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?        

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?

Spring Cleaning Isn’t Just for Your Closet; Virtual Programs Need Tidying Too.

March 21, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
Ahhh spring is in the air! The flowers are peeking out from under their blanket of dirt, and here in the Midwest we’ve already been able to enjoy some rather unseasonably warm weather. With warmer days and more daylight comes the annual spring cleaning sweep. While you’re in the process of digging out your summer wardrobe and purging the rest of your winter clutter, we think it’s a good time to examine your virtual instructor-led training (vILT) materials as well. After setting up a vILT program, it’s easy to get complacent, particularly when a program is running smoothly, and the feedback from your facilitators and learners is positive. When starting, you probably put in a lot of work. You hired a team of designers, put together strategic initiatives, and set out to meet the goals of your business. But it can’t stop there. In the spirit of continuous improvement, it’s important to regularly revisit your virtual courses to determine the following is still happening: The learning objectives are being met The examples and case studies are relevant and effective All slide content is accurate The exercises are on target The documentation for delivering the session is accurate (like the facilitator guide) The “on the job” impact is being realized If you’re not evaluating the ‘on the job’ application of your training, you should be. Tracking whether your learners are able to apply what they have learned back on the job, will not only ensure the longevity of your program, but the overall success of your business. In addition, we encourage you to comb through your material at least annually, if not bi-annually; take note of examples, time stamps, or other relevant material that may require a quick slide revision or update. But also, revisit the established learning objectives.  With your stakeholders, determine whether the objectives have remained the same or if they’ve grown or changed. Then determine whether or not your existing vILT program still meets those learning objectives. While some updates may require only a few slide additions and changes, some may require a complete session overhaul.  Either way, your learners, and ultimately your organization, will benefit from having fresh, relevant, and applicable training programs.  

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Learning | Training | Virtual Instructor-Led Training

Counting My Blessings

November 15, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
Where has the time gone? The holiday season is right around the corner, and before we know it, we will all be staring down the barrel of a brand new 2017. Mondo Learning Solutions is nearing our sixth anniversary in business, and like so many others, I find myself reflecting this holiday season on everything I have to be thankful for.First and foremost, I am thankful for our loyal clients; both for the work they give us and for the referrals they send our way. Our business would be nothing without them, and we look forward to continuing to serve their needs. Secondly, I am thankful for the Mondo team. Without our team of virtual producers, facilitators, instructional designers, virtual platform experts, writers, and assistants, all of whom also wear multiple hats, we wouldn’t be able to provide the level of service our clients have come to expect. I’ve come to realize that running a small business definitely takes a village. Days often start early and end late and while we do our best to maintain regular office hours, we all know that doesn’t always happen. I’m thankful for the love and support of my husband and my three daughters, all of whom have tirelessly supported me and encouraged me on this journey, and who have also fallen victim to the occasional, “I just have one more call to make….” statement. Along those same lines, I’m thankful for morning cups of coffee that often get me through back to back meetings, and cocktails on my patio in the evening after a successful day. I’m thankful my business has allowed me to cut my commute time to zero, and that the construction on my block has finally ended. You don’t realize how loud construction is until you work in the virtual space and are forced to try and avoid the deluge of noise.  My gratefulness extends beyond my core team as well. I am thankful for virtual learning partners like my friends and colleagues at Turpin Communication in Chicago and my fellow Board members with the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Association for Talent Development (SEWI-ATD). Both regularly share advice, expertise, and provide perspective for me in my daily work. I am thankful for the ability to work virtually with individuals all over the world. I have learned so much, broadened my experiences and my knowledge, and have made friends I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make otherwise. Lastly, I am thankful for you, the readers of our blog. Perhaps without knowing it, you also drive growth in our business, provide perspective, and increase our learning and communication skills with your questions and comments. The end of the year is a busy time for everyone. We’re all scrambling, trying to meet deadlines, and set up client meetings before the craziness of the holidays actually takes hold. But, as I sit here, peering out from under the stack of paperwork on my desk, I realize I am truly blessed. What are you thankful for? 

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Turpin Communication | 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?

Eight Must-Have Resources for Every Virtual Learning Professional

July 27, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
I read, and I read a lot. The virtual training world is fast moving, and ever changing. For me, one way to ensure I’m staying current with virtual learning trends is to learn from the experiences of others. Each spring, I go through a pretty massive spring-cleaning regimen. Clothes that no longer fit, papers I no longer need, and books I’ve already read, but never seem to pick up again…gone. Books take up a lot of space, and even though I’ve read a lot of great books, I don’t keep the majority of them. The following eight books, however, always remain.  While I’m always on the lookout for more, the books below have served me well as my “go to” resources for tips, best practices, and inspiration for the work I do in the virtual learning space. I hope they will do the same for you. •        Visual Design Solutions by Connie Malamed In the virtual space, visual design is critical. If the design falls short, the quality of the learning experience and end results will too. The easy-to-read comprehensive format allows me to hone in on specific design solutions, concepts, and real life applications. I regularly reach for this book while I’m consulting on projects with clients or creating instructional materials for our own professional development workshops. •       The Book of Road-Tested Activities by Elaine Biech This book is an excellent resource for ideas and techniques associated with engaging training activities. As a virtual learning professional I’m always looking for great tried and tested group activities to implement in our virtual learning environments. While many of the activities in this particular book are created for the in-person ILT environment, they still often spark my creativity as I design for the virtual classroom. Not only does author, Elaine Biech, provide several well-tested games and activities, she also segments the activities by content areas such as communication, listening, sales, teamwork, and leadership skills. •        The Successful Virtual Classroom by Darlene Christopher This book is another good resource for effective engagement. As you can imagine, engagement is paramount for a virtual session to be successful, and author Darlene Christopher provides several proven techniques to engage the online audience. I find myself reaching for this book regularly for example case studies, stories of successes and failures, but also great tools, techniques and example checklists. I am also honored to be quoted in this book. (Thanks, Darlene!) •        Interact and Engage! by Kassy Laborie and Tom Stone Did I mention that engagement is paramount? This is another excellent resource for breaking the monotony of the virtual lecture.  The authors do an excellent job of remedying poor online training experiences and utilize several activities and training techniques to not only improve engagement, but also drive retention of information. The book provides numerous example activities and exercises for taking your virtual session to the next level. Plus it’s written in a light and humorous tone, making it an easy read. •        10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations by Wayne Turmel Author, Wayne Turmel, provides a quick, easy-to-read, resource for nearly every kind of virtual presentation in this book. The book coaches virtual presenters on how to appear calm under pressure, and engage as if they were conducting an in-person session, which is no easy feat for most people. He provides general rules, tools and lists to help guide his reader, and I find myself using this book regularly as a resource for my team, my clients and as a reminder for myself. •        Great Webinars: Create Interactive Learning That Is Captivating, Informative, and Fun by  Cynthia Clay Cynthia Clay is the chief executive officer of Net Speed Learning Solutions. She has worked in the online learning space for a number of years, and shares her wisdom and wealth of experience in this book. She too, put together an easy-to-read resource for creating and managing virtual sessions. I find myself regularly referring to her book when I’m working with clients to really zero in on their eLearning strategy. Her focus is on blended learning. The book outlines best practices, and the importance of meaningful content and an engaging delivery approach to maximize learning. •        Live and Online by Jennifer Hofmann This is another design and interaction resource for me. The book walks you through techniques and suggestions for participant involvement, outlines what works and what doesn’t work in the virtual classroom, and helps you to identify whether or not the tools you’re using are helping or hindering collaboration. Hofmann provides sample exercises using familiar tools.  I use this book regularly as I review instructional design plans for a new or repurposed course. •        The Virtual Presenter’s Handbook by Roger Courville Yet another “bible” for the virtual learning professional, with more tips on how to keep remote attendees engaged. This book provides me with guidance to help train all types of facilitators, and help prepare them for working in the virtual environment. As we all know, it’s different than presenting or facilitating in-person. This book includes several “mistakes” facilitators should avoid when transitioning from an in-person presentation to a virtual presentation. What are your “go to” resource books? Share with me in the comments, I’d love to hear.