Photo credit: Leadership Teaching Sketchpad


In the last eight weeks, the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) has facilitated over 120 hours of online learning in English and Spanish. We reached more than 2300 people in Zoom and Facebook Live events. We taught free virtual classes for 14 and for 102. Our weekly book club lasts 30 minutes. Our virtual Your Leadership Edge course kept 32 people engaged for 11 hours over two consecutive days.

Aspiration: Different Format, Same Powerful Learning

In every instance our goal is powerful learning for adults. We know what adults need: Make it experiential and applicable to real world leadership challenges. We pay attention to group dynamics and look for opportunities to use the group as a case for learning. We don’t let the online platform limit opportunities to practice leadership in real time.

Here are three ideas for bringing experiential learning about leadership to the virtual environment. We’ve tested them, our participants find them useful, and we hope you will too.

Look for cases at four levels of attention.

Level 1: Find teaching moments in what’s going on with an individual. (How is Kara managing herself right now? Is she triggered? Has she shut down? What options does she have for intervening to try to move the group forward?)

Level 2: Look for opportunities to learn from patterns of relationship between two people. (When Jamal speaks, Jason often follows up. Does that pattern have an energizing or de-energizing impact on the group? Would breaking the pattern help the group learn?)

Level 3: Prompt people to examine cases at the system level. (Is anyone else noticing that most of the conversation is going through the facilitator? What systemic pressures keep that pattern in place? What can we learn about leadership from what’s going on in our virtual system right now? How does deference to authority diminish rate of progress?)

Level 4: Get people thinking about how the bigger context is impacting their learning together. (What is the impact of a global pandemic on our willingness to experiment? How does it affect our ability to support one another to take smart risks in this virtual environment?)

Name two or three values that may be competing for priority among your online group.

Push people to immediately align with one value or another. (To get the work started name a value yourself. Make it something provocative like, “Get my own learning needs met first.”) Once you’ve generated some heat with a couple of values that people don’t normally speak out loud, assign the group to identify a common purpose. Refrain from facilitating the interactions. Use your authority only to pause the action. In those pauses, debrief what just happened. Help people notice what actions contributed to progress and which do not.

Offer mini-cases from the outside world and one from your virtual classroom.

Put mini-cases on a slide. (I’m talking no more than three sentences). The first three are situations from the outside world. Have learners recommend ways to apply a leadership behavior to the case. Then, for your fourth case, use the group. For instance, if you are teaching the definition of leadership as “mobilizing people to do difficult adaptive work,” your slide might read: “Our group has come together to learn and practice leadership. How will you intervene to make sure no one feels their time here today is wasted?”

How are you creating powerful learning online?

My hope is to generate innovative ideas for experiential learning about leadership in an online world. Are you willing to give one of these ideas a try? What ideas have you been playing with? To increase your capacity to create powerful learning for adults online check out KLC’s Advanced Leadership Development intensive training, coming June 22-26, 2020. Deadline to register is June 16.

Julia Fabris McBride is vice president of the Kansas Leadership Center. This blog post was originally published as an article on LinkedIn.