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Virtual or Face to Face? What does the future of professional development look like?

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

Zoom meeting
Virtual training

Over the last 18 months, professional development has changed beyond recognition. When I decided to move away from full-time work in 2019 to focus on my own business of providing training for school librarians and teachers I never considered what my online offer would look like. Not only did I feel very comfortable in my ability to run face to face training, as this was something I had already been doing whilst at work, I was also very conscious of the reluctance to do anything that meant relying on the internet within a school setting. At SLS Guernsey we had been using technology as a hook to engaged our teachers with inquiry learning and were met with the realities of doing this as it did not always work... However, as you all know, things changed dramatically in 2020.

Sink or swim

As we plummeted into lockdown it became obvious that I could either bow out for a while or move forward and learn something new... Enter the new bold new world of virtual training. It has been a steep learning curve for us all. Webinars were abundant... Learning from experts we had only dreamed of accessing was suddenly available to all but this was soon to become overwhelming as many of us found hours on a screen just a little too much.

Having started on my own webinar journey it soon became obvious that I needed more. Presenting to a screen where I hoped, there were people watching began to not feel enough... I needed more interaction and if I needed it then I realised that others might just want that too. I learnt a lot about online interaction from running free discussion groups with librarians who just wanted to be together and chat about what was happening in their lives and share ideas about school libraries. I learnt to moderate online conversations through my collaboration between #LibraryStaffLoveLearning and The FOSIL group when we discussed Focus on Inquiry and Empowering Students to inquire in a Digital Environment. I began to focus on how to make a virtual training session more interactive rather than just expecting to be sat in front of the computer for an hour.

What I discovered

Adapting my training was key. I added the following to my webinar training sessions:-

  • allowed me to add live polls to my presentations. Giving delegates the opportunity to respond and see other responses at the same time.

  • Using the chatbox to ask delegates a question that they needed to respond to give them the opportunity to share ideas.

I moved on to small group training to which I added

  • Guided group discussions giving delegates to talk to each other and share ideas.

  • Breakout rooms to try some hands-on learning with others, which allowed those who did not want to talk in a larger group the opportunity to open up in a smaller group.

What this did not allow for was the social interaction found in a face to face training session. Occasionally I did find this in a breakout room where delegates knew each other beforehand but when delegates didn't know each other there was not enough time to create bonds to allow sharing that you get when you meet someone face to face.

What next?

As we head back to some kind of normality it looks like face to face training will be back but what is it about face to face that would make you spend the extra time and money on it? I asked that very question on Twitter...

What you said

"Virtual - saves the time of transportation to another location, less likely to go past the end time (happens frequently where I'm at). Maybe occasional in-person to keep that connection". @chelsea_neptune

"Face to face. Virtual is convenient and brings more people together, but for me, face to face is more comfortable. So many screens in the last year and a half". @royjamesmoss

"Virtual means I can attend or watch a recording. Face 2 face is more difficult for cover as a lone worker and a tutor". @fella_jane

"Face to face - even a socially awkward introvert like me has had enough of zoom!". @LibraryQmgs

"I am weighing whether I can go to an in person conference currently. Costs for travel, finding coverage, and the need for someone to handle things at home make virtual an easier option. Of course, in person discussion and connection is missed". @rebeccainthest1

"I prefer face to face - it’s so much nicer and you can ask questions and it is more fun! I love the social aspect - I talk too much for a librarian 😂" @sara13librarian

"The wider discussions are easier face to face - I agree with @fella_jane that I have got more cpd done this year because of zoom - but it can be quite lonely and less interactive". @sara13librarian

"I entirely agree that online training has huge benefits, not least being able to do it at a time that suits you and to stop and start at will. However, the best part of almost all the training I've ever been to in person has always been the incidental conversations over coffee". @RuthMaloney30

From all the responses I got I don't think either face to face or virtual can do it all but what is nice now, is that we certainly have options to get worthwhile professional development online which was not available pre-Covid. There are not many things we can be thankful for over the last 18 months but this is certainly one positive thing that I think will stay as an option. Barbara Band hit the nail on the head with her reply...

"Needs to be a combination. Face to face for interaction & networking. Virtual for those who find it difficult to get time out of school or geographically hard/expensive to attend in person". @bcb567

Looking forward

I am certainly looking forward to running face to face training sessions in the near future and will keep all that I have learnt over the last year, both good and bad, in focus. Group discussions, quizzes and opportunities to try out what you are learning; are all up there on my list. My offer will continue to be both virtual and face to face and I can't wait to start chatting to some of you real soon...

Let me know what you think about virtual training, what you like or dislike about it and what is missing for you. Or are you looking forward to the face to face again and are happy never to sit in front of a screen for training again? Tell me what you think in the comments below. Thanks!

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Unknown member
Aug 23, 2021

I hope that we will see a move to more virtual training in future. I work part-time and have a small child in nursery, so I can't necessarily manage going to London for the day for a training session. I can quite happily watch a webinar in my office on a quiet Wednesday afternoon!

Aug 23, 2021
Replying to

Thanks for your comment Sarah. I agree virtual is certainly easier on everyone's time and budget. I may have to get round to creating more short webinars after all... 😊

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