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Shifting our Engagement from the Offline to the Online

What the business sector could learn from the education sector when it comes to alternative virtual engagement opportunities


image credit: Brooke CagleThe COVID-19 coronavirus global outbreak has caused significant turmoil, not only to all public and private sectors across the globe, but also to how we interact as a society at large. With the UK currently in lockdown and official UK and Irish government orders to ‘social-distance’ and ‘self-isolate’ becoming startling, yet familiar, terms of late, we are now in unaccustomed territory of how we must engage and interact both socially and professionally in how we conduct our business.

 

As a networking organisation that’s main goal is to connect people and businesses, we have placed a high value on the merits of face-to-face communication for forming strong professional relationships, and more significantly trust, to help organisations and business leaders share opportunities, collaborate and grow over the years. Our main activities have in the past been through hosting engaging networking events across Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland and we must now explore alternative channels and methods to maintain engagement with our members and supporting them in these challenging times.

 

Key learnings from the education sector


The education sector has in many ways been ahead of the curve preparing for this eventuality, with the rise in the last couple of decades of online learning opportunities through distance-learning programmes, online modules and webinars to teach virtually students and professionals looking to upskill and support them on their journey to achieve the career ambitions.

 

Prior to the crisis hitting Ireland, for example, Dublin City University had just launched a new online accredited course to help upskill Ireland’s rapidly growing fintech sector, in partnership with online learning platform FutureLearn. Called FinTech: Financial Innovation, the programme was developed by DCU Business School and focuses on how advances in technology, such as cloud computing and AI, are revolutionising business operations with customers and clients.

 

Explaining more about the impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on the higher education sector in the last week, Professor Brian Harney, Associate Professor in Strategy & HRM of Dublin City University Business School said: “The education sector has long used platform-like model or blackboard for hosting content and discussion forum etc. The last week, however, has been exceptional in pushing all content online. Last Friday in DCU, we had 1,400 Zoom sessions running; the week previously there would have only been a handful - if that! There is still a big learning curve, but the switch and timing in the education sector in Ireland (while not by direct choice) has been dramatic and impressive.”


The importance of interaction


Writing for DCU in a recent blog about the biggest wrong assumption made when teaching online, Professor Mark Brown, DCU’s Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning said: “When I first started teaching online over 20 years ago, I assumed that all you needed to do was put your lecture notes on the internet and open a bulletin board for discussion. With the benefit of hindsight, it was hardly surprising that very few students responded, posted comments or even asked questions. What I discovered is that you have to design for interaction and help your students learn how to ask the right questions. I would even go so far as to say more often than not the question is the answer!”

 

The medium is the message!


From my own days studying a BA in Communication at Edinburgh Napier University, and throughout my communications, marketing and membership engagement career to date, I’ve had drilled into me the high significance of choosing the right communications channel to reach your specific target audience to communicate your message effectively, to ultimately help you achieve your desired outcome. The world of online technology and its different channel choices is no different.

 

As office workers are advised not to commute and to work from home wherever possible, there has been a sharp rise in the use of online conferencing technologies, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. 


While Zoom and Microsoft Teams may suit home office workers who have access to PCs, laptops and decent broadband, challenges have been encountered in the past with the education sector when it comes to shifting to the online, with issues surrounding ensuring fair and equal access to technologies at home to participate, failing network connections when there’s peak demand, and the challenge of truly engaging and captivating an audience via a computer screen or smart phone.

 

Rising to the remote learning challenge


For some second level educators, they have taken a different approach in their technology choices to reach their younger demographic of students. Considering the technologies their teenage audiences use and are familiar and comfortable with, some teachers have been making use of Instagram’s Live feature to teach interactive classes. In a recent RTE report on how second-level is rising to the recent remote working challenge, teacher Leona Matthews found teaching on Instagram is “as good for their wellbeing as anything else, and for myself as well to be honest. This is a scary time. At least this helps keep their anxieties and their worries down. It’s great that I can just keep teaching, and just even check in with them and have the craic."

 

Creating virtual connections


Along with educators and businesses across Europe right now, Causeway is currently boosting the content on our all our online networking channels. Being a networking organisation with members across Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, we already have an established online exclusive members area of our website ‘Meeting Point’ where our membership can connect, chat and collaborate. We encourage our membership to make use of this platform in these challenging times.

 

As mentioned in the statement from our Chairman David Greenlees last week, we are currently busy exploring webinars topics we can deliver over the next few months that we hope our membership will find helpful and insightful during this exceptional time. If you have an idea for a virtual event, webinar topic or in even writing a guest blog for us, we’d love to hear your ideas - please get in touch with us, and stay safe and well.

 

 

Author: Aoife O'Sullivan

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About The Author

Aoife O'Sullivan

Aoife O'Sullivan is Causeway's Events and Membership Engagement Manager. She is responsible for managing and nurturing the membership engagement activity for Causeway, primarily through hosting events in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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