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.

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.

Perfect Timing; Not by Accident, by Design.

April 4, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
Time is one of our most precious commodities. Everybody values it, and most people want more of it. That’s why, within your instructional design deliverables, we recommend you develop a Timing Outline for the Virtual Facilitator(s) and Virtual Producer to use as they prepare for and deliver the virtual instructor led-training (vILT) courses you design for them. In previous posts, we’ve talked about the four components of a successful vILT program, but even the most well planned sessions can quickly get off track if facilitators and producers don’t keep an eye on time. When designing our professional development workshops for clients, we always create and use a Timing Outline. This helps our delivery team identify, at a glance, the planned timing allocation for each content segment within the session. This tool is not only helpful during the preparation process but is a critical resource in the moment during a live session. We’ve included a sample of the timing outline below. As you can see, not only do we map out the time for each content segment, but we’ve also built in cushions for a late start, the session kick-off, questions, and the wrap up. These additional time allocations are often overlooked, but it’s important to account for them. If you don’t build in time for a late start or session kick-off, your delivery team may start the session already behind. As they near the end of the session, valuable material or exercises may need to be modified or cut in order to end the session on time. While we certainly do not want our facilitators to cut content, we do recommend ending the session on time. Participants are busy, we want them to be engaged in this learning experience, not worry about how rushed or late they will be because the session ran long. From our experience, if the facilitator attempts to continue past the session end time, participants will tune out or log off anyway. The timing outline will provide everyone involved in the delivery process a clear idea of where everyone should be within the course content at any point in time, and how much time is remaining in the overall course. Setting up the outline, and having it utilized during dress rehearsals and practice sessions will enable you, as the designer, to confirm whether or not your design can effectively be delivered in the time frame of the session or if additional tweaks are needed.In addition, a timing outline is an excellent training tool for facilitators and producers that are new to the content. We’ve created this template that will allow you to fill in the session duration and work backwards filling in each exercise, assignment, or section. Feel free to customize it for your particular program. Our hope is it helps you with a successful vILT delivery. What about you? What have you developed to help your delivery team keep track of time during their sessions?

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.  

Considerations When Working with a Global Audience

February 15, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
Virtual instructor-led training (vILT) presents unique opportunities and challenges for companies with operations throughout the world. On one hand, a vILT program can bring together learners from all over the world, efficiently and cost effectively.  On the other hand, there are a few more considerations to keep in mind when facilitating and designing learning content for a global audience. From our experience working on global vILT projects, we wanted to share a few key points we think might be helpful for you to consider. Instructional Design What you show and share during your virtual session needs to be applicable to a global audience. This means any image, particularly images representing metaphors, must be broadly understood. Using an image of a bird with a worm in its mouth with a sunrise in the background to represent moving swiftly on a new market opportunity, may not create the mental connection you are looking for with anyone who doesn’t know or understand the expression, “The early bird gets the worm!” Pay close attention to examples, case studies, or stories you’re including within your learning to make sure they are globally applicable as well as inclusive of multiple cultures. Use pre-work as an opportunity for participants to prepare responses for questions the facilitator will pose in class or contributions the participants may need to make to exercises. This will build confidence for non-native speakers to be more comfortable speaking out and participating in class. Facilitation Techniques Facilitating to a global audience can be even more challenging. Many times you will be presenting to learners who don’t natively speak your language. Let’s use English as an example. Many learners around the world know and understand English, but many don’t consider themselves fluent. It’s important to speak clearly, enunciate your speech, and slowdown in pace. The number one piece of constructive feedback our clients receive from learners is that the facilitator speaks too fast. Consider what specific questions and directions you will pose in class verbally. We suggest having those questions written out on the slides, posed as poll questions, or posted in the chat. Often times, second language learners will be more comfortable reading the questions or writing their responses than speaking. This will encourage active participation from all learners. Consider also posting key learning objectives in the chat or in written form as well. Keep in mind; this may take up some extra class time. Work with your course designers so they understand whom your core audience is and the need to build in extra time for communication. While speaking, it may be tempting to refer to current events, pop culture, or to speak in slang or jargon. Be wary, these references may not connect with learners not native to your country. Additionally, we suggest practicing pronunciation of foreign names. While most learners will not be upset if a virtual facilitator mispronounces their name, they will notice your effort to try and get it right. This will help with connecting with the learner on a personal level and encourages engagement and active participation as well. Scheduling Scheduling is another item to consider when working with a global audience. Pay close attention to the differences in time and eliminate time-sensitive phrases like “Good Morning” from your delivery. During breaks or when timing portions of your learning program don’t use the exact time it is for you. Instead practice using phrases like “ten past the hour” or “half past the hour” to make your time reference applicable to all learners, regardless of time zone. It’s important also to consider global holidays and traditional work hours across the world when scheduling your virtual learning session. For example, most companies would avoid scheduling a virtual learning session on Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, but Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated globally. Independence Day is different for every country, and religious holidays take priority over work in some countries too. While it will be impossible to accommodate every country around the globe, be aware of where your learners are located. Take care to consider major public holidays and work hours. There are many considerations to working with a global audience. What other strategies do you have?

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Events | Learning | Training | Virtual Learning

Be Seen: The Pros & Cons of Facilitator Web Camera Use in the Virtual Classroom (Part 2)

October 18, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
In our last post, we outlined the pros & cons of using a web camera in your virtual training session and we promised we’d go into a bit more detail in our next post. Well here we are. To refresh your memory, the pros & cons list can be found here. In almost all cases, it won’t be a good idea to put a facilitator on camera the entire length of the virtual session. This is true for a number of different reasons. First, the bandwidth necessary for a web camera to function, and function properly, is often an obstacle. Even if the connection speed on your end is sufficient, it’s difficult to know with certainty what the internet bandwidth will be like for all of your participants. If this is the case, the value of having the facilitator on camera goes from being an effective enhancement to a frustrating distraction for your participants. This is even more of a concern if you are working globally. Second, even skilled facilitators will need ample amounts of practice with a web camera in order to effectively deliver a lengthy presentation. There’s nothing natural about it. Engaging with the camera is a skill of its own. This, in addition to ample time to test the camera and set up the facilities workspace will be required in order to make sure lighting and sound quality is up to par. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the use of a web camera adds another layer of complexity to the session delivery that can take away from the goals of the session and meeting the learning objectives. So when do we recommend having a facilitator use a web camera at certain times? Yes, there are instances when a webcam, used effectively, adds value. Introductions The use of a web camera for facilitator introductions can be an excellent value-add to kick off your virtual session. By allowing a facilitator to virtually “meet” your session participants via a web camera at the beginning of the session, you can create a more personal and intimate bond that can be carried through the remainder of the session. Q&A Q&A’s are also great components of a presentation where the web camera can actually bring value and intimacy to the discussion.  Closing The same can be true for closing remarks and thank you sections. These sections are typically shorter, so the web camera won’t need large portions of bandwidth for an extended period of time. They are also sections where participants should be focused on the facilitator, not on slides or other course content. What do you think? Have you successfully utilized a web camera in your virtual training session? In the coming weeks we will outline a few ‘best practices’ for using a web camera in your virtual training session, but until then we’d like to hear from you. What has worked for your sessions?  

Be Seen: The Pros & Cons of Facilitator Web Camera Use in the Virtual Classroom (Part 1)

October 13, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the virtual classroom provides several advantages over the face-to-face environment for both learners and facilitators. However, the virtual environment also comes with what some may perceive as disadvantages. The most common; not being able to physically “see” your audience and the audience not being able to see you. As more and more platforms begin to add capabilities, including the ability to use web cameras in the virtual classroom, it may be assumed that the virtual session can easily be turned into a comparable face-to-face session by simply turning on your web camera. If you have spent any time communicating through a web camera, you know it is not the same as being in person. There’s a time and a place for the use of web cameras in a virtual session. In this post I’ve laid out a list of potential pros and cons you, as a facilitator, can use to evaluate whether or not your being on camera is a “value-add” or a distraction to your learners. At a glance… Pros Participants being able to see the session facilitator(s) helps put a face to name. It’s especially useful for introductions and the welcome time. Allows for virtual eye contact from the facilitator, potentially a more personal experience, if done well. Helps to establish the connection between the facilitator and the learner. Cons Web camera use can create new distractions: Participants may focus on what’s in the facilitator’s camera shot rather than paying attention to what is being discussed. (What’s that on the wall behind the facilitator?) If the audio doesn’t match up to the lip movements of the facilitator. Paper shuffling/background noises in the facilitator’s environment. Poor camera engagement on the part of the facilitator. Eye shifting from notes to camera to elsewhere. There is an increased opportunity for technical issues: If the video feed is slow/skipping (low bandwidth situations). User error. Little to no control over participant device or network. Time investment for the facilitator to test equipment, develop skills, and prepare. Using your virtual platform to its maximum capabilities can be beneficial to the outcomes you’re trying to achieve with your virtual training sessions. The use of web cameras during a session can be a value-add, if done correctly.   Stay tuned for Part 2 where we discuss in detail why it might not make sense to put your facilitator on camera for an entire virtual session.

Prepping Your Virtual Facilitator in Ten Minutes or Less

August 23, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
If you are a dedicated reader of our blog, you already know how important I feel the preparation process, specifically the dress rehearsal, is to successful virtual learning programs. Ideally, it’s best to organize a meeting with all involved parties a week or so prior to the first session to run through the material and discuss any questions, as well as identify potential trouble spots for mix-ups or errors. But what if this preparation meeting can’t take place? Often the answer is to meet 30 to 45 minutes immediately before the session to address any last minute questions, confirm plans, and clarify responsibilities. While not ideal, and somewhat risky, this can be an alternative when schedules are tight. But what do you do when your virtual facilitator arrives late for this “just in time” prep session? What if you only have 10 minutes?Being prepared for these last minute situations can help you, as the producer, quickly and easily navigate this scenario, AND keep the virtual learning session on track. The important thing to remember is to stay calm, positive, and supportive. Chances are the late facilitator knows when they should have arrived, and may be feeling a little stressed. Be prepared with a list of the most important things they should be aware of before the session gets underway. This should be a short, five to ten point list that can quickly be discussed. You can prepare this ahead of time, but order of importance should also be considered in case you run out of time to review before the session is scheduled to begin. I’ve included a few suggestions in this post, but it’s important to tailor the list to your session, your virtual platform, and the facilitator’s familiarity with the technology and the presentation.Most importantly, give them the quick tutorial on the most critical tools they will need to facilitate the session and communicate effectively with the participants (and you). Secondly, address any complex or potential challenging segments in the session plan that might interrupt the flow of the session. These can include the specific execution of an activity or exercise, sharing of documents, polls, or broadcasting videos. This may also include the format for how you will begin and end the session. Finally, it will be important to communicate roles. Take a moment to quickly describe for them what they should be focused on, and what your role is, as the producer, in support of them and the participants.  Clearly defining these roles will help alleviate any confusion or conversation collisions throughout the session. Again, the important thing to remember is to stay calm in the moment, be reassuring, positive, and be prepared for the unexpected in advance of the session. Has this happened to you?  What worked for you in a last minute emergency?