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ATD Blog

7 Ways to Nurture Emotional Engagement in the Virtual Classroom

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

We often frame corporate training as a compulsory process: complete these requirements and move on to the next task. It's a reinforcement of a "push" learning culture that is content-centric and an impersonal experience.

Effective learning involves an emotional component. Employees want to do well on the job. They hope to have the skills required to meet their goals. They stress about balancing their professional responsibilities while upskilling. The training function has an obligation to recognize these emotions, and facilitators can improve virtual training experiences by addressing them in their delivery approach.

It's important to realize that the learning experience is changed by how learners feel about it. Facilitators should strive to enable individuals to feel good about the experience and even nurture a sense of community.

Charles Dye’s research shows that emotional engagement serves as the third influential component of learner engagement as well as addresses environmental and intellectual factors. Dye clarifies:

“Experienced facilitators focus on activities that might exemplify this aspect of learner engagement, including positive collaboration with peers (McDonald & MacKay, 1998; Calvani, et al., 2010), articulation of shared experience and social modeling (Bandura, 1986), scaffolded development/demonstration of skill/expertise with a facilitator (Vygotsky, 1986), and the sense of self-worth that comes from participation in a learning experience (Cooper, 2010).”

To nurture emotional engagement, facilitators can:

1. Inspire confidence in the virtual classroom experience. When a facilitator is fluent in the use of the tools, the virtual classroom fades into the background and learners start to ignore the technology. This makes them feel as if they are in a “real” learning environment, encouraging them to engage more fully in the training experience.


2. Demonstrate that all contributions and interactions are valued. When learners’ contributions are acknowledged and reinforced, they realize they are not anonymous and their participation in the learning environment matters. This helps them feel confident, and they tend to contribute even more. This is especially important in the virtual classroom, where learners rarely see the facilitator or their peers.

3. Nurture an environment in which learners feel safe about offering opinions and asking questions. When learners feel intellectually “safe,” they may feel more inclined to contribute to conversations and ask questions. Training should offer a safe space for making mistakes and questioning for understanding. Facilitators can contribute to the learners’ beliefs that their contributions have value, even if they miss the mark.

4. Create an environment where individuals enjoy learning. When learners enjoy themselves, they feel better about being part of the experience. Spark interest! Spread joy! Even technical training can include an element of fun. Advanced facilitators can inject passion into their delivery and the environment to create a more exciting event.

5. Encourage learners by providing positive, personalized feedback on contributions and progress. When learners recognize that individual contributions are noticed, they feel valued. They will potentially contribute more, enhancing the experience for everyone. Facilitators should provide positive reinforcement throughout the process. It can be as simple as saying, “Thank you, Sally, for sharing. Your point aligns with the content we will discuss after our break.”

6. Bolster emotional engagement by reinforcing why the content is important. When learners recognize and internalize why certain content is important, they feel good about participating and are more open to learning. The importance of content produces a positive emotional response because the learner feels that if the content is important, the fact that they’re in the classroom learning it means they are important as well. In this sense, training assumes the role of reward and recognition for the learner.


7. Encourage a community among learners. When relationships start to build between learners, there is an increased likelihood that they will work cooperatively within the learning experience to make it more effective for themselves. Learners “get outside of their own heads” and start thinking about “we the learners” within the learning experience. They will build on each other’s contributions, develop and articulate positive contributions, and seek to adapt the materials to both themselves and the entire class.

Bottom line: Intellectual and environmental engagement are powerful in modern learning. But nurturing emotional engagement increases their effectiveness and effect by personalizing the experience.

Want to learn more? Join me February 5–7, at ATD TechKnowledge 2020 in San Jose, California.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the InSync Training blog.

About the Author

Jennifer Hofmann, a pioneer in the field of virtual classrooms, is the president of InSync Training, a consulting firm that specializes in the design and delivery of virtual and blended learning. Featured in Forbes Most Powerful Women issue (June 16, 2014) as a New England Women Business Leader, she has led InSync Training to the Inc. 5000 as the tenth Fastest Growing Education Company in the U.S. (2013).

Hofmann is the author of The Synchronous Trainer’s Survival Guide: Facilitating Successful Live and Online Courses, Meetings and Events (Pfeiffer, 2003), Live and Online! Tips, Techniques, and Ready-To-Use Activities for the Virtual Classroom (Pfeiffer, 2004), and How To Design For The Live Online Classroom: Creating Great Interactive and Collaborative Training Using Web Conferencing (Brandon Hall, 2005). Additionally, she is a chapter contributor to The Handbook of Blended Learning (Pfeiffer, 2006), The AMA Handbook of E-Learning (The American Management Association, 2003), and The ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals (ASTD, 2008, 2014). She has co-authored, with Nanette Miner, Tailored Learning: Designing the Blend That Fits (ASTD, 2009), a book focused on taking advantage of distributed technologies to create the best blended training solution possible.

Her most recent projects include a monthly Training Magazine Online series titled Virtually There and her newest book Body Language in the Bandwidth – How Facilitators, Producers, Designers, and Learners Connect, Collaborate & Succeed in the Virtual Classroom (2015).

Follow Jennifer Hofmann at her blog, Body Language In The Bandwidth at or on Twitter @InSyncJennifer.

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Great article! I have a number of new facilitators in mind at my organization that I think could really benefit from the advice listed here. Thank you!
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