Beware of the illusion of mastery.  Have you ever watched a tutorial on how to paint a room like a professional? It looks easy on screen, and you’re certain that you can achieve the same result once you start dipping your brush. However, that’s the paradox of asynchronous digital solutions: The more carefully they are designed, the more they can induce the illusion of mastery.

How can you overcome this illusion? Start painting for real, and ask your neighbor to give you feedback. Confronting with practice enables us to realize that developing new skills is not that easy, and confronting with others provides support and enables us to enhance our skills.

At a time when the adoption of self-paced and distance learning is making a historic breakthrough, learning and development (L&D) professionals must ask themselves, “How can these confrontations be set up in a learning-from-home world?”

Share With the Group

Let’s say you want to train your managers on remote management, so you begin to plan a virtual classroom experience for your organization’s entire leadership team. It’s important to remember that human interaction is essential, but permanent contact with the group is not.

Virtual interactions require more concentration because they occur at a distance, making it impossible to rely on interpreting facilitators’ and other participants’ body language. Therefore, learners must work at full capacity to compensate. On the other hand – although heightened attention in virtual interactions can result in learner fatigue – the benefits of virtual interactions outweigh the shortcomings in courses such as soft skills training, where practicing and simulating conflict plays a key role. However, this is not necessary when dealing with “simple” learning.

Therefore, learning professionals should save human interaction for activities that are worthwhile, such as role-play and discussions that allow learners to reflect or offer feedback on a technical exercise.

Above all, it is necessary to combine selected group interactions with individual interactions.

A Case Study

Let’s look at a learning journey that was designed two years ago, with no requirements but to maximize return on investment (ROI). It is based on an innovative model, combining the power of digital and the richness of human interactions to deliver a flexible and engaging learning experience.

This six-week course was based on the principle of “learning sprints,” with each sprint focusing on a professional situation and integrating digital resources, such as eLearning courses, interactive videos, job aids and microlearning content.

Step 1: Learning Set-up

The first objective is to meaningfully engage the learner in the learning project. Several modalities can achieve this objective:

  • Course descriptions and pre-course videos explain the benefits of the training to learners.
  • The learner is encouraged to choose a learning buddy with whom they can discuss and reflect on the course throughout the program. These conversations will allow learners to identify and verbalize their motivators and serve as a major lever of commitment.

Step 2: Personalize Your Course

Second, from a list of four courses, the learner selects the two learning sprints most relevant to their role and daily job functions. For example, depending on the challenges learners are experiencing in their work, they may choose learning sprints on:

  • Setting up and managing new remote teams.
  • Running effective virtual meetings.
  • Effectively communicating with remote teams.
  • Handling underperforming employees.

This customization is done in a 90-minute virtual workshop with other learners and a facilitator. The ability to select and direct their own learning increases learner engagement and allows learners to connect training to their professional realities.

Step 3: Learn and Transfer Sprints to the Workplace

The learner then completes their selected sprints over the course of two weeks, with two objectives: To take ownership of the learning and to practice as much as possible.

This step is based on the completion of online digital resources (around one hour per sprint) and collaboration with other learners in exercises and simulated scenarios (around two hours per sprint).

During these two weeks of application and experimentation, learners are invited to share their successes and challenges with their learning buddy, as well as connect with the facilitator for questions and feedback at any time.

Step 4: Group Coaching

The learners are then reunited with the group and facilitator in a 90-minute virtual classroom.  Learners are split into breakout rooms, where they can share and reflect on their experiences. During this time, learners have an opportunity to receive peer feedback and advice or simply share their successes with other learners.

Above all, this virtual class allows learners to develop self-awareness in their learning journey and prepare for the last stage of the journey.

Step 5: Get Certified

In the final step, learners apply their new knowledge and skills. Learners will participate in  microlearning reinforcement programs for their dedicated learning sprints, receiving nudges and push notifications to complete an exercise or review course content to their work emails or mobile devices periodically for three weeks following the course. The objective is to activate and practice the skill regularly in order to anchor and retain the knowledge. This reinforcement program also allows learners to accumulate evidence of training implementation.

This evidence will feed into the certification process. Learner performance will be reviewed by the facilitator, who will confirm learners’ understanding and proficiency in learning objectives and provide constructive feedback. Evidence illuminates blind spots in learning and ensures results are achieved.

Beyond formalities, building evidence of application allows learners to pause and reflect on what they’ve learned and how they learned it.

The Three Types of Individual Interactions

In this case study, there is a harmonious combination of:

  • Asynchronous resources selected by the learner based on their role and job functions.
  • Peer interactions geared toward decision-making and complex problem-solving.
  • Individual interactions with practice buddies, the learner’s dedicated learning buddy and facilitator.

Practice Buddies

The solution you develop must encourage confrontation with real-world problem solving and practice buddies. While peers may not be experts, inviting learners to collaborate encourages experimentation and continuous feedback. Setting up a “practice buddy ecosystem” can be conducive to learning.

Learning Buddy

The learning buddy is chosen by the learner based on trust and credibility. The learning buddy is not necessarily an expert regarding the content. In fact, the less familiar the learning buddy is with the content, the better. The learning buddy’s role is to listen and help the learner verbalize what they’ve learned. By making an effort to remember essential points and share them, the learner builds strong connections to the learning.

In the context of the previous case study, the learner meets with their learning buddy three times over six weeks, corresponding to three key moments of engagement:

  • During set-up, when the learner selects their learning sprints.
  • When the learner begins completing online activities.
  • During certification, to challenge and encourage implementation.


As an expert, the facilitator is able to answer questions related to content and challenges. To ensure learners see the course through, facilitators must:

  • Care personally: Allow for experimentation and error and provide guidance.
  • Challenge directly: Make sure course objectives are respected and achieved and measure the learner’s engagement and application of skills to grant certification

At the intersection of these two postures, we find “radical candor. ”

Learning Performance Requires Investment in Human Interaction

As far as practice buddies are concerned, collaboration occurs totally “in the flow of work” and does not generate extra costs.

However, individual coaching from learning buddies and facilitators requires bandwidth. And learning leaders must account for the cost of implementation and ensure learners do not simply consume training but actively apply new skills and collaborate with others to achieve deeper understanding.

However, these costs are largely offset by the benefits. This model has been tested with over 2,000 learners and results show:

  • Delivery on learning commitment and efficiency.
  • Facilitators and learning buddies contribute to the establishment of a learning culture.
  • Increasing the human aspects of digital learning has a promising future.

Now more than ever, design your learning solutions to be 100% digital and 100% human!