Success in the Virtual Classroom: Are Your Virtual Facilitators Ready?

October 5, 2017 10:08 by Dana Peters
On rare occasions you might have the opportunity to develop new virtual classroom facilitators one on one. But more commonly, new facilitators need to be brought on board in groups. Often the content they will be teaching is the common denominator, therefore a solid Train the Trainer program is the most efficient option for preparing a group of virtual facilitators. The following are some best practices we see to be common amongst successful Train the Trainer (TTT) programs. Facilitator Pre-workIntroduce facilitators to the course content before the first TTT session takes place. This can be done by asking the facilitators to review a recording of a previously delivered session, or silently observe a live session in real time being taught by an experienced facilitator. This review or observation will allow them to familiarize themselves with the content and how the course is delivered.  Encourage facilitators-in-training to take notes from this review, specifically what the experienced facilitator did well, and how they engaged their learners. The facilitators-in-training should also consider what they might do differently in their own delivery of the content. This review will also give them an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the technical capabilities and tools of the virtual classroom. Coaching on TechniqueDepending on the experience level of your facilitators, the TTT sessions are also an opportunity to further develop or fine tune facilitation techniques. When TTT sessions are entirely focused on content, timing, and logistics, they fall short of preparing facilitators to their full potential. Successful TTT programs dedicate time to facilitation skill development, specifically the use of different techniques, methods for building a safe learning environment, and encouraging learner participation. Link to Learning ObjectivesFront and center of all TTT programs should be the purpose of the learning programs the facilitators-in-training will be delivering. The well-defined learning goals and learning objectives of each course the facilitators will be delivering should serve as their compass. Their job will be to help their learners meet these learning objectives and walk away equipped to be more effective back on the job.  Facilitators make in the moment judgement calls during live sessions on a regular basis. A successful TTT program gives them a solid foundation of purpose in which they can base their “in the moment” decisions, large or small. Rehearsals Some TTT sessions are conducted as more of a content walk-through session. There certainly is a time and place for content walk-throughs. However, successful TTT programs also have a rehearsal component. This means the facilitators-in-training have the opportunity to practice delivering the content as if it were a live session. Their peers can serve as their learners as discussions are led and activities are conducted. Feedback and coaching from these rehearsals are usually reported to be the most valuable piece of the TTT experience for the facilitators involved.Live Session Observation and FeedbackDevelopment of new facilitators should move beyond the TTT program. It’s important to evaluate a new facilitator’s ability to deliver sessions once they are off and running with live class deliveries. Consider instituting a process of live evaluation and post session coaching that includes written feedback. What experiences have you had with your Train the Trainer programs? What worked for you? What didn’t? We’d love to hear your feedback.

Designing Virtual Learning That Pays Off (Part 1)

August 16, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
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Is Your Virtual Training Program On Target or Missing the Mark?

July 25, 2017 09:00 by Dana Peters
Is your virtual instructor-led training (vILT) program meeting the needs of your business, or is it falling short of expectations? If your program is not quite hitting the mark, perhaps there is work to be done in one of the following five key areas. PlanningPlanning is an important step early in the process to ensuring the success of your program. Proper planning is centered on the goals you have for each of your vILT classes. What are you trying to accomplish? Identify key learning objectives and design your class to meet those objectives. Identifying your needs will help you decide which platform, delivery method, and learning design will put you in the best position for success. For more information on planning your vILT course, check out a recent post on evaluating learning objectives for the virtual classroom. PreparationEveryone knows that preparation is important but it is often the part of the process that gets short changed. Many companies will spend thousands of dollars in resources designing their vILT programs, and not nearly as much time or energy making sure their facilitation team is fully prepared to deliver the sessions. We see this most when industry experts or professionals are looped into the process after the design phase of the program. While the content and subject matter might seem like an easy leap for many industry professionals, the environment, the technology, and the delivery method may be more of a stretch and requires skill development and preparation. We recommend the use of dress rehearsals as part of the preparation process. A dress rehearsal gives every key player involved in the session, a chance to work through the kinks, test equipment, and practice “hand-offs” planned during the session. For more tips on preparation check out our post on dress rehearsals.Delivery Effective delivery is where the rubber meets the road. Your virtual facilitators can make or break your virtual training simply on how they deliver the session. Do they have well developed facilitation skills? Are they enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the topic? Do they present with energy or do they sound as if they are reading from a script? We recommend the use of a content outline, and a detailed facilitator guide for the session. This will allow facilitators to deliver the course material in a manner that achieves the core objectives while also letting learners drive discussion. We’ve done several posts on facilitator delivery techniques and preparation. Check those out here and here.EngagementPart of delivery is engagement. If your learners aren’t engaged throughout the session, the learning objectives cannot be met. A good facilitator will engage with learners on a personal level. They will incorporate existing technology to ask questions, encourage dialogue, and drive discussions. As mentioned in the delivery section, facilitators should be able to meet the course objectives while letting learners drive the discussion in directions most applicable to them. Check out our post on facilitating versus teaching for more information on engaging your learners. Follow-up Feedback and follow-up is the most easily forgotten part of a successful vILT program. This is important for two reasons.First, for the continuity of your program. Gathering feedback from your learners will provide you with valuable information on what is working and what isn’t, what needs to be changed, adapted, or cut. Secondly, following up with your learners is the ultimate litmus on whether or not your vILT program is actually accomplishing your learning objectives. Are learners accomplishing what is intended, back on the job? Is it truly applicable to their careers? Whether or not your learning objectives are met determine the ultimate success of your vILT program from both a learner perspective and the business results perspective. Watch for our two part post on learner follow up coming next month.Avoiding any one of these key steps could be a mistake for your vILT training program. Take a look at your program; are you accomplishing each one of these? Are there others you would add to the list?

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.

Meet Virtual Facilitator Blaine Rada

March 8, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
In my line of work, I have the pleasure of working with talented people from all over the world. Today, I would like to introduce someone that is almost in my backyard. Meet Blaine Rada.  As a Chicago-based trainer, speaker, and communication coach, Blaine also serves as a Virtual Facilitator here at Mondo Learning Solutions. Some of our clients find their virtual instructor-led training (vILT) programs growing at a rate in which their internal facilitation team can’t meet the demand. When this happens, we are often called upon to provide skilled Virtual Facilitators to supplement the internal team. Our Virtual Facilitators, like Blaine, have years of experience facilitating learning on a diverse set of topics. Once engaged with a client on a new program, Blaine works closely with the client to understand the unique learning needs of the learners, and quickly learn the course curriculum and virtual classroom set-up.Many qualities about Blaine impress me but the following two really standout for me…First, is his ability to make content come alive in the virtual classroom. When the situation calls for it, Blaine has the ability to take client specific or off-the-shelf course material and deliver customized, comprehensive, and relatable learning experiences for our clients. There is an unmatched energy when Blaine is facilitating.Second, is his commitment to continuous improvement. Blaine routinely seeks out new ways to engage and promote learning retention; he is always considering how he can enhance the learning experience. Blaine has an impressive background as well: He is a member of the National Speakers Association and has earned a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation, a recognition held by fewer than 15 percent of professional speakers worldwide. He has more than 20 years experience working as a corporate trainer for the mortgage industry. He was also named “America’s Greatest Thinker” in 2005 after competing in The Great American Think-Off, an exhibition of civil disagreement put on by The Cultural Center. In addition to his work with Mondo Learning, Blaine is a regular keynote speaker and trainer throughout the country and also coaches individuals on how to be more effective communicators; skills necessary for all facets of life and business. For more information about Blaine, check out his LinkedIn profile here.  

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?

Supporting Sessions Around the World: Mondo offers Producer Services in Portuguese

December 6, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
Mondo Learning Solutions has once again expanded our global services by adding Natalia Melo to our learning expert team. Natalia will provide Producer Services in Portuguese for our global clients. While many of our global clients require their employees to communicate in English, Mondo Learning has discovered the act of learning new skills while also translating a language can hinder a participant’s ability to learn. By offering Producer Services in native languages, like Portuguese, this allows us to further meet the virtual classroom support needs of our global clients. As a side note, we also globally support sessions in Spanish, German, and Chinese. As always, eliminating the language obstacle can improve comprehension, and allow participants to feel more comfortable and confident participating in group discussions and exercises. In their native language, participants can fully understand examples, scenarios, case studies, and the exercises utilized in a virtual session. Additionally, when sessions are delivered in a native tongue, learners are more likely to walk away meeting the intended learning objectives of the course and the desired application of new skills back on the job. Natalia Melo is an experienced professional. She has worked as an educator in both English and Portuguese, and has also worked as a business development analyst and a translator. She earned her degree in publishing, advertising, and marketing and takes a collaborative approach to each project. Natalia is well versed in Microsoft Office, Adobe Illustrator, and Photoshop. She currently resides in Brazil, but has also worked as an English teacher throughout South Africa and New Zealand. Our clients do business all over the world. Our ability to serve them sufficiently remains our number one priority. As our clients continue to grow, Mondo Learning Solutions is committed to growing with them which means adding additional language services to better meet the training and development needs of our clients.

Visual Appeal: The Importance of Visual Elements in the Virtual Classroom.

August 9, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
We’ve all, undoubtedly, heard the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In my business, I’ve learned that that may actually be an understatement. The design and application of visual elements is critical to a successful virtual presentation or training session. I would argue that the virtual classroom is a visual medium, more so even than a face-to-face classroom environment. Rather than looking at a physical presenter, participants in the virtual space are staring at a screen. It is important that what learners are visually taking in, strongly supports and enhances the instructional message.Studies across industries have found that images, info-graphics, and videos are at least 500 percent more likely to be seen than words that deliver the exact same message, and it goes beyond just the use of images. Visual Design components like aesthetics, colors, and fonts can enhance and encourage engagement and retention.  As a side note, Tim Slade, an e-learning professional, author and speaker for Artisan E-Learning and E-Learning Uncovered, has a lot to say about this. I featured his perspective in a previous post.Visual components in the virtual classroom to consider include the PowerPoint presentation, any electronic documents that are shared or displayed, video clips, image files, webcams, and the physical classroom layout (if customizable). We will cover the visual use of webcams in a future post, but today I’d like to focus mainly on the PowerPoint presentation, the primary visual tool for your classroom. The visual aesthetic of your pre-work materials, as well as any shared or displayed documents is important too, but serve mostly as secondary visual tools. The ideas I present ahead will apply to these secondary visuals as well. First and foremost, I have a few key guidelines for you to consider when designing your virtual classroom slides: Less is More The words on your slides should be just enough to reinforce or support your discussion. It should not be a script of what you are planning to say. Use whitespace. What’s NOT on the slide is just as important as what is. Whitespace helps draw attention and allows your participants to focus in on what is important. Make it Interesting and Relevant In the virtual classroom, slides are a key visual element, they should capture interest quickly. Make sure images are on target and easy for participants to connect with. Are they relevant and suitable for the message you are trying to communicate? Design slides that spark conversation and get participants thinking. Be Clear and Consistent Maintain focus, don’t cover several topics on one slide. Don’t force the participant to read text packed slides, they can’t read & listen to what you, and others, are saying at the same time. Let’s take a look at an example. This “before slide” demonstrates what NOT to do. So where are the opportunities for improvement? There are way too many words on this slide. We’ve determined already that participants cannot read and listen at the same time. The image on the slide is too large, there’s no whitespace, it’s difficult to read, and there’s not a clear focal point. Next, same slide, but designed using our key guidelines. You’ll notice: The image is smaller, which makes it more relevant and less distracting. There’s more whitespace on the slide. We’ve also chosen to illustrate the “process” through movement in boxes rather than bullets. This allows the viewer ample space to comprehend. Additionally, the text that appears on the slide is both important and useful, it doesn’t repeat, but offers a highlight of the important concepts. Visually, the second slide is more appealing. It captures the attention of the viewer, and encourages questions, discussion, and participation. Remember, in the virtual classroom, your participants will mostly be looking at the screen, at your presentation. Virtual sessions often bring together participants from all over the world. While languages across the globe come with their own anecdotes, expressions, and idioms, when selected appropriately, images can be universal. What can be said in 300 words on a slide can be said with a single image and potentially be understood in virtually every language. What can you share about your experiences with virtual presentations? I’d love to hear your thoughts.