The importance of transcreation in virtual classrooms

Workshops, trainings or corporate events – the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the collaboration of organisations in an unprecedented manner. After a short period of numbness and an unfounded belief that the world will get back to ‚normal‘ within a few months, many organisations have started to shift their events from face-to-face (F2F) to online. Remotely conducted events – often with a wide range of results, reaching from engagement to somnolent. 

So, what is the secret of successful virtual events when you want to shift from F2F to online? What are the pitfalls? At 3E, our team has meanwhile conducted over 100 online events since the beginning of the outbreak last year. Our strong recommendation: don’t underestimate the power of TRANSCREATION. 

Navigating through these unusual times is hard. Virtual classrooms are clearly going to be more important as the world continues to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, which affects the way we communicate, collaborate and learn. 

What are the characteristics of a virtual classroom?

A virtual classroom – in contrast to e-learning solutions – provides an environment that allows live interaction between facilitators/trainers and their participants, using video-conferencing and other interactive tools for real-time collaboration. Depending on the situation, participants may be logging in from their home-office or their working place. They are able to see in real-time their host and the other participants, they can ask questions, collaborate in small breakout groups and share their work with all participants.  

The “Zoom Boom” and the rise and fall of virtual trainings and workshops 

At the start of the first wave of COVID-19, we witnessed a sharp increase in the use of virtual trainings. A study of the Brandon Hall Research Group in 2020 showed that 67% of organisations moved their F2F training classes online in the light of the pandemic. Just a few months later, they observed a drop to 36% caused by a perceived lack of effectiveness of online classes.

So what are the root causes of this dissatisfaction with online formats? 

From our experience it is primarily the temptation to just transfer F2F contents into the online environment without considering the characteristics and needs of the virtual medium. I strongly believe that F2F trainings don’t translate well directly into effective and engaging virtual learning experiences. Monotony and one way communication are pitfalls and can easily become challenges, leading to a waste of time for participants, the company and facilitators.  

Online as a magnifying glass for mind-set  

Online events highlight general issues which we have already experienced in past F2F events. These events are often linked to significant effort and cost for travel and accommodation. A training course conducted at an external location is a significant investment for any organisation. Therefore (in theory), it makes perfect sense to make the best of this investment, with the tendency to completely overload the agenda – not giving participants enough space and time to process and reflect on the content discussed. Coming from this mindset and trying to bring your events online brings a lot of challenges. The online format acts as a magnifying glass for the general issue, because virtual events are even more sensitive to pacing and time management. The sessions have to be short and well designed to create momentum and hold engagement. Short units need to build a dramatic tension with cliffhangers to bridge between sessions – basically like a TV production. Otherwise, the participant’s mind tends to switch off at a certain point, and grows tired of the experience. The goal is to achieve a perfect balance of engagement and knowledge transfer by creating virtual events, which are designed specifically for this medium. 

Transcreate: Strip down and design from scratch 

So, what is transcreation? According to the professional translator Marta Pagans, the concept originates in the field of translation studies to describe the process of adapting a message from one language to another to fit the cultural context, while maintaining its intent, style, and content. A professional translator not only translates words literally, but considers the cultural context of the target language. A successfully transcreated message evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language.

So rather than taking your outlines for F2F sessions and squeezing them into an online format, you need to disassemble the entire F2F product, strip it down to its core content, intended emotions and key messages. 

Start from scratch – a liberating opportunity – to be able to design a new experience that can utilise the strengths of virtual tools. Set the stage. Develop your story line, define a framework by setting adequate session units which can carry the momentum from start to finish. Select virtual tools from your portfolio as an online facilitator, which are suitable to transfer knowledge and create the emotions you want to see.

Know your subject, people!

Portfolio of tools – like in any profession, you need to master a broad portfolio of different tools which are specific for online facilitation. Know your subject, dear online facilitators! Failure to do so may result in the loss of a golden opportunity. Practice the tools before you go online. As an online facilitator you have to demonstrate mastership at three levels: grab and keep the attention of participants, live and breath your content, and deliver the key messages – all while operating virtual technology. Easy? Absolutely not. How can it be done? Continuously learn about new tools, exchange with peers, get a coach and practice, practice, practice. Our colleagues offer regular training for online facilitators – from rookie to professional – with a strong emphasis on actual real life application and peer coaching. Learn how to  lead an online discussion. Introduce different perspectives. Facilitate competing ideas and synthesise new approaches to ensure a unique experience for your participants.