All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in (Cyber) Kindergarten

Steve Neidlinger, CAE

The onset of COVID-19 has forced association leaders to rethink their programming. Associations like PAGD have been forced to “pivot” (the new ubiquitous mantra of association nerds like me) to online learning to best provide one of the primary benefits of membership, professional development.

Similarly, many parents, I included, have been forced to pivot to cyber-schooling. Gone are the days of talking to classmates and playing tag at recess. In are the days of sitting at your kitchen table with an iPad having a Zoom conference with
your teacher.

“To successfully transition to online learning, a presenter must be able to vary their voice from humorous to inspirational to empathetic as the subject demands. And they must keep it moving.”

While I am hoping that this “new normal” is temporary on both fronts, there are lessons to be learned between the two. Here are my four tenets that I’ve tied between online professional development and cyberschool:

  1. Combat Zoom Fatigue – Similar to a first grader with a Paw Patrol sized attention span, participation in a webinar encourages the mind to wander. You usually have a laptop or tablet in front of your face, giving you a wealth of distraction at your fingertips, like checking your email or catching up with friends on social media.How can this be addressed? Keep presentations short, two hours or less. Don’t linger on one slide for too long. Use polls and the chat feature to make the presentation as interactive as possible. The more you can change up the visuals and force your audience to stay engaged, the more successful your presentation will be.
  2. Know Your Teacher – Teachers, like subject matter experts, do not always thrive in all atmospheres. Some are at their best with live face-to-face discussion with the audience, some enjoy the comfort of their home office. I’ve been very fortunate to work with speakers who recognize the limitations of lecturing online and can adapt their live presentations to online versions. Others have freely admitted that we should postpone their presentations as they are better live, and that admission is equally welcome.To successfully transition to online learning, a presenter must be able to vary their voice from humorous to inspirational to empathetic as the subject demands. And they must keep it moving. PowerPoint slides are window dressing for most live presentations but are typically one of the two ways that people engage in online learning.
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions – The biggest assumption that anyone makes about an online audience is that they are all socially-anxious introverts who enjoy sweatpants. There are a myriad of reasons that someone may be participating in online learning. Perhaps their family situation precludes them from long trips. New practice owners may be prevented from taking days away from a busy schedule. Older participants may not be able to travel as easily as in the past or may have health concerns. The truth is that there are a variety of learning styles in all age groups, and online learning is a better choice for many of them.
  4. Don’t Make It What It Isn’t – We will never replace the value of live meetings or brick-and-mortar schools. The learning by discussing the experiences of your lives with friends or colleagues is more valuable to most than two hours of online lecture. PAGD events like PEAK are about connection with a group of like-minded practitioners, and that connection is simply not there on the other end of a webcam.The trap that usually befalls most presenters with this admission is that online presentations are never as good as they would be live, and, as a result, we try to cram seven hours into two and make them as dull as a traffic jam. Online learning has the potential to be a place for experimentation for an imaginative mind, and it’s always interesting to see presenters that use the creative space available to make their presentations pop.For those who we are used to seeing at PEAK Mastertrack events, it’s been too long. We can’t wait until we can get together and enjoy each other’s company again. But until that day comes, PAGD will continue to cultivate online opportunities with the goal of making you a better dentist. We hope you will take advantage of this membership benefit.