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?

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.  

Dress Rehearsals…A Non-Negotiable in the Virtual Classroom

June 14, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
We’ve all been there. You’re attending a conference. As the presenter takes the podium to begin, it happens. The lavaliere mic doesn’t work, and a blue screen illuminates the room where a presentation should be. Everyone is thinking….”Didn’t they test all this beforehand?” For musicians, artists, and, yes, even virtual facilitators and virtual producers, the dress rehearsal is an important step in making sure your first live delivery is a success, and not technical torture for all involved. Your team has spent countless hours creating killer content that involves the participants in the learning process and uses the technology to its maximum capability.  Session expectations have be en well communicated, pre-work is in the participants hands, and it seems that the only thing left to do is have that first live session. But this scenario leaves out an important element, the dress rehearsal. A tempting corner to cut that often becomes a regret. 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. It is also an opportunity to communicate last minute changes and adjustments, eliminating any surprises or miscommunications during the first live session. For experienced facilitators, the technology is the part that needs to be tested and practiced. The words and content come easy. It’s the virtual delivery in the actual platform that can be challenging. Each virtual learning platform comes with a myriad of tools and functionalities at the presenter’s disposal. If you’re working with a technical host, you may not have to know exactly how they all function, but it’s still a good idea to understand the capabilities of the virtual environment and test them out together. Here is a checklist of items we typically test. Presentations should be loaded so transitions and animations can be checked and double-checked. Any video clips should be streamed to test for sound, accuracy, and playback quality. The session audio, presenter headset, and other equipment should be tested, as well as web cameras if they will be used. Slides, polls, and other content can benefit from a second or third set of eyes checking for errors and flow.  Breakout room transitions and transitions to other planned activities within the session should be practiced.  A walk-through of specific activities that are new or complex. The opportunity to practice verbally setting up the activity and the giving directions of how the participants will participate will identify any minor verbal changes that are needed. Clarify roles. If you are working with a host, use the dress rehearsal to confirm who will be responsible for monitoring chat, welcoming participants, and other minor details. Review the flow. Flow is important in a virtual session, and running through the content ahead of time can help determine if the presentation is as relevant, clear, and organized as intended. It might be temp ting for experienced facilitators to want to skip the dress rehearsal, but more times than not multiple items surface in the process that could have had a negative impact on that first live session. Even if everything turns out to be perfect, and no mistakes are discovered, we all sleep better knowing we’ll avoid the infamous blue screen because we’ve tested and re-tested during the dress rehearsal.

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Learning | Practice | Virtual Learning

Engaging Learners Through Text Messages?

October 16, 2013 15:23 by Dana Peters
We have a new principal at my daughter’s high school. As you can imagine, change is in the air. One initiative has caught my attention: the principal directly communicating via text with the entire high school community. This has engaged me with the high school at a new level. When something engages me personally, I think about how it might be applied to the learning and development space. Here’s the story. Around mid-August, I received a simple email inviting me to sign up to receive the principal’s high school community text messages. Using a mass text program, the principal was going to be interacting with the high school community as a whole (students, teachers, and parents). I liked this idea because: 1) I wanted to get a feel for this new principal from a distance and 2) I didn’t have to work very hard to do it. (I am busy, not lazy). I signed up and my daughter did too. Almost immediately the messages started dribbling in, one or two a day. Sometimes it’s just a link to the daily announcements or a reminder about a big upcoming event. Other times, to recognize a student interest club’s accomplishment or just a random thought or observation the principal thought worthy of sharing. As the receiver, here is what I like about this means of communication: Important information is coming to me instantly and to a place where I am (so to speak).  I don’t know about you, but text messages are front and center on my communications radar. I see them before I read an email or listen to a voice mail. It’s brief and to the point. One sentence tells me what I need to know. The provided link is there to dive deeper if I want to.  Sometime I click on the link for more information, sometimes I don’t. This level of brevity also makes it very easy to search for a specific message or nugget of information at a later time.  The tone of the messages has a very personal touch. As a result, I feel more in tune and more connected to what is happening at school and with the high school community as a whole. I also have a better sense for the principal and his approach to leading the school. So what if we applied this to the learning environment? Our learners could receive timely information quickly, in a place they are already paying attention to (where they already are), their text messages. One sentence communicates the high level message. A link is provided if they want/need more detail and is easily retrieved later, when needed. Messages could be targeted to the right people. We would want to keep it relevant, casual, and give it a personal touch. Would our learners feel more in tune and connected? Have you used technology in this way? I would love to hear your stories, please comment and share below.

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eLearning | Learning | Learning Trends