Guila Muir

Developing trainers, presenters and facilitators to make a difference

Into the Abyss: What I Learned as I Learned Zoom

Like you, I participated in so many Zoom meetings and webinars over the years that I thought I really got it. So when it came time to create my first training session on Zoom, I knew I had it in the bag.

I was wrong.

Comfortable in My Passion

My professional career has been about participatory learning. I started teaching adults using versions of Paulo Freire’s Popular Education approach. Over the years, I morphed those skills into interactive teaching, and prided myself that my classrooms were bright, noisy, vibrant, and effective.

For years in my Train the Trainer classes, I espoused that learning equals change. This explains why adults often resist learning new things—who really ever wants to get out of their comfort zone?

The irony is that, once I had discovered my passion as an adult educator, I didn’t have to change too much. My task was solely to get better at what I did.

Zooming is Not Training: Three Lessons

1. PowerPoint Finally Catches Me in Its Jaws

Since its inception, I have pried subject matter experts (kicking and screaming) away from using PowerPoint. I prided myself in teaching people to transmit content and achieve learning outcomes primarily through the use of meaningful activities.

Similarly to how I refused to take typing in high school so I wouldn’t end up as a secretary,  I dug in my heels and resisted learning PowerPoint—for more than 25 years. I absorbed and espoused anti-PowerPoint research, and could do a reading of Edward R. Tufte’s work with dramatic flair.

What I Learned (Ouch)!
Only in some sharp-toothed nightmare would I have dreamed I would depend on PowerPoint myself. Well, I’m in that nightmare now. Using Zoom to teach, I learned quickly that if I didn’t share my screen, participants would only see me yakking away at them. In order to enable annotation and other participatory activities, I’d have to show something on my screen. And that thing is often PowerPoint.

Now, I must not only learn to use PowerPoint, I must accept it as a foundation for aspects of interactive online learning. (Do you hear my silent scream?)

2. Maybe I Need TikTok!

Now, I don’t really know how TikTok works or even if you could use it to train. What I do know is that it allows you to video your whole body in motion, and see others’ bodies in motion as well.

The sedentary nature of Zoom made me realize how dependent I have become on physical movement (both my own and the learners’). I use movement and music to “zing up” energy, indicate transitions, and for reflection, relaxation, and celebration.

Taking away movement in training feels like being robbed of a favorite food.

What I Learned:
Yes, I realize I can stand up when I use Zoom. I will try it one of these days. I will also gesticulate, use music more regularly, and dream up ways to enable online students to use their bodies. But Zoom’s two-dimensional space will always lack the vibrancy, vividness, and (sometimes even) the abandon of a three-dimensional learning experience. And I mourn that.

3. Easy to Tell, Hard to Do

In 2013, feeling very “early-adopter-ish”, I devoted several pages in my book to how to make online training interactive. To do so, I talked to experts, did research, and even created a couple of webinars (that others produced). I patted myself on the back and believed that my tips could make a difference for other trainers as they entered the world of remote training.

I was full of it. Until I struggled to learn the technology itself, and then tried to figure out how to use it to make my sessions active and meaningful, I hadn’t entered the new world at all. Though it was easy to TELL clients to use specific tools to elicit participation, it is painful to use the technology to do just that.

What I Learned:
The title of this section says it all. Easy to tell, hard to do. A foundational principle of adult learning.

What Does Swimming Have to Do With It?

As an “adult onset swimmer”, and now a coach, I found that the struggles I experienced while learning to swim eventually enabled me to better teach new swimmers. Could it be true that the challenges I personally experience with with online training can likewise heighten my skills and empathy with learners?

I heard something recently. To stay relevant, one must “make the familiar unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar familiar”. If you see me struggling, yelping, sometimes singing, that’s exactly what I am trying to do in this new world.


3 Responses to “Into the Abyss: What I Learned as I Learned Zoom”

  1. Bruce Cronquist says:

    Great thoughts as always. We should share something besides the camera showing our face. PowerPoint, Presi, or other presentation software works. I’ve used OneNote just to say I did and can. There are also digital whiteboards, polls, chat, and more. Variety is the spice of life. For camera’s specifically, I usually use two cameras: the normal one on my face, and one wider angle “whole body” that shows me and the physical whiteboard behind me. I switch between the two cameras as needed.

  2. Guila says:

    Thank you,Bruce. Your ideas always stimulate me to think a little wider!

  3. Paul Finley says:

    Thank you for demonstrating the willingness to be creatively uncomfortable. I especially love your quote about making the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar. I will remember that!

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