now I’ve got an opportunity to share this stuff that’s really important with people. How do I make it work and how do I get to more people.” So it’s phenomenally powerful.

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah and I mean today, to be honest, we have so many new jobs, new roles, that are going to emerge, that are emerging, so traditional schools cannot keep up with that. There are so many things that people really will need to learn on the job, through experience that you can’t have degrees for everything and yesterday, I was actually having a conversation with a friend who wanted to go into something specific to e-commerce, and this is not something that you can find a degree in so there’s this company that trains people on the job and helps them learn the skills, and I found it really interesting.

Nathan Simmonds:

[inaudible 00:06:58] the sound on the computer for two seconds. And that is the interesting thing, because it’s a new world that’s coming, that is here and, as you know, it’s starting to materialize. We home school, we opted to home school sometime before this situation. And I know of people that are using virtual classrooms, so they’re already using virtual classrooms to help homeschool their children in certain specific subjects that they want them to learn or their children want to learn more about. And actually now, more teachers are having to do that. These guys that were doing this virtual classrooms, literally for school-aged children, they’re already ahead of the curve because they were doing it three, four, five years ago, whereas all of a sudden these teachers over here, are suddenly pushed into this camera, oh we don’t know how to use Zoom, we have no idea how to deal with this, and we have no idea how that’s going to affect our thinking or the brains of our children, whereas these guys are ahead of the curve already.

Nathan Simmonds:

So there’s going to be new job titles coming out, as you say, whether it’s for teachers, online teaching assistants or whatever it is, actually there’s this new world that’s coming out of it and no, there won’t be degrees for all of it, but there’s definitely going to be some very specific skill sets that are going to make a difference for that.

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah and the pandemic forced people learn new skills that no one could just teach them. It was a new setting, it wasn’t a normal setting, so even old courses that you could find on how you can do that we’re not totally relevant to the situation, we’re all learning together.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah and correct. And this phrase that I view several times, it’s the intensity of proximity. So it’s the intensity of being with your family 24/7 is like, “Holy cow, I need some space.” And then it’s the intensity of your work it’s just like, okay actually, there might have been these courses to help you teach online but they weren’t there to help you understand what they would feel like if you’re doing it eight hours a day, every day, for the last four months.

Helene Bejjani:

Exactly yeah, with all the pressure and the mental stress about what’s going on in the environment around me, what’s going to happen next, the uncertainty, the change.

Nathan Simmonds:

Exactly that. So kind of the only answer that a fraction of what was actually required in this circumstance yeah you kind of touched it but actually, what does that really look like when we’re doing it for three four months in a row? What does that do when we’re doing it 10 hours a day, and how is it going to affect us? So yeah there’s some valuable lessons out in this situation but also in this situation of what is it we’re enjoying doing, how do we develop the skill sets and how do we get more flexible for the future when certain things change and when we want to create a different environment? And rather than having the pressure put on us we, apply the right amount of tension, so actually we’re constantly developing and evolving rather than being complacent in what we think or how we think the world should be working, based on what we’ve done.

Helene Bejjani:

Absolutely, yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

So what is a virtual classroom example for you, what’s one that really works for you?

Helene Bejjani:

So you did mention virtual classroom in the education system like with schools and everything, it’s not something that I’m familiar with because it’s a different setting and the objectives are very different. I’m more familiar to virtual classrooms for adult learning, mostly in workplaces. And I’ve been doing that for the last 15 years. So virtual training, if I would call it, can take so many different forms. It could be anything that you learn online, but if you want to put the word training to it or classroom, it has to be for a smaller group of people, it has to have very clear objectives very focused. It’s not like, if you think about different examples of online, virtual learning happening, you can think about webinars, podcasts, whatever we’re doing now, webcasts. There are so many different ways to learn online, but virtual training is very specific because it must have specific objectives, it goes deeper into the learning. And I’m focusing on that because you design for such courses differently from how you would develop content for a different online learning, like a webinar or a podcast or something else.

Helene Bejjani:

So it’s very important to be clear about what you’re doing, so that you can develop your content and prepare your session accordingly. A virtual classroom is a classroom that’s usually for small groups of people like 15, 20 maximum, and it’s really designed for collaboration, so people should be coming in, they shouldn’t be passive in it, they are very active and it’s actionable, so participants are expected to interact, to be engaged, so that they learn together and they create value when they are in the session together, so they are coming up with something. I’ll talk about this in a little bit, but it’s something for me that’s not an event that just happens, like one time and that’s it. It usually happens as part of something bigger.

Nathan Simmonds:

Tell me more about that something bigger.

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah so for me, learning happens before you get to your virtual session, your virtual training. Once we send people the details about the objectives of what you’re trying to achieve. Ideally they should be involved in it, it should address a specific need that they have and they should be clear about the need. Whether it’s something that they identified for themselves, so they subscribe to a course, or whether it’s something that the business has identified and it was personalized for them. But either way, it won’t be successful unless they are willing and motivated and committed to learn. So learning does happen before the classroom, and I think it’s the same principles apply for face-to-face, it’s just harder for virtual because you need to design for the collaboration that’s gonna happen online, and you’re actually competing for the attention of your people. When they are in a small room, you just tell them in the classroom, you just tell them don’t use your computers, if you want to take a call go outside, All the facilitators know these rules that you set at the beginning.

Helene Bejjani:

When it’s virtual, you don’t get to set the rules, although you can ask them to share their videos or whatever, but you are fighting for their attention and this attention is shared with other distractions that are happening, it’s sometimes in their mind, like you were saying about, thinking about maybe people in their family that are sick, children that they need to take care of, being interrupted by their children or a family member, what’s going to happen next, there is so much in their mind, and also they can check other things online, on their phone and you cannot see that, so lots of distractions. So you need to make sure that whatever you’re preparing for designing is engaging, so that you get that attention and they are willing to give you this attention. And I think this is what makes it challenging, but at the same time exciting if it works well.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah, I agree and t’s the pre-work where people are engaging it and they understand what they’re coming into and what they need to prepare for mentally. And also a bit of the expectation setting with them up front, “We’re going to be talking, I’m going to be asking you some questions, it’s going to look like this, da da da.” And making sure they’re ready for that when they come in. And it’s the same with our Sticky Learning Lunches, I’m doing 20 minutes of content, but every single day I’m telling people to put their phones on flight mode, I’m telling people to shut their emails down. The interesting thing you have with GoToWebinar, is you can see whether or not they’re on different pages. So there’s a little sign that comes up to say whether actually whether your screen…

Helene Bejjani:

Webex allows that as well yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

So you can start to see kind of your engagement and then you get percentages at the end to say how engaged were the participants.

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah the percentage of time they spent on your screen.

Nathan Simmonds:

Absolutely. So it gives you a flavor of how your sessions are going, I mean, I use a lot of questions in my session because I want them to engage I want them to be thinking. The other part is, you talked about turning the video on, I saw an advert, I can’t remember if it was on Facebook or LinkedIn, and it was a special arm for a mobile phone, so you could position your mobile phone and what they were advertising was it was for a student in a virtual classroom in a university, and the person had videoed themselves just sitting there staring at a camera almost like a Zoom camera, and then they put this up on their thing and they held it next to the camera on the computer playing the video of them sitting there doing that while they were off doing something else. So there’s even companies advertising how to get out of paying attention or looking…

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah it’s a business absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

There’s a business in being distracted, it’s horrendous. They’re even selling you know apparatus to make this work, no, it’s not okay, especially for us in the learning or development industries.

Helene Bejjani:

It’s like putting candy at the eye level of the kids when you go to the supermarket, same strategy.

Nathan Simmonds:

I think the people that design this strategy don’t have kids and then when they actually design that strategy and they realize what happened when they did have kids, then they realized how wrong they were.

Helene Bejjani:

Maybe. Or they have kids and they know what works so they make money out of it.

Nathan Simmonds:

It’s not good, it’s not helpful.

Helene Bejjani:

No.

Nathan Simmonds:

So how do you then, because I mean you said it a little while ago about how you prepared differently, what is it you do then that helps you to prepare for that virtual space? What do you do that makes it work?

Helene Bejjani:

The thing that I said earlier that learning starts before the session is very important, and you can leverage that and use it because, I think there are things that could happen in the virtual classroom, like I said it has to be something that’s collaborative, people need to come and be expected to interact, and all of that. For this to happen, you need to make sure that you design content accordingly, that you think about what you’re trying to achieve, what do you want them to get out of the session? What do you want them to learn? So thinking about the need, your objectives, you think about the impact of your session, of your learning in general. You need to think about what is it that they can learn outside of your virtual session, so that you limit the time that you have together, you use it the most efficient way, and you limit this time for collaboration, for discussions, for things that you cannot do offline.

Helene Bejjani:

So I think the best way to use it, this is why I said it’s part of something bigger, it’s like a part of a puzzle. it’s having like a blended approach where you would have them do a pre-work or read something or think about something before the session, and then they come prepared, they come to the session, they would have learned about the concept, they have they are in this in the right mindset they know what the topic is about so you can build a second level, it’s not like you’re starting from scratch. For me I think this is something valuable once you’re doing virtual learning is not starting, sometimes it’s not possible because it’s just one event and that’s it, but for it to be most in fact impactful, learning should start beforehand so that the learners know what they what is expected, what to expect, what they should expect from the session, and what is expected of them in terms of interaction, engagement, collaboration.

Helene Bejjani:

So this is an important point. To prepare for it there are so many things to take into account. So collaboration, like I said, is key. How do you prepare for collaboration today, we have so many tools that are available, so you mentioned go to training you have you know Webex, Zoom, all these allow for so many different features and I think we need to take into account that people learn differently, you have different learning styles and doesn’t mean that you need to use one style per person, but you need to use a variety of styles. People need to be solicited in different ways so that they can learn better, so that you get their attention and they can learn better. So you need to prepare accordingly, to prepare for collaboration, not for content delivery. It’s just this shift and mindset is already critical when you’re preparing for collaboration, not just to deliver content and just be there talking.

Helene Bejjani:

So there are so many tools, so you can have breakout sessions you can have icebreakers, you can use the chat to get them to interact. I usually have a list of questions, open questions that I have on the side. When it goes silent, I would just uh launch these. It’s important to engage with learners like every three four minutes, so that you keep them with you, like we said, so that you can compete for their attention. So you need to plan for that, it doesn’t just happen. For example, if you’re having a whiteboard activity you need to make sure that you are clear about what you expect from them, how you’re going to debrief it. I once attended the session where the activity was excellent, but then when it was over, the facilitator didn’t have anything to say. So they asked a volunteer to debrief what was written and it was awkward and no one of course responded. But it’s very important to prepare for what you’re getting out of each activity, it’s not just designing the activity for the fun of it or for using the variety, you need to be intentional about what you’re doing. But designing learning for online is different from face-to-face.

Helene Bejjani:

For example in face-to-face, you will be able to have a flip chart activity, put people in small groups, one of them would just share what they’ve come up with, present what they have on the flip chart, you can have role plays. And many of these things can happen online, and there are even more interesting tools that you can use online like for example, polls or asking impromptu questions. There are so many things that could be done that are fun engaging and people love these tools, they feel like they are engaged without having to do, to add a lot of effort. So there are so many things you need to think about but you need to think about collaboration. Once you think you have collaboration in mind, think about the variety, the different activities that you can plan for, so that you get them to learn, to reach your objectives, of course everything needs to link back to your objectives and what you’re trying to achieve.

Nathan Simmonds:

It’s vital for us and we have a single learner objective, we don’t have four, five, six, seven, eight, nine objectives, we have one and we focus in on that. And then every action that we take moves us towards that. Then that collaboration piece you talk about, and actually that works in so many different areas, is there has to be that variety of content. Why, because we know at Making Business Matter with Sticky Learning, how we make the learning stick is, there has to be a video. So we’re using the visual part of the brains that are watching the video. We have to use a quiz or a competition so again we’re using that competitive nature of each other. As a coach I would rather coach people in a training session rather than stand there for 90% of the day just telling them x, y and z. Now what I have bought from the live environment to the online space is making sure that I’m asking the question, because I want to keep them engaged, and the more questions you ask the easier it is for them to stay off Whatsapp, to stay off Twitter, to stay off of Facebook, because then they have to show they’re paying attention.

Helene Bejjani:

And people feel like they are valued and appreciated once you want their insight and they participate and I feel more interested in learning about what others have to say as well.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yeah and there’s two sides of that is when I was at school, I remember if you were daydreaming or looking out the window the first person that gets asked a question is the person daydreaming, normally me looking out the window wondering what’s going on, and the teacher does it to break that kind of spell that you’re in. But then they do it as a point to prove a point and trainers and teachers that do this, they break the relationship when they do this. When though the person is engaged and they give something and it’s the same when you’re online, I see the answers coming to the questions when they’re in the questions box or the chat box. And then I talk about it that’s really great that does that and actually that leads us back to this. So people show they’re paying attention, I then incorporate what they’re suggesting, which helps them to develop the thinking of the other people.And like you say, it creates that group conversation, even though these people are in completely different countries.

Helene Bejjani:

Exactly,

Nathan Simmonds:

Absolutely vital.

Helene Bejjani:

Exactly, yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

What would you say the advantages of a virtual training in a virtual classroom are?

Helene Bejjani:

I’m honestly very excited that this is coming more popular because I’ve been using it and when the pandemic started, I was surprised that, I mean, I know that everyone was going to go virtual it makes sense, but I was surprised that very few people used it, not very few but lots of people didn’t use it, let me say, and we’re lost and thinking about, “How are we going to go virtual, digital,” all of that. Because I’ve been doing it for a long time and for me it’s like, everyone was doing it but I was doing it because I was working in a global environment and honestly it has lots of advantages. For me, the biggest advantage of virtual, let me just say first, that it’s not the solution to everything, you cannot just decide that a face-to-face session any face-to-face session can be converted into virtual, it’s not how it works. Because there are things that could happen better face-to-face and of course for example, if you’re teaching someone, I don’t know how to use a tool, it’s better if you’re coaching them, you’re next to them, you’re showing them. You can do it online but it’s easier face-to-face.

Helene Bejjani:

Anyway, so virtual is not a solution for everything, but virtual can be very powerful because you can reach people at the point of need. So if they need something they don’t have to wait for a classroom session to be scheduled, so they can register to it, block their whole day and go and attend. So you can schedule it closer to the time that they need it, so that it’s coming in the flow of work, and they can apply it right away. It’s not like an event that happens separately, scheduled sometime, and that’s one of the advantages. Another advantage is that it saves so much trouble cost, I think companies are going to continue on doing virtual because they realize that there are things that don’t require you to be traveling and coming into an office for a whole day, with the hotels, the flights and all of that, just to attend the training. I’m not saying it’s not important, sometimes it’s going to be important, but it saves a lot of costs. It’s practically you know cost-free if you do something virtual.

Helene Bejjani:

People can do it on their desk or at the office, in their home, so you can reach them anytime. I mean the advantages are really countless if you get to think about it, so you save a lot of money and people can go back to their work environment right afterwards, it just flows nicely, it’s not something that you need to just dedicate, it could be a full day, but I would never recommend that. But it could be something that’s closer to their work so you can for example, split it into different sessions instead of having like one full day, you can have two hours for like three, four days or spread it even more in time, which is even better, because we all know that you know once when you have a two-day training for example it’s important, the break that you get in the evening to understand what you’ve learned, and the second day usually you come with a fresh mind, you would have assimilated some of the concept that you have learned and you can even learn better than just having everything in one day.

Helene Bejjani:

So splitting this in time, allows people to think about it, to integrate the concept to be able to apply it and maybe come back and share their experiences. And this is where, and this is why I said blended learning could be right solution, because the more you spread it in time and use different ways, you can have mini-virtual classrooms that are scheduled alongside with peer-to-peer, coaching sharing sessions, using a forum to chat for the group to learn from each other, to ask questions, to fail, and to learn from their failures, there are so many advantages to it. So yeah, for me virtual learning is really powerful if you use it effectively to reach people when they need it, it saves cost, and it also is more impactful because you’re helping them succeed whenever they need it.

Nathan Simmonds:

For me, it’s kind of coming up with, especially in an internet international environment, you’re asking people to maybe come to a centralized point for three, four days worth of intensive training and then go back out, when actually you could break it down into the smaller modules, it could be five, sometimes it’s less travel, it’s more productive, it’s better for the environment and you’re helping people to get an idea, take some action, and then come back with that learning then share it with the group and then go and do the next action.

Helene Bejjani:

Exactly, yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

What do you think the disadvantages are to it?

Helene Bejjani:

Of course, we talked about that the attention of people. So if they are doing something else or they are worried about a meeting a presentation they need to make an hour after their virtual training, they might not be fully present. And sometimes, some people prefer face-to-face because they connect with others better when it’s in person. So virtual cannot replace face-to-face, it’s just different. I think it needs to be used in a mix of ways. Some other advantages, for example, would be, disadvantages, is when you have people who are maybe sometimes not good, if you’re speaking, if you’re having your session in English for example and people are not native English speakers, they might miss some of what you’re saying, of the message, especially everything nonverbal that happens, so I always encourage people to use their webcam whether it’s the facilitator and also the participants, but you can still miss a lot, because you only have you know the words, the tone of the voice, which is a big part of the communication but we all know that non-verbal is a huge part. And it’s something that’s harder to spot on virtually, to detect virtually.

Helene Bejjani:

I mean you can tell if someone is not fully engaged or they don’t get something, but sometimes you can just it can just go unnoticed because they are quiet, they didn’t say anything, whereas in a classroom you would feel it, if they would be asking questions, they’re asking their colleagues, or you can see their body language being shut down. So I think this is one of the things that is a bit tricky when it comes to virtual training.

Nathan Simmonds:

Agree, and I think the thing also is, when I’m delivering content, I move around the class, I move around the space. So I’m seeing the person there and I’m looking over there and I can kind of see them in my periphery while I’m looking over there, and like you said, that body language, you can feel it shuts down or opens up or whatever it is. When you’ve got 25 little faces in front of you on Zoom you can’t see.

Helene Bejjani:

And if you’re sharing slides it’s like it adds the yeah…

Nathan Simmonds:

Even less, also because the environment that each person is different, your brain closes off to them because it can’t compute it, whereas when you’ve got everyone in the same environment, it can differentiate, say if your walls are blue, you can differentiate the faces of the people and you get more of a sensation for it. And I think goes back to that earlier point is, it probably has to be smaller groups, so maybe you’re working with five or six people maximum in smaller groups.

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah that’s even ideal yeah.

Nathan Simmonds:

Over a longer period of time doing that content. It will be the same amount of time but it’s just spread out over a few more weeks instead of three days or so.

Helene Bejjani:

Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

How effective do you think virtual learning is?

Helene Bejjani:

I think virtual learning can be very, very effective if you take into account two things, the impact of your learning, so what you’re trying to achieve, and also the learning experience in itself. So you need to think about it and design it with the end in mind, like what are your objectives, instead of just delivering content like I said earlier. So focus on the learners, so what should the learner learn? What are you trying to accomplish? What can they learn on their own? So if you do that, you think about what we’re saying earlier about splitting the content, maybe have them learn things on their own instead of reading something in the class, maybe they can read it beforehand so that when you’re in the class, it’s more engaging. And once you’re clear about your objectives, make sure that you create dialogue, like you design for opportunities for collaboration, not just design content, so that the time that you spend together is a time where it’s social and it’s also you are creating something together, not just pushing content to them. So I think, if you take into account these two things, the impact and also the learning experience that you’re designing, it could be really effective.

Nathan Simmonds:

It comes back to that collaboration piece, as you were saying is, the person needs to be hyper-clear why they’re gonna be in the room, clear agenda. Here’s the pre-work and also hyper-clear as to why the pre-work is necessary and what that feeds into and what the cost is if they don’t do that. So if they fail to do that, what’s the ramifications for the training session, what’s the benefit if they do it. And then part of my thinking it was also kind of getting to that place where you start to buddy people up before the sessions. So maybe there’s a bit of a pre-conversation, so here’s your pre-work, read this, here’s your buddy, collaborate with them, see what other ideas come up because when you get into the training room we’re going to have a group conversation about what you’ve learned about it, so you’re already creating that collaboration and connection before you get into the classroom. And then that enables the people, so when people are in the room they’ve actually got someone to talk to, they’ve actually got a connection, “Oh did you get that do you understand, I didn’t get that,” you’re starting to build that.

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah that’s a good point, it’s a nice strategy, and you can do so many things before the session, so that they feel like they see the value in collaborating and interact and engaging. They see why what’s in it for them and they can come more motivated and you would have already won.

Nathan Simmonds:

Agreed, and the other part is the thing about Zoom, where you have those little breakout rooms where you can split the group up into smaller organizations, but then it’s difficult, if you’re one trainer in a virtual space with however many people, you can’t be in all rooms all the time and listen to five or six different conversations. But having that collaboration piece means that those conversations already starting to happen.

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah and you don’t need to be there. Even if you’re in a classroom you’re not listening to everyone speaking at the same time. For me, it’s really the same thing, you would be with a group and then you’re gonna move to another group and of course, if you’re one facilitator, you’re not gonna listen to everything and it’s not the point. The point is for them to collaborate together to discuss things to evolve their thinking together and just come back to the bigger session and sometimes share what they have learned or whatever the activity was about.

Nathan Simmonds:

I think for me, whether it’s selfishly or whatever, when I’m in that space, and say I’m teaching coaching skills, and my largest class I’ve ever taught I think for that was 28 people, which is, it’s a push for one trainer. In that room though, I’m still listening and I’m picking up bits of the conversation and I’m kind of drawn to, maybe I’m not hearing everything all the same, but I’m drawn to a conversation and maybe they’re having challenges with the content, maybe they need a bit more guidance, or maybe there’s something really interesting happening and I’m honing in on that because what I want to do is, I want to then you know extract that information and then share it back out with the group or get them to share it back out to the group. And for me, it’s imperative, as you said earlier, having the smaller group so you can hear all the conversations going on and making sure that, if you are breaking these people up, the collaboration is really good, it’s really clean, and then when people come back to the group space, “Okay what are the top three things that you picked up from this, what do you want to share with the group?”

Nathan Simmonds:

So again, it’s smaller groups with two or three points from everybody rather than lots of people and then zeroing in on one key element to extract and share that with everyone. So there’s definitely a couple of strategies on… it’s good, it’s getting me thinking in different ways about the way we do our trainings as well, thank you. How do you go about then, how do you create a virtual classroom? Personally, not necessarily the technicalities but for Helene, how do you go about doing it?

Helene Bejjani:

For me, there are so many elements that I take into account. So I make sure I check my audience, who they are. I think the same concepts apply also for face-to-face. Knowing who your audience is what do they know about the topic is very important. Why are they here, whether it’s voluntary if they subscribed or if the business made them attend so you know what to expect and you know the mindset they will be in. Ideally, and I’ve heard people do that and I think it’s important, you can have conversations, if it’s a small group, you can have individual conversations with them before the session to be clear about their expectations and adjust accordingly. One of the things that are that I felt is important during the pandemic is to… for me it’s important to create a safe environment for learning to happen, where people feel like they can share and they are… no matter what happens, it’s okay.

Helene Bejjani:

So I think as part of the pandemic, one of the things that I’ve talked about and I discussed it with a friend as well, is asking people at the beginning of the session if there are any challenges they might have during the day, just to make sure that they are with you, and the fact that they would share that and that they feel that it’s okay and you’re gonna adapt to that, you just get them more engaged because they know that they are in a safe space, this is why I think I talk about creating a safe environment. This is something important for me, I think it’s very important at least. So when I prepare my sessions, I prepare accordingly, so checking my audience, where they come from, what to expect and also I set my expectations for them. So when you set the expectation for collaboration, it’s something that you work on so I send, in advance, what are the objectives, what are trying to achieve, I like using icebreakers at the beginning, so sometimes in icebreakers, most of the time it’s even more efficient if you get them prepared, so you don’t put them on the spot.

Helene Bejjani:

Sometimes it’s really hard to think about, okay tell me something specific about you that no one knows and you go blank, I personally go blank while they ask me this question so I like helping people feel like they have time to think about what they want to share, whether it’s something personal just for the fun of it and to create the connection because it’s not just about fun, we know that, So I like having people prepare something in advance. I like using games sometimes if it’s… I use it in face-to-face but it’s something that you can use in virtual, especially if you have a long session, like two, three hours, you can have games to get people after coming back after breaks and compete. And it could be something non-business related just to unwind and think about have fun together and create connections.

Helene Bejjani:

Connecting ahead of the session is important to start these social conversations because this is what we miss in the face-to-face actually. Because when you go to a face-to-face session you’re going to greet people as they come, you’re going to spend some time chatting with them. In the virtual environment, if you’re starting on time you’re going to miss that, especially if you haven’t spoken to them ahead of time. So I sometimes I was talking to a friend and I recommended that to her because she was having a full day session, she couldn’t have any other option and I’m like, “Okay, why don’t you have like a happy hour before the session, like the previous day, where everyone would grab their drink, they would join, just to chitchat and this way they would test the technology, so you’re winning because you don’t have 30 minutes at the beginning, oh this audio doesn’t work and where’s the link to the training and all of that, so you don’t waste time.”

Helene Bejjani:

Because she hadn’t she didn’t have one minute to waste, it was really packed. And yeah, people get to know each other, they get to see their faces in a very social and different setting, that’s not related to the training directly. So there are so many things that could be done to help create this environment where people feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and they can learn from each other and create the setting for it, So this is part of the things that you can create. And of course, you need to create the activities, the collaboration. But like you said, you have your objective in mind, everything that you do goes back to that. How are you gonna get them from Point A to Point B, what do you want them to learn what do you want them to get out of your session, and you create and you nurture the conversations and the session accordingly.

Helene Bejjani:

And yeah, I like to prepare so lots of questions, open questions and I like to use visuals, people love visuals, sometimes to get them thinking. And honestly, I try to avoid using too many tools because it can be confusing and if you’re on your own, it’s something that could be tricky. Ideally if you have someone who can support you, like sometimes I have a colleague of mine that comes to sessions with me and she would be my backup in case there is any technical issue, if I need to launch something on the screen and also talk about something else, it’s always good to have like a co-facilitator if it’s possible. But if it’s not you need to manage like you can, and yeah so I avoid using lots of tools and it needs to be smooth for people so that you don’t waste time and you don’t lose them because every minute counts.

Helene Bejjani:

So be comfortable with the technology, test it, if you need to use Pose, test them beforehand, don’t just come and use Pose on the first time on this session, it’s gonna be chaotic. So yeah test things, create a safe environment, connect with people. I personally try to uh remember people’s names, first names, and call them with their first name, makes them feel valued and appreciated and it’s like eye contact. If I’m saying, “Nathan, can you tell me about that?” Then just asking a question randomly so you can engage with people directly and help them feel like their perspective is important, it’s important for every one of them to be participating and get something out of the learning. So yeah I use their names, I get to know them and it is work, but it’s definitely worth it using different techniques, using role plays, and there are limitless examples of activities you could use.

Nathan Simmonds:

A lot of different ideas came up to me, which is good, this is one of the reasons I enjoy having these conversations. And actually if you look at… so I went on a training course earlier this year, before everything started to happen, or just on the cusp of everything that’s happened, and they had a Whatsapp group so everyone, they created a Whatsapp group for afterwards. And I remember the amount of engagement that is still going on in that Whatsapp group and we are six months down the line from going through another training experience. So like I say, it’s creating a space where people can get together beforehand and after. Okay, you want to minimize the amount of technology potentially has been used kind of to reduce the complexity, and at the same time you want a space where actually learners can get together before consolidating, get to know each other, go through the learning experience, then come out the other side and still connect with each other as they’re testing stuff out and sharing successes and failures and lessons and stuff like this, so you need that.

Nathan Simmonds:

The other part that came up to me in my thinking was there’s this model, especially in social media, for selling products and selling services of these five-day challenges, where you have these short learnings over a short period of time which is always a ramping up to sell a product. There’s always five days of activity and get everyone into a Facebook group and we get them really hyped up and we give them some value and at the end of it and we’ve gotten so hyped up they just want to say yes to 5000 pounds worth of product whatever it is, fantastic.

Nathan Simmonds:

But actually the same idea is relevant to a virtual classroom where you could use say, a five-day challenge idea, where you’re dropping in five you know individual modules over the course of five days with a little activity through the course of the five days that equals your full day of content, but you give that person kind of a schedule of here’s your idea, here’s your activity go and execute it tomorrow morning and we’ll see you at three o’clock tomorrow and it’s going bam bam bam bam bam bam bam, five days, six days, piece of content, six actions and they’re already taking action and moving themselves forward. But it’s that collaboration in a community, getting people together and then keeping that momentum of where they learn a new thing, take action, learn a new thing, take action, and keep forcing the hand in the most positive way.

Helene Bejjani:

Absolutely and this is where learning happens and behavioral change happens when people are applying what they learn and learning from each other and sharing… I mean, things are much better when you’re sharing it with someone else and you can learn from… you can learn on your own, but it’s better when and more effective and quicker when you’re learning with others. But definitely, you can create any type of learning experience, this is why I like the word experience because virtual learning is just one option, it’s not always the right one and sometimes there are better learning experiences like gamification and things like that.

Nathan Simmonds:

The reason I’ve got excited is I think I got a little bit spiritual woo-woo just for two seconds. We are the universe experiencing itself through itself. That’s the whole reason we exist. We as individuals, when we heighten our ability to create an experience, it becomes a more… I make my training experiential, I want people to experience what they’re learning by me doing it to them at the same time. So if I’m teaching them open questions, I ask them lots of open questions to help them understand the questions that I’m using. As human beings, when we elevate that experience that we create, we bring more people to us, we magnetize new jobs, we magnetize the right people, the people come to the training environment because they enjoy it, and then when they leave is because the experience that you as a trainer have created, then enables them to go and create a different experience over here in the environments they are.

Nathan Simmonds:

So like you say, being in L&D, being a trainer or coach whatever, is about creating an environment, an experience for the individual to come to, to learn the learner experience, and then take that and action it immediately over here which changes their experience moving forward for the rest of their lives and their careers potentially.

Helene Bejjani:

Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

That’s why I got excited.

Helene Bejjani:

This is where you would have made an impact.

Nathan Simmonds:

Yes. That’s why…

Helene Bejjani:

This is why we do what we do, Nathan. Going back to your why.

Nathan Simmonds:

I’ve talked to other people about this, one of my challenges around L&D, or especially leadership development, especially that is a very specific thing, there is a huge disconnect with people actually having leadership experience or being on the front line in a some way, shape… and delivering the content is they haven’t got the experience, they haven’t had the experience, they haven’t created an experience, in order to bring it over here to kind of create this bubble over here where they can teach more people to do that. So for me that disconnect is… well actually what experience are you creating, have you got any credibility as a leader or working with…

Helene Bejjani:

Exactly, it’s about credibility absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

And you can’t create the experience you’re creating from that space is disconnected, they’re in isolation almost.

Helene Bejjani:

This is why people who have experienced something really bad sometimes and they get out of it and they want to teach others how to avoid it are the ones that people listen to most because they know that they know what they’ve experienced, and it’s not that they imagine in their mind. It’s like when you’re not a parent and you’re trying to give advice to other parents, most of the time parents look at you like, “Okay, what’s your credibility with that? If you have a nephew, it doesn’t count.” So yeah, there are things in life, if you don’t experience them yourself, it’s hard to talk about them. Of course, it doesn’t apply to everything, but the more you know about it, you would have experienced it, the more you’ll be able to talk about it in a way that the learners would understand and they would feel connected, like they would feel like you get them.

Nathan Simmonds:

Exactly that, and those people that haven’t got kids that try and teach other parents how to raise their kids, my response is normally, “Thank you, let me know how that works when you have your own kids, yeah?”

Helene Bejjani:

Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

It’s that connection piece, it comes back to that experience. If you haven’t had the experience, how can you create an experience that going to change someone else’s experience? I’m not going to deprive people their pain or whatever, I’ve had my understandings, my moments inside my career inside my leadership journey all those things, I’m not going to deprive someone else the pain of going through that because it’s important that they do experience it because that’s giving them the impetus to move. What I do then, is provide them the tools and the understandings of what I went through previously that enables them to make that decision faster based on the wisdom of the failures and mess-ups et cetera, that I’ve done before, that enables them to do something better than I did, faster, because I want that person to supersede me as quickly as possible so they can elevate their thinking.

Helene Bejjani:

Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

That’s the important part of it.

Helene Bejjani:

Helping others succeed where you have struggled and you succeeded hopefully.

Nathan Simmonds:

A little bit. I’m getting there, it’s still a work in progress, but we’re still working on this. Look so that’s amazing, I love going into that element. One part you talked about is creating that thinking. What is it… let me change question, how do you make behavioral change stick?

Helene Bejjani:

Yeah, I think there are different components in that, but first, let me say that change is a process, it’s not an event. This is why I get back to saying, having a virtual custom is not gonna change anything and I recently posted about something like it drives me crazy when people attend a learning or class or whatever and I think that the change must have happened, “How come this didn’t work? Where’s the outcome of this investment that I’ve made, and my time and money and all of that?” So learning takes time, it’s a journey, it’s not something that just happens, it’s not an event, and we always have like this need to have things immediately. The world is moving too fast and we need something right now. Well this is not how it works. Behavior change takes time, otherwise we would be doing the same things all over again, all the time, and hopefully we succeed in some of them.

Helene Bejjani:

So after a training, people might feel energized, they feel like it’s easy to make the change, I have all the knowledge, all the tools to go and get there, so they are motivated. And that’s like what we usually call, the honeymoon phase, where you’re like happy, everything seems easy, and then you fall back into your habits. So how do you avoid that? First, you need to be really motivated, I think you need to have, this is why the expectations of the learners are important, so that they are clear about why they are there, why are they in the session, what are they learning, why are they learning it, how is it how is it going to help them perform better or be a better leader or whatever the subject is. So they need to be clear about that and they need to have this intrinsic motivation, because otherwise, it’s going to be hard for them to change their behavior if they don’t believe in it.

Helene Bejjani:

Because things are going to get rough at some point, it’s gonna be hard to change the habit, and if they are not motivated it’s gonna be hard to persevere to stick to it. So the thing is, you need to be consistent you need to practice, you’re gonna fail and you need to be okay with that. So it’s a continuous improvement process in some way and it takes time, and this is why for example blended learning is important, and this is why I kept coming back to it, because you can help people apply and then share their experience and learn from each other and improve, and you can use so many different ways, whether it’s peer-to-peer coaching, like you mentioned, like having people just come up together and discuss things before the session. There are so many ways that you can help them through this continuous process with time.

Helene Bejjani:

And I think one another important component is having the right environment that supports the behavioral change. So what I mean by that is, having the environment where people feel safe and where failure is accepted, and it’s okay to fail, where you have cultures of feedback, genuine feedback not just pointing out what’s going wrong, where you allow people to fail, you give them feedback and you support them as they learn and they get up and try again. Because I mean, they’re not gonna get it the first time, it’s really hard. So it needs to be experiential, they need to be able to apply to fail, to get feedback, so I think the line manager’s role is really important and supporting that. And sometimes it could be some someone else, but really having like this reinforcement, the coaching, sharing in groups, the peer support, the learners themselves that you mentioned the Whatsapp group, continuing the conversation, supporting each other so it’s not the responsibility of the facilitator to create all of that, the person facilitating the virtual classroom if you want to go back to that.

Helene Bejjani:

But for behavior change to happen, there are different elements, so there is the person, the learner, who needs to be the driver’s seat, be motivated to do it. They need to be… you can create the experience for them, like we mentioned, that will allow them to apply and learn. And they need the support from the right environment to make sure that they get feedback, they get to share with others, get ideas, and learn, and watch their progress as well, and see their progress and celebrate success as well. Nathan, I lost you, I can’t hear you.

Nathan Simmonds:

There you are [inaudible 00:57:34]. I was thinking that, that moment are you talking about the learner, understanding where they’re going and actually it is the learner’s responsibility, it’s their responsibility to learn it, in a nice possible way, it’s not the trainer’s responsibility. The trainer is there to kind of facilitate the space for them to get that learning, but the learner themselves needs to know why they’re coming there, they need to have the motivation to make that happen they need to know what they’re coming for what they’re coming out of it with and actually encouraging them to be the driver and you just to be almost the Google Maps.

Helene Bejjani:

Absolutely.

Nathan Simmonds:

You give the kind of guidance and facilitate the journey so that they know where they’re going, and what they’re going, where the brakes… all those sorts of things and making that happen so actually they’re engaged and they want to learn it and it does that it happens over that journey, amazing. Helene, I’m respectful of your time I know you’re getting to that point. Last question for me, where can people find you?

Helene Bejjani:

The easiest way is LinkedIn, So actually my first name is French, it’s Helene, but you can say Helen or Helene or whatever. H-E-L-E-N-E, so it’s Helen with an E. So yeah, I’m easily found on LinkedIn. I’m checking LinkedIn very often, I post things so I love the collaboration there, sharing with people learning from others as well. Very collaborative tool that gets extended outside of a smaller session, so yeah, best way is LinkedIn.

Nathan Simmonds:

Amazing, we’ll put the link in below so that will come out so people can connect with you. If you’ve got questions please reach out connect with Helene, and ask the question, you want to speak about L&D, you want to speak about virtual classrooms, these are the ideas and thoughts that are going to help you create a better experience for your delegates, for your people, and it’s worth having a conversation. You can reach out to myself, at Making Business Matter, and also reach out to Helene, we’re here to collaborate, we’re here to help and we’re here to share ideas so that you create that experience for your people. I just want to say [French 00:59:34], thank you very much, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you so very much and look everyone, if you haven’t been paying attention, rewind get your notebook back, take notes, and dig into this and help to create a better learning experience, thank you very much.

Helene Bejjani:

Thank you Nathan.

Nathan Simmonds:

Firstly massive, thank you from the MBM team for tuning in to this Sticky Interview. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to click subscribe and stay up to date with our new training videos and great interviews. And secondly, if you want to learn more about the skills we’ve been talking about in this episode, click the link and take a look at the MBM Virtual Classrooms. They’re there to help you be the best version of you in the work that you do. Until next time see you soon.


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