Face time

My wife and I are studying Foundations of Business Strategy together. And by “studying”, I mean we are watching the videos – which are excellent, by the way.

My wife is a marketing professional, while I’ve been in the corporate sector for most of my working life, so we find ourselves regularly pausing the videos and launching into conversation about what was said. And it’s great!

I’m learning from her, she’s learning from me, and we’re both learning from the professor. Much more so than if either of us were studying alone.

A Moai in a field on Rapa Nui

Of course, peer-to-peer interaction isn’t a novel concept in e-learning. We have asynchronous tools such as online discussion forums, synchronous tools such as instant messaging, and semi-synchronous tools such as Twitter.

To add voice to the conversation we can use teleconferencing or VoIP. To add faces we can use webcams and maybe, one day, holograms.

But what strikes me about my interaction with my study buddy is that it’s so natural. Of course we know each other well, but being at the same place at the same time means we can read each other’s body language, recognise non-verbal cues, and follow the rhythm of the conversation. Which makes for a rich learning experience.

I recall thinking along similar lines after attending the local meetups that I organised for my colleagues and members of the public who were participating in a particularly popular mooc. I had never attended a mooc meetup before, and I severely underestimated it. The opportunity for the attendees to put a face to a name, share their experiences, gripe about common problems, suggest ways to solve them, and simply feel less alone left a lasting impression on me.

Then for good measure, I read Helen Blunden’s gorgeous Sometimes You Just Need to Meet Your PLN Face-to-Face, in which she recounts her experience meeting up with her Twitter buddies while on holiday in the UK. My favourite part appears towards the end of her post:

Reflecting on the LPITweetUp, the gathering made me realise that the relationship with our PLN is strengthened when we include a face-to-face connection – and you only need one of those to transform what was a digital online relationship to a whole new different level to one which has impact, meaningful and memorable.

Helen's tweetup partners enjoying a refreshing beverage

So my suggestion is to face up to better instructional design.

By all means, continue to facilitate asynchronous discussions – they’re incredibly important. And if you can, organise synchronous sessions, preferably featuring the participants’ voices and faces.

But if you want to transform the digital online relationship to a whole new different level which has meaningful and memorable impact, the answer is clear: you need face time.

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14 Comments on “Face time”


  1. Hey Ryan nice reflection and in the main I agree, but management view face time as expensive (both dollars and people). Digital face time is an option but once again relying on technology to provide you with the face time is a little risky and does not provide that pressing the flesh feeling. I you look at Helen’s blog and also look at what a few of us did last week at LearnX – thats where the great stuff happens – the challenge is convincing organisations that learning can and does occur informally and supporting this in workplace is the way to go, even supporting staff to attend professional conferences where networking is encouraged is a step in the right direction – the benefits will outweigh the costs – not overnight – but over time the effectiveness and impact of this approach can be measured.

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks Con. Face time *is* expensive, and the question should always be raised as to whether the benefits will outweigh the costs. As L&D professionals we have an obligation to make sure they do, and as attendees we have an obligation to make the most out of the opportunities that are presented to us.

  3. ozbecky Says:

    HI Ryan, I think FT is like a bonding agent, it increases the connection! It doesn’t have to co$t much or take huge amounts of time. The opportunity to catch up other over a cup of coffee or the chance to meet at LearnX can make a difference!

  4. pauldrasmussen Says:

    Excellent piece Ryan, and I certainly agree. I think too often these days in the rush to embrace the technological solution we tend to miss the things that make Learning, both effective and enjoyable.

    Con, you are right the organisations sometimes balk at the costs for face to face get togethers, however I think this is something we in L&D have bought on ourselves, we have been so focused on selling the benefits of online learning (particularly the cost saving) that we have dug ourselves a hole, where management says, but we are providing this online why do we need to have any face to face interaction.

    One of the ways we get around it, and I am sure everyone else does the same thing, is we set up expectations early, we make face to face components part of all of the delivery that we do. All of our qualification based programs have mandatory classroom face to face groups, even though we use Yammer and other methods to communicate and link online, and management is told straight up that this is the construction of the course if you want your person to attend that this is the expectation.

    Even with our short programs, we try and include some face to face learning, sometimes it is difficult and yes it costs money, but it provides a much better learning experience to the participants.

  5. pauldrasmussen Says:

    Reblogged this on Organisational Learning and Development and commented:
    Interesting reflection piece from Ryan, about the value of face time in online learning.

  6. Ryan Tracey Says:

    @ ozbecky – Thanks Becky. Face time doesn’t cost much in hard dollars (unless you fly in the participants to do it!) but there is also the hourly rate to consider while they are away from their usual activities. But you’re right, it needn’t take up a lot of time. If you are going to get a cup of coffee anyway, why not buddy up and make the most of it?

    @ pauldrasmussen – Cheers Paul. That’s the dark side of evangelism. I think your approach of setting expectations early is the way to go, but mandating F2F sessions does beg the question of how to service the participants in other locations. Perhaps videoconferencing, or webinars combined with local meetups?

  7. Nick Says:

    Face time sounds great. I’ve not been fortunate enough yet to meet anyone in person, but I look forward to that day. I’m hearing a lot about people’s meet-ups lately and they do sound effective for learning and really cementing that learning relationship.

    Great post, I enjoy other’s reflections on their in person meetings, even if they are in the same house :-)

  8. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks Nick. Hey, I love your #LrnToday initiative: http://www.technkl.com/share-what-youve-learned-today-lrntoday/

  9. Becky Peters Says:

    Rather timely webinar: Increase Learning Effectiveness by Adding Social and Informal Learning to Your Mix! Speaker:
    Charles DeNault, Director, Social Business Marketing, Saba
    Date: Thursday, September 19, 2013
    Time: 10:00AM Pacific / 1:00PM Eastern (60 Minute Session)

    http://www.trainingmagnetwork.com/main/home

  10. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks for sharing, Becky.


  11. You’re absolutely right, Ryan, about face time. I found that it’s a crucial component to effective working, too. Initiating a virtual project with a face-to-face meeting has had much better results for me than running the entire project. On paid projects, the lack of a face-to-face meeting usually results in avoidable conflict; on volunteer projects, the presence or lack of a face-to-face meeting at the beginning of the project often spells the difference between success and failure.

    Saul Carliner

  12. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Cheers Saul :0)

  13. Arlene Quinn Says:

    I studied coaching for 3 years in early 2000’s when the only way was telephone links and email/web materials. The opportunity ot have a study buddy each module helped with the lack of face to face time.

  14. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks for sharing, Arlene.


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