In the Virtual Classroom with Schulich ExecEd facilitator Mark Norman

Posted on May 12, 2020
In the Virtual Classroom with Schulich ExecEd facilitator Mark Norman

When veteran Schulich ExecEd facilitator Mark Norman first considered taking his successful programs on the power of appreciative leadership online, he admits he had doubts.

Concerned about whether his material or approach to the subject would translate well online, he nevertheless realized the need to go online during the pandemic and gave serious, reflective thought as to how he could do it.

He started by stepping back from his role as a facilitator and putting himself in the shoes of a participant. It led him to make significant changes to the traditional in-class method of teaching and learn to use the technology that makes online learning possible.

One key realization came to him – his role is not to just deliver content. As he puts it, he is there to help people have a transformational experience which involves more than just lecturing via computer.

To give himself more time to help participants understand the context and application of the techniques he teaches, he decided to move content delivery out of the live sessions and provide it in the form of pre-work videos that participants could view on their own time. With the help of Carlo Sicoli, a learning designer with Schulich ExecEd’s custom program team, he created a series of short videos on a platform called Canvas and provided them to participants before the scheduled program date.

For the live “in-class” sessions, and thinking about what he would feel like sitting through an online session, Norman realized he needed to make a change by limiting the time for each meeting to two 90-minute sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This allowed people to participate without becoming screen-fatigued and to reflect on the learning between sessions.

Each session involved the use of the video-conferencing application’s functions for breakout room discussions where participants could engage with each other and compare notes on the material they were already familiar with from the pre-work videos. The instructor is able to group people easily into groups and can even drop into their virtual breakout room to listen in and join the conversation.

What Norman found is that the participants, some of whom were as skeptical as he was about the online experience, came to the classes well prepared and able to engage in substantive discussions with their peers. “Participants really stepped up,” he says.

In the assessments following the session, Norman was gratified at the overwhelmingly positive response to the new mode of learning and found participants were realizing there were actual benefits to the virtual classroom that enhance the learning.

After their initial reluctance, both facilitator and participants quickly adapted  to the virtual classroom and discovered that they enjoyed the experience thoroughly.


More and more of Schulich ExecEd’s executive education programs are being redesigned for the Virtual Classroom. Visit our featured Online and Virtual Classroom programs web page to see the growing list of programs being offered for the stay-at-home learner.