Given the explosion of webinars, MOOCs, and other virtual classroom tools, online facilitators owe it to their participants to identify ways to strengthen the learning experience. Rather than trying to make classroom resources fit the online space, we need to underpin the journey with sound andragogy.
Unfortunately, facilitators sometimes forget that adult learning principles need to be the backbone of their sessions when they move online. Just because learners are participating at a distance, they should still be involved in the learning and with each other.
I recently sat in on a 60-minute webinar. Participants were finally asked a to respond to a question in the last two minutes of the presentation. You guessed it; the question was “Are there any questions on anything we have covered?” This is bad practice in any learning environment, but when experienced online, it amplifies the disconnection.
In recent months, I have been developing webinar programs that support VET practitioner capability. In preparation for this project, I attended as many webinars as was practicable with as various organizations to gain perspective about what worked and what didn’t. As you can imagine, I discovered that there was quite a lot of room for improvement. More important, I realized that as an industry, we are in danger of damaging the virtual training brand unless we become more effective and engaging with our facilitation.
Based on this experience, I compiled seven guidelines that the virtual trainer can follow to improve their success when facilitating online learning.
Design materials to engage
Design is important for any trainer, regardless of delivery mode. However, it is particularly critical for virtual training. Less really is more when it comes to designing slides, and the right visual metaphor will always trump a page of text for engaging learners.
Consider how the participants will have access to resources. You don’t really want them clicking between windows during the presentation. A snapshot of information is preferred to a detailed resource, which could be emailed after the session.
Where bandwidth is an issue, the trainer should look for alternatives to the use of webcams and long video clips. Text chat, collaborative white boarding, and fun memes are good options. Reducing the resolution of images will also help in decreasing “lag time” problems.
Prepare pre-session activities
For learners who tune in early, there could be exercises, polls, and word puzzles programmed on a loop. These will help prepare them mentally for the content to follow and sets the scene for later involvement and interaction. Additionally, the facilitator could lead some technical checks like sound volume and clarity in order to reduce problems during the presentation.
This sort of interaction helps learners stay online until the session actually starts—instead of straying away to check email and Facebook.
For new users, links to short you tube videos on how to use the platform (for example, Webex Goto Meeting or Blackboard Collaborate) could be sent to learners in advance.
Finally, those pre-session moments can be a useful time for the trainer to connect with their group by sharing some information about themselves and their team.
We ask learners to turn off email, phones, and limit other distractions, but sometimes fail to follow those guidelines ourselves. As trainers we have to honor our participants and ensure that we are fully focused on them. It is too easy to sneak a peek at messages and lose focus.
Log in early
Logging in 15-20 minutes before the session starts will give you time to test your audio and reacquaint yourself with the platform tools. If you are presenting with more than one person, check that there isn’t unnecessary feedback coming from the microphones. This includes those that may be on a panel and remotely connecting.
Use a hands-free headset
While adding a hands-free headset can add cost to your initial set-up it will help you give a more authentic delivery. More important, it allows you to control other tools and features more easily. Further, a hands-free headset will improve the audio quality of the presentation, which will be of benefit for those attending live and those watching the recording post-training.
Involve the participants early and often. When the training isn’t face-to-face, the trainer is competing for attention with everything else going on around the participants and on their screen. As a ballpark rule, try to involve the participants every four minutes. You can use such tools as:
- “show of hands”
- text chat
- online break out rooms
- shared whiteboard
- photo share
- stretch breaks.
Set up post-training success
Even though virtual training has painted the broad stokes for the participants, the trainer still needs to promote reinforcement and support learning transfer. As a tip, send out a transcript of the questions and answers post training, as well as copies of any additional reading or resources that were discussed online. Providing a link to the recording, also will enable participants to revisit their learning and help them retain key concepts.