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.

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.  

Ditch the Bubbly: Water is What Matters.

May 19, 2015 09:23 by Dana Peters
Instructional designers and subject matter experts (SMEs) of virtual instructor-led training, this post is especially for you.I know I am preaching to the choir when I say, “time is precious.” This sentiment is magnified in the virtual training space. After all, your intention is to offer your participants learning opportunities that support their success back on the job and, of course, you need to do it with less time. If you struggle at what I refer to as the “pare-down process” when converting face-to-face classes to virtual classes, set the stage at your next design review meeting with this analogy. Champagne vs Water Think of all the information you have on your topic as either champagne or water. Champagne information is nice to have, an offshoot on the topic, or more of an FYI. Champagne information is not critical it’s a luxury. Learning objectives will be met without it. Conversely, water information is essential to topic at hand; absolutely necessary to the learner being successful at reaching the learning goals, and for results to be achieved back on the job. Without water it is not likely learning objectives will be met. I invite you to take a closer look. Often times, virtual learning sessions are repurposed from longer, more in-depth, face-to-face learning sessions. But how do you take a half-day in-person class and turn it into a 90 minute virtual learning session without losing its effectiveness? Now, SMEs, I know it’s not unusual for you to think every piece of content in your class is valuable. You are the experts and you’re passionate about your subjects. I respect that...a lot. Designers, this is where your SMEs need your guidance to stay on track.   With your well-crafted learning objectives front and center, comb through the material page-by-page or slide-by-slide; decide what absolutely needs to be included in order for your participants to meet the objectives.Do a reality check. Ask previous participants of the past face-to-face course to help you drill down to what they actually applied back on the job. Asking previous learners about the true value will help you identify your water content. So what about all that champagne? Don’t throw it down the drain just yet.Champagne content could be included elsewhere in a format that is more elective and self-directed. Think podcast, discussion boards, and internal blog posts. I realize some of your learners are hungry and want to absorb everything they can on a topic. Certainly serve that population, but separately and on demand.  How do you decide what content is water and what content is champagne?  What is your approach for making those kinds of decisions?