Are You a Facilitator or a Teacher?

July 12, 2017 11:38 by Dana Peters
  For those of you tasked with the responsibility of delivering courses in the virtual classroom for large corporations, I have a question. Would you label yourself as a facilitator or one of teacher? According to Merriam-Webster… A facilitator is defined as: “someone who helps to bring about an outcome (such as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision”. A teacher is: “one whose occupation is to instruct”. Let’s go back to high school. A teacher stands in front of a class of impressionable young minds. These minds are young, generally lack experience in the subject, and look to the teacher to do just that: teach. These young students go to school to be taught; math, science, chemistry, Spanish etc. Often it is the teacher delivering the information, and students listening and taking notes. Historically, though there are exceptions, it is a passive activity for the students. In corporate learning it’s different, or at least it should be. In the corporate world, your learners are often professionals, sometimes with 5, 10, or even 20 years of real-world experience available to tap into and expand upon. Most will be laser focused on how they spend their time. When attending a required training class they are going to be looking for the benefit to spending their time away from their work. If this is not quickly identified they will probably mentally check out.  The learning experience needs to be personalized, relevant to their work, and clearly advantageous to their success back on the job. The more control they have in the learning process the more committed they will be to the outcomes.  To be effective, we must facilitate learning.  Why is this distinction important? Facilitators encourage discussion and questions related to real-life situations and examples, allowing learners to consider different ways in which the content relates to their jobs.   In a facilitation situation, the learners drive the discussion, moving the conversation in directions that are meaningful to them and their careers. Skilled facilitators will allow this to happen, and guide the discussion to connect to the learning objectives. As a side note, strong facilitators are well prepared. Prepared facilitators know the content and the subject matter so well that conversation can flow freely, diverging several times, and still stay true to the ultimate objectives. Preparation allows the ability to be flexible, nimble, and respond to the needs of each individual. This means that each and every delivery of the content will be different, but accomplish the same objectives. As we said in a previous post, “Proper preparation, planning, and practice allow facilitators to focus on the moment, fully.” By allowing learners to drive discussion, your vILT program will be more applicable to the learners in the classroom at the moment. One class may drive the discussion one way, while another may drive it in the opposite direction. Still, each group of learners’ needs are met. I encourage you to think about your approach and your role in the virtual classroom. Are you a facilitator or a teacher?        

Top Five Strategies to Engage Learners in the Virtual Classroom

June 20, 2017 07:17 by Dana Peters
Learner engagement is key to a successful virtual instructor-led training (vILT) session. Promoting active involvement from your participants can be a difficult task in any instructor-led course, but it can be particularly challenging in the virtual classroom environment. Your learners are remote, sometimes scattered all across the globe, and you’re often competing with busy work schedules, emails, phone calls, and other meetings. So how does a good facilitator connect with learners in the moment, despite these challenges? Keep Class Size SmallSince active participation is important to the success of your virtual learning session, it’s best to keep your class sizes smaller. Think back to your school days. It was much easier to disappear in a lecture hall filled with 200 plus people than it was in a small face-to-face classroom with 15 to 20 other students. A smaller class size allows you (and anyone helping you with the delivery) to keep track of who’s participating and who’s not. It also allows more tentative learners a chance to participate without the pressure of their ideas and answers being shared in front of a sizeable classroom full of people. Of course, it’s not always possible to keep class sizes small. In instances where it isn’t, consider small group breakout activities.Personalize ItThis can be interpreted in a few ways. First, learn as much as you can about the learners that will be in your class. Prior to the session, and during. This might mean a short survey that is part of their pre-work or an introductions activity as the participants gather before class starts. That introduction might include a question related to the course content. Second, utilize what you know about your unique group of participants to connect the content of your course to their specific needs and the work that they do back on the job. Doing so, will provide learners with relatable experiences they can build upon and share. Check out our previous post on facilitation techniques for more detailed information.Use the ToolsThe tools in the virtual classroom are specifically designed for promoting engagement, idea sharing, and conversation. Use them! Utilize breakout rooms, whiteboards, polls, or chat activities to spark small and large group discussion, and leave the phone lines open (as long as there’s not too much noise or distraction) to encourage verbal conversation as well. Asking participants for simple contributions in chat or on the whiteboard can fuel a rich discussion.  For example, you present a group a list of alternatives on a whiteboard and ask them to circle which alternative would work best for their situation. Then to dive deeper, you could call on one or two individuals to elaborate for the group the reason for their selection.Examine How You Ask QuestionsThe types of questions you ask and more specifically, how you ask them, are crucial. It goes beyond asking open-ended questions, you have to extend the conversation and offer opportunities for more participants to get involved. Check out our previous post on the types of questions you can use to facilitate productive conversation. Set and Maintain Learner ExpectationsWe have talked in the past about the importance of setting learner expectations in your virtual classroom.  If a learner doesn’t know why they are taking the class, what value it has to them personally, and what they need to do to be successful before, during, and after class, they are unlikely to be engaged. Good communication is required in order to set and maintain those expectations throughout the course, and we’ve outlined a few strategies for setting expectations in a previous post. Of course there are many more ways to engage learners in the virtual classroom, but these five strategies are a good start. We hope they add value to your virtual instructor-led training sessions. What about you? What have you done to promote engagement in your vILT programs? We’d love to hear.

Creating Learning Videos Using VideoScribe

May 24, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
We’ve all probably participated in a virtual instructor-led training (vILT) session where video clips were utilized. Either in a class-time activity, part of a pre-work assignment, or even embedded into marketing materials to promote the learning event. You might think those videos cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to create and require a team of career videographers to produce. In some cases, you are right, but today, I’d like to share with you a unique and inexpensive tool we’ve used to create whiteboard-style animation videos on a few instructional design projects. The tool is called VideoScribe. VideoScribe provides anybody, from experienced videographers to complete novices, the ability to create high-quality, whiteboard-style animation videos. Our designers have used the product to create learning videos for vILT courses but, for us, this tool has turned into what I call a “two for one”. Not only are we using it on instructional design projects, but we are also using it for our own marketing purposes as a creative way to communicate who we are and what we do. You can learn more about VideoScribe and how it is being used to communicate concepts, share ideas, and create awareness on their website. The client work we have done with the tool is confidential, but you can check out one of the promotional videos we developed to support our own company marketing efforts: The creative possibilities seem endless. What ways do you think you could utilize VideoScribe in your learning programs?  

Setting Learner Expectations for the Virtual Classroom: Why, When, and How.

February 28, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
In addition to dynamite content, setting expectations for your virtual instructor-led training (vILT) courses are an important ingredient to the recipe for success.But how do you make sure your learners are ready and prepared for success in your virtual class?There are many layers to that onion, but today, I’d like to discuss learner expectation setting in regard to why, when, and how. The Why Once your course is ready to go live, it’s important to inform your learners about the class, but it goes far beyond just sending out the class link inviting people to attend. The whole point of your virtual class is to meet the learning goal and stated learning objectives. If the learner doesn’t know why they are taking the class, what value it has to them personally, and what they need to do to be successful before, during, and after class, it is very unlikely that the class will be a success. Simply stated, setting learner expectations for your vILT classes is key to your success and theirs. The When When does setting expectations for our virtual classroom learner happen? To successfully set learner expectations it needs to be communicated (and reinforced) at every communication touchpoint. That means… When they read the course description When they register for the course When they received their course confirmation When they look at the meeting appointment on their calendar When they receive or access their pre-work When they receive their reminders leading up to class When they open their participant guide When they first log into the classroom And it needs to continue through the duration and completion of the course as well. The How The “how” centers on good communication. The message about what you are expecting from your virtual learner at every possible opportunity needs to be clear, concise, and consistent. Define your expectations about: Pre-work requirements Testing links and equipment ahead of time Their environment in which they will be joining class from What’s in it for them Their arrival time Attendance Participation during the session Post session work or next steps back on the job Part of setting expectations is repetition. Your learners are busy people with lots of demands competing for their attention. This is why your communication about expectations needs to be concise, consistent, and frequent…at every touch point. The other part is a bit of a sales and marketing job. Your message should clearly answer the following question: What is the value to the learner of meeting the expectations you have set forth? What are your ideas around setting learner expectations in the virtual classroom?

Hello? Is This Thing On? Finding Your Energy in the Virtual Classroom.

May 17, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
One of the greatest challenges for many facilitators transitioning from face-to-face courses to virtual ones, is finding the energy they need from the virtual space. Good face-to-face presenters thrive on the energy and reactions they get from their learners: smiles, laughs, head nods, or even confused looks - all help the facilitator respond, react, and move forward accordingly. In most virtual instructor-led trainings those cues disappear. Some facilitators find this change difficult, and many even describe it as plain uncomfortable. We’re here to help you through it. There are ways to draw energy from your virtual audiences, and for us, it starts with personalization. Personalization is a great way to draw energy from your virtual session. Get to know your learners Keep the class sizes small and intimate so it provides you with more opportunity to really get to know who is participating. Assigning pre-work for the session will lend insight into the learners’ personalities as well as what they’d like to gain by attending the session. This will feed you ways to connect with the learners when you meet in class. Use your learners’ names as often as feels natural. This will help establish a connection and add to the personalization. Knowing your learners will help you connect with them on a deeper level, a level that should foster some energy during the course. Use the tools Most virtual environments provide tools and techniques for learners to interact in ways that mimic a face-to-face environment. Encourage learners to utilize annotation tools to agree, disagree, or even applaud and laugh during discussions. While not quite the same as emotions in a traditional in-person classroom, these tools can help add to the energetic vibe of the course- for you, as well as for the other learners. Encourage use of the chat function throughout the session to share any thoughts that come to mind - not just a place to respond when you ask a question or for them to post their questions. Typing a welcome message and other casual dialogue starters will help encourage this. You may need to enlist your host to help you with this. Whenever possible leave phone lines open and encourage open dialogue. Again this works best if the class size is somewhat smaller. Take advantage of video features whenever possible (and not cumbersome), and encourage learners to interact and get involved with the discussion. Many virtual environments offer opportunities for small group or breakout discussions. Utilize those small group discussions as much as possible, and treat them as an opportunity to gather energy by listening in, and “walking around” to the different groups. Hearing the verbal discussions, and seeing the small group work come together should give you some energy, and points to tie back to the course instruction. As you can see, the virtual environment offers plenty of opportunity to energize you as a facilitator. Your environment There are two things that I have on my desk when I facilitate virtually; a mirror and pictures of smiling family and friends. The mirror keeps me in check on what my body language and facial expressions are like. Since I know my energy comes through in my voice, I need to see that my energy is up when I look at myself. The pictures give me someone to talk to rather than feeling like I am talking into cyber space. While you may not have the facial expressions and strict verbal cues you’re used to from a face-to-face session; you can have lively discussion, robust collaboration, and even more energy if you know where to find it. Where do you find energy in your virtual training presentations?  

Virtual Facilitators, Are You Prepared to be Spontaneous?

May 3, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
For facilitators of virtual instructor-led training, a commitment to planning, preparation, and practice is the most effective strategy to foster spontaneity in class. Wait, what? I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but a significant amount of work needs to be invested before anyone even logs into your class in order for you to be that spontaneous engaging facilitator you want to be.   To better illustrate this point, let me share a “light bulb” moment experienced by one of my workshop participants. During a recent workshop session, a group of virtual facilitators and I became engaged in a discussion about the nuts and bolts of planning a virtual learning event. As I stressed the importance of planning, preparation, and practice, one workshop participant shared her concerns. “I am not seeing how I can be spontaneous when the entire class is mapped out in such detail…it feels like shackles to me…where’s the personality…I need to operate in the moment.” Knowing that spontaneity is important, we decided to move forward with the class agenda and revisit everyone’s perspective on the topic later in the workshop. By the time we finished going through case studies and a few exercises, the same participant realized that facilitators simply can’t be spontaneous if they aren’t well-prepared with a solid plan going into a session. The work you do in advance will allow you to operate in the moment, be yourself, and effectively roll with the technical challenges and participant curve balls. What do we mean by planning, preparation, and practice? This means being organized enough to plan the session outline, and even script or semi-script out the content of your virtual session. Not surprisingly, as facilitators, you want to sound natural in your delivery, and be flexible and nimble in responding to participant needs and discussion points in the moment. You desire the outcomes that flow from spontaneous discussion and worry that scripting out parts of the session or creating a timeline will hinder your ability to seize the moment. I’m here to tell you that, almost always, the exact opposite is true. A detailed outline gives you a strong foundation to manage time and discussion in a targeted, but flexible manner. You may have the luxury of having this part of the planning done for you by your instructional design team. In a recent post, I covered several pros and cons of using a script or outline for your virtual learning session. These tips may help with your planning process: To-Script-or-Not-That-is-the-Question. Additionally, having prepared contingency plans, determined ahead of time, will help facilitators make adjustments on the fly if a class size is smaller than expected, participant reaction to the material is different, or if technology fails. I call it “plan B” and “plan C.” Without contingency plans, a delivery team is left scrambling and the time, energy, and attentiveness will not go to the participants, it will go to figuring out what the new plan should be. Keep in mind that if you are working with a producer or a host, contingency plans that relate to failed technology may be his or her responsibility. Preparation is also important when it comes to delivery. Facilitators should be comfortable enough with the class material to realize, in the moment, which exercises will or will not work with a particular group of participants. For example, some groups of participants will be better suited for informal verbal discussion exercises, while others, perhaps larger groups, may benefit from seeing ideas shared in writing on a whiteboard. This can help move the discussion to a deeper level or to prioritize ideas. The right amount of practice will ensure you are familiar with the material and the virtual environment. It also gives you the opportunity to “test drive” your plan. I have seen many last minute changes made after a dress rehearsal because an exercise didn’t hit the mark or content didn’t flow as expected. I have also witnessed less significant content removed or condensed to allow additional time for more critical information. Proper preparation, planning, and practice allow facilitators to focus on the moment, fully. This strategy actually increases a facilitator’s ability to be spontaneous. Do you agree? I’d love your feedback.  

The Design Difference: Considerations for the Virtual Classroom

February 17, 2015 09:40 by Dana Peters
Content is king, and when it comes to delivering engaging virtual instructor-led training - content designed specifically for the virtual environment is extremely important. If you’re familiar with our work you already know instructional design, especially created for the virtual classroom, is one of the four crucial components to the successful implementation, and ongoing success, of virtual instructor-led training programs in the clients we serve. So what does that mean? That’s a loaded question. I am told we should keep these posts short, so here are a few basics to consider.Your PlatformYour instructional design should take full advantage of the delivery tools and functionality your virtual environment has to offer.  Materials should leverage the technology to drive discussion and participant engagement, but be mindful of how easy or how difficult the technology is for participants to use. This may require a little support and encouragement from your delivery team at first but, with time, the technology should become second nature for your participants.Your Participants Participants should be responsible for completing relevant pre-course work that will add to interactivity and discussion during the course. Pre-work can vary significantly among classes, but its primary function is to prepare participants to be able to fully participate in activities and contribute to discussion during the course. Heavy reading, thinking, and reflection should be addressed in advance through pre-work while in class time is used to focus in on key concepts, conversation, collaboration, and experience sharing. Participants will be putting some time and energy in before they even log into their first class.What Already ExistsIf you are working to transition a class from the traditional face-to-face classroom to the virtual environment there may be resources you can repurpose. The original instructional outline may provide you with a solid bird’s eye view of the existing course to consider how a longer in-person class could be segmented down into a series of pre-work assignment and shorter virtual classes. Often times, activities and exercises used during in-person classes can still be applied to the virtual environment; they just need to be approached differently.Existing images, graphics, diagrams, and models from your existing presentation can be dressed up, enhanced, or modified to have the impact you are looking for in your virtual design. The Visual The visual elements of virtual materials are extremely important as well. Vivid and thought provoking imagery should be applied to effectively communicate concepts. In the virtual learning space use of imagery is more beneficial than text heavy presentations and long lecture segments.To maximize impact, it’s important for something to happen every three to five minutes in the virtual environment to involve your participants.  Practice delivering your virtual session to a test group of participants, and track the interactions with participants on a chart. Plotting the interactions will visually display how often participants are asked to be involved and how long the lag-time is between interactions. However, use this a guide and not the gospel. Relevance is key, we certainly don’t want to build in interaction for the sake of interaction.Because of the added visual imagery, session pace, and the additional instructions related to the environment, organizations should expect to have presentations with 30 to 40 percent more slides than the traditional classroom presentations. Check out my previous post: Making the Move: Transitioning Face-To-Face Courses to the Virtual Classroom, for more specific tips and tricks on how to approach the design. Your FacilitatorAs always, your instructional design should support the facilitator by providing a strong foundation in which to share their knowledge and passion for the subject as well as facilitate captivating discussions.  A strong facilitator, in combination with a well-designed course, will immediately draw the participants into the session and give them a reason to be involved as well as provide ample opportunities for participation in order to make the classes the most beneficial for everyone.I have outlined a few elements here, what else would you add?Developing your materials to effectively utilize your virtual training platforms is just one important component to making your training program a success. The other three components are outlined in my post: Building Bullet Proof Online Training Programs.