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.

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?        

Three Questions to Size-Up Learning Objectives for the Virtual Classroom

May 10, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
There are so many options when it comes to training delivery methods for your employee learning programs. How do you know when virtual instructor-led training (vILT) is the right fit?To help decide, you need to determine if vILT will meet some of your learning objectives. Notice I said some, not all. This is because usually one delivery method will not get the entire job done. It makes sense that you want your chosen delivery method to meet a healthy portion of your learning objectives, but a blended learning approach is probably going to be the most effective. A strategy that combines a blend of learning opportunities that work together to comprehensively meet all the learning objectives is often the recipe for success.But let’s get back to the question…how do you know if virtual instructor-led training is the right fit for some of your learning objectives?When working on learning design solutions for clients, we ask ourselves the following three questions to confirm whether or not vILT will meet each of the learning objectives. Do the learners need each other for learning to happen? Do the learners need to be in the same place, at the same time, to learn from each other? Will learners be able to demonstrate achievement of the stated learning objective in the virtual classroom? Let’s look at an easy example of these questions in action.Goal StatementBicycles are a popular mode of transportation in our community. The purpose of this course is to reduce accidents involving bikes by promoting the practice of bicycle safety amongst our bike riders.Learning ObjectivesBy the end of this course, participants should be able to: Explain the rules of the road Identify common bicycling hazards Determine ways to reduce the risk of crash, injury, or death Recommend appropriate safety gear Ride a bike safely Now let’s evaluate each of these objectives against our three questions. As you can see by our example: We answered “yes” to 8 out of the 15 questions (more than 50%). Only one of the learning objectives would be completely addressed exclusively through vILT. (#3 - Determine ways to reduce risk of crash, injury, or death.) Considering the learning goal statement, it is an important one. The response to “Will learners be able to demonstrate achievement of the stated learning objective in the virtual classroom?” is a “yes” on four out of the five learning objectives. Two out of the five learning objectives require learners to be in the same place, at the same time. All and all, this is a prime example of the need for a blended learning approach. vILT would be a viable option in combination with other pre-session and post session exercises, readings, knowledge checks, assignments, and partner work on the road. Hopefully, these three questions serve as yet another tool to help you evaluate the role the vILT plays in meeting your organization’s learning needs.

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?

Planning for the Unexpected...What’s Your Plan B?

January 10, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
The virtual training environment offers individuals the opportunity to connect from wherever they are in the world.  While the convenience is great for everyone involved, as the Producer of the session it’s important to take the necessary precautions to ensure success, no matter what happens. This means having a backup plan, and sometimes a backup plan for your backup plan. While there are always necessary exceptions, we recommend you produce your sessions from the same controlled environment whenever possible. This environment will not only allow you to prepare for the unexpected and have the necessary contingency plans in place; you will also feel the most comfortable and prepared in a familiar environment. Typically, our Producers have a designated office or conference room where they work from. This is a space they personalize to how they work most efficiently and effectively. When thinking about contingency plans, it’s important to first determine what equipment enables you to best produce your virtual training session and then think about your potential backup plans for each potential point of failure.  Our Producers have several contingency plans in place in case of emergencies like inclement weather, technology failure, or other unforeseen circumstances. We recommend accessing online virtual training sessions from a reliable Ethernet connection and using a landline telephone. From our experience, these connections tend to be more reliable than their wireless counterparts. Our Producers are able to then use additional mobile devices, wireless Internet connections, UPS, and secondary laptops as backup resources for the various points of failure. Be aware of the circumstances surrounding inclement weather in your facility. If you lose power, is there a generator that will kick on? Do you have a UPS in place? Will you be forced to find your own power source? We recommend keeping backup laptops charged, and having a wireless hotspot available. For extreme cases, we recommend having a secondary location you can go to, just in case. This may sound over-the-top, but as we mentioned, the virtual learning environment allows individuals from all over the world to come together online at the same time. That means individuals in all different time zones, dealing with different technology, equipment, and weather patterns are relying on you to produce a successful session, no matter what. Ensuring your contingency plans are in place will undoubtedly help you do that. What backup plans do you have mapped out for your virtual sessions?  

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

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

Using Movie Trailers to Prepare Your Participants

November 3, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
Successful virtual learning programs engage learners before they even log in the virtual classroom. The purpose of bringing learners together live and online is to allow for the opportunity to collaborate, explore new ideas, and build on each other’s experiences. Time in class together is very precious. The work we ask our learners to invest independently, before class in prework, should set the knowledge base foundation they will need to be an active contributor in class and add value to their learning experience. As instructional designers, specifically for courses that take place in the virtual classroom, we have developed a variety of different types of prework. Recently, we created pre-work for a few clients that also doubled as promotional video clips for virtual training courses we were developing. We called them movie trailers. These short videos are easy to view and not only help inform potential participants about the session to create interest in registering, but quickly educates them on core concepts related to the topic in an entertaining way. I wanted to pass along the tool that we used to create these clips.  Filmora is a video editing software that provides frame-by-frame preview, basic editing capabilities, and simple and advanced effects in an easy-to-use, modern interface. In addition to on screen titles and text, split screen capabilities, and picture in picture, the screen-recording feature allows you to record video directly from your computer. So if you’re doing a promo video for a training session on internal process procedures or software, you can capture video that directly illustrates the process. The video stabilization feature can help steady even an amateur videographer’s shaky hand, or fast-moving images. Overall, we found Filmora to be extremely user friendly. You can utilize a lot of the program’s capabilities with the free version, but may need to upgrade (for a minimal cost) if your plan is to share or post your video on the web. What tools are you using to create video clips?

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.   

The Producer Checklist: Another Key to Success in the Virtual Classroom

July 13, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
Depending on your perspective, multi-tasking can be viewed as either a positive, productive activity or a negative, sometimes distracting one. For our Virtual Producers, their ability to keep their eyes on several things at one time is a necessity. Helping them be prepared to technically support that classroom of “spinning plates” is where a solid Producer Checklist comes into play. We never run a session without one. The checklist is a critical tool for Virtual Producers to remain focused on what needs to be accomplished, create more accurate and predictable results, and meet every little detail of each unique session for our clients. We’d like to share with you an example of a Producer Checklist, which you may find useful for your virtual learning session. As you can see, our Producer Checklist includes the basic session information at the top, which eliminates any confusion on delivery. We’ve also broken the checklist into sections: Pre-Session, During Session, and Post-Session to make it as easy as possible to follow. In addition to including the pre-session, during session and post-session duties for your Producer, it’s a good idea to also include emergency contact information for session instructors and key contacts like content organizers, platform technical support, and session administrators. It’s impossible to predict, but mistakes happen; technology happens, or rather sometimes doesn’t. Having the necessary contact information easily available for your Producer is helpful in case pre-work documents are missing, the wrong link was sent to participants or the technology simply isn’t working. It’s also a good idea to include any reminders or session notes for your Producer. These may include unique post-session communication requirements, timing information, or something similar. Our hope is that this checklist will provide you a starting point for your virtual sessions. Our continued work with clients has garnered several general components for each section that we regularly adapt and change as it suits our clients; you should feel free to customize these components as well. For more information on the role of a Virtual Producer, check out our post: The Role of the Virtual Learning Session Producer. How have you’ve used this Producer Checklist, or something similar, in your work?  

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