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Enhanced Feedback During Live Synchronous Sessions

Wednesday, December 30, 2020
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A few semesters ago, I was working with a midsized cohort of learners in an instructional design course. Continuing education often sees eclectic groups of learners from different industries, stages in life, experience levels, and employment status. This group was no exception. After a couple of live synchronous sessions, I received a message from a concerned learner.

Juan,

I’m really eager to participate during your live sessions, but I’m afraid I’m barely at the start of the road and speaking out in a forum full of experienced professionals is daunting. I feel I don’t have the calibre to match some of their contributions.

If you value the learner’s journey, you know this is the type of feedback you need to explore further. It took a start-stop-continue survey and a few carefully crafted questions to realize that this sentiment was shared by others. The next synchronous session saw a new activity devised to create a safer approach to participating, a virtual parking lot. This was a place where everyone would be able to add their comments, questions, and concerns in an anonymous way. Regardless to say, I ended up having pages of the most valid, candid, and poignant comments I’ve seen in any of my classes. At that moment, I acquired a taste for backchannels.

How many participants truly engage during a learning event? How many feel that their comments are not up to the level of the crowd? How many consider that their questions are too stupid to be asked out loud (even when we say that there are no stupid questions)? I dare to say that many of us have fallen into this behavior at some point in our lives. The backchannels are meant to address this situation by providing a space where learners can say what they are thinking while we are delivering instruction, and the trick is that we can access that information either in real-time or later on to adapt our delivery. This will allow us to address any points that will require intervention while building the necessary psychological safety that gives a voice to everyone.

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Now, if you think that just because you built it they’ll come, you are missing a critical point. What is the most common question facilitators ask to validate learning during a session? Exactly—“Do you have any questions?” Grammatically speaking, this is a question that can be answered with yes or no and even during a webinar, you can imagine in your mind that they may be nodding, still they don’t say anything on the chat or the microphone. No news is good news? Silence means everything is OK? That’s precisely why the quintessential question doesn’t work. Instead, ask knowledge-based, open-ended questions such as:

  • “Why do you think this particular approach didn’t work?”
  • “What solution may have yielded a better result?”
  • “When was the best moment to address this issue?”
  • “How would you solve this problem?”

When you ask open-ended questions, you are forcing the participants to build an answer. In my case, I started asking these questions and allowing learners to upvote/downvote their own answers using student response tools. The combination of alternative channels and the mantle of anonymity made the difference, that’s how I discovered the power of backchannels.

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In a nutshell, ask the right questions and pair them with backchannels. Then, look at the comments, responses, and conversations in greater detail. What do they say about the climate of your session? What are the trends in the questions? What can you do to make a greater impact? Finally, act upon this information; don’t keep it to yourself. Send summaries with your comments, acknowledge participation, and encourage them to keep voicing their concerns. That’s the key for enhanced feedback.

Want to learn more?

Join me during ATD Techknowledge 2021 for the session Embrace Backchanneling: A Deep Dive on Enhanced Feedback to learn how to devise your backchanneling strategy and use five ready-to-apply techniques for your webinar sessions.

About the Author

Juan Mavo-Navarro is a learning technology specialist and consultant. Throughout the past 15 years, Juan has honed his expertise and passion for learning through a breadth of public and private sector positions in e-learning design and development. Drawing on his experience as an instructional designer, lecturer and university professor, Juan has developed a holistic approach to engagement in teaching and learning, which he applies in his current role with University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies Learning Innovation team.

As a learning technology specialist, he designs and develops interactive education programs for the business, professional studies, languages and communication program areas. He also works closely with instructors throughout the lifecycle – from content development to facilitation techniques and strategies – for online and in class instruction.

Juan holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering and Master’s Degree in Telematics Engineering from the Universidad Rafael Belloso Chacin in Venezuela, and Certificates in eLearning and Project Management from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.

7 Comments
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I am not able to attend the TK conference session s next week due to other work conflicts. Can you share any resources that would help with the virtual parking lot and with the enhanced feedback.
Hi, Charlene! Thank you for commenting, and I'm sorry to hear that you won't be able to attend my session. Please check this shared folder where I'm copying the resources I will share during my presentation: https://bit.ly/3a1CnBi. Once the session is over, I will post my deck there too.
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Thank you. I'm also interested in the virtual parking lot. One thing that has worked for me with Zoom is to have everyone rename themselves with three dots at the same time and then submit questions or comments in the chat. That way nothing can be associated with the sender. One of my "backchannels" that has been reliable for me is whenI think something is going really, really well that's my signal to get feedback. I may have slipped too much into my world and not the learners.
Carolyn, that's a fantastic idea! I never thought about it, I'm seeing a lot of potential for sessions where attendees don't belong to your organization.
I think backchannels make you go back to the basics: we're doing sessions to benefit our learners, therefore reading what they have to say about our delivery is the best reality check.
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Great suggestion.
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Hi there - How did you do the virtual Parking Lot? Maybe a Google Doc that you shared access to? Trying to picture the flow of how it would work. Thanks.
Hi, Kris! Thank you for commenting. Indeed, it's a Google Doc with "anyone with the link can edit" capabilities. I use Bitly to shorten the URL and make it more manageable, and then I share it at least every 10 minutes in the chat during the session. I have a job aid here: https://bit.ly/3a1CnBi
If you implement it, let me know how it goes!
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