GCS Academy: moving our learning online

It’s been almost a year since the beginning of the first lockdown. As everyone else, I had to quickly adapt to the new pandemic normal and living in uncertainty. Within the Professional Development team, we worked at pace to find ways to move our entire training offer online.

Martina Arduino, Alpe di Siusi, Italy

I would lie if I said it was easy. I had to learn new skills quickly, such as editing videos for our on-demand webinar library and delivering sessions to our trainers on how to use the online platform and adapt to online teaching. All this with the worries of a new, scary virus, and my family away from me in Italy. One of the first countries to be heavily affected by the pandemic. 

However, within the team, we supported each other and we managed to digitalise the entire GCS learning offer in only 3 weeks. If I look back at it now, I can say I’m really proud of all the work we’ve been doing and the support we’ve been giving each other. 

We weren’t the only ones who quickly adapted to the new changes; our GCS Academy trainers were great in moving their training to an online platform and learning how to teach online from scratch. Their commitment to contribute to the GCS Academy has been invaluable. I spoke to some of them to find out how they experienced delivering training online for the first time.

Paul Franklin, Head of National News, HM Revenue and Customs

“The first thing that struck me is that – counter to what I had assumed – presenting at a distance is more challenging than standing in a room talking to visible human beings. I found it more daunting because, at the time, we were not using cameras so there was no eye contact to provide a sense of how your listeners are feeling and reacting.

“The absence of other forms of feedback particularly body language means you get no personal sense of whether you are being clear and interesting or confused and boring.

“It was only moments into my first session that my web connection decided this was the right moment to flicker. As I muttered my pearls of wisdom into the ether, I’d see a message pop up on my screen from Martina: ‘We can’t hear you!’.

“I’d go into a modest panic as I deployed my extensive technical skills (switch it off and switch it on again) to get things up and running once more only for the cycle to be repeated a few minutes later. But we seemed to get there in the end and in my experience, that’s what counts.

“I’m delighted I was able to make an, albeit juddering, contribution to this important Academy work and it’s a credit to GCS that they pushed ahead in very difficult circumstances – it’s at times of crisis that we need continuity the most I think – and it’s great that the feedback has been so positive.”

Sarah Clark, GCS Strategic Communications Consultant, Cabinet Office

“I’m definitely an extrovert so the move to training online rather than face to face has been quite a challenge for me, but one I’ve relished. 

“The joy of training face to face is that you can see the learning points filter into the consciousness of others while you work with them. But I’ve realised that in webinars you just have to work in different ways to check how that filtering is going. 

“As part of this, I have increased the amount of time I spend doing interactive work with participants. So in a recent strategic problem-solving webinar,  over half the three hour training period was interactive, with participants working through scenario-based problems and campaign challenges.

“This seems to have been received really well, and it’s been great to use the webinar breakout groups to garner how people are feeling about what they are doing. It has helped me remember that you can still garner live feedback through technology, it’s just you need to be wiser and work smarter about the way you do it.  

“When we return to face to face training I will be excited, but now I’m a webinar convert: web training has become equally as innovative, fun and challenging as face to face.”

Francesca Brown, Head of Internal Communications, Department for International Trade

“I really enjoyed working with the Professional Development team on virtual training courses this year. As courses and booking didn’t need to be arranged months in advance, course subjects could become agile and talk about live issues, which was fantastic.

“It was also great that the bite sized, virtual courses were more accessible, bringing a range of rich experience and conversation to every session. I look forward to working with the team in 2021.”

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