Hello? Is This Thing On? Finding Your Energy in the Virtual Classroom.

May 17, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
One of the greatest challenges for many facilitators transitioning from face-to-face courses to virtual ones, is finding the energy they need from the virtual space. Good face-to-face presenters thrive on the energy and reactions they get from their learners: smiles, laughs, head nods, or even confused looks - all help the facilitator respond, react, and move forward accordingly. In most virtual instructor-led trainings those cues disappear. Some facilitators find this change difficult, and many even describe it as plain uncomfortable. We’re here to help you through it. There are ways to draw energy from your virtual audiences, and for us, it starts with personalization. Personalization is a great way to draw energy from your virtual session. Get to know your learners Keep the class sizes small and intimate so it provides you with more opportunity to really get to know who is participating. Assigning pre-work for the session will lend insight into the learners’ personalities as well as what they’d like to gain by attending the session. This will feed you ways to connect with the learners when you meet in class. Use your learners’ names as often as feels natural. This will help establish a connection and add to the personalization. Knowing your learners will help you connect with them on a deeper level, a level that should foster some energy during the course. Use the tools Most virtual environments provide tools and techniques for learners to interact in ways that mimic a face-to-face environment. Encourage learners to utilize annotation tools to agree, disagree, or even applaud and laugh during discussions. While not quite the same as emotions in a traditional in-person classroom, these tools can help add to the energetic vibe of the course- for you, as well as for the other learners. Encourage use of the chat function throughout the session to share any thoughts that come to mind - not just a place to respond when you ask a question or for them to post their questions. Typing a welcome message and other casual dialogue starters will help encourage this. You may need to enlist your host to help you with this. Whenever possible leave phone lines open and encourage open dialogue. Again this works best if the class size is somewhat smaller. Take advantage of video features whenever possible (and not cumbersome), and encourage learners to interact and get involved with the discussion. Many virtual environments offer opportunities for small group or breakout discussions. Utilize those small group discussions as much as possible, and treat them as an opportunity to gather energy by listening in, and “walking around” to the different groups. Hearing the verbal discussions, and seeing the small group work come together should give you some energy, and points to tie back to the course instruction. As you can see, the virtual environment offers plenty of opportunity to energize you as a facilitator. Your environment There are two things that I have on my desk when I facilitate virtually; a mirror and pictures of smiling family and friends. The mirror keeps me in check on what my body language and facial expressions are like. Since I know my energy comes through in my voice, I need to see that my energy is up when I look at myself. The pictures give me someone to talk to rather than feeling like I am talking into cyber space. While you may not have the facial expressions and strict verbal cues you’re used to from a face-to-face session; you can have lively discussion, robust collaboration, and even more energy if you know where to find it. Where do you find energy in your virtual training presentations?  

Just Ask: The Right Questions Fuel vILT Sessions.

May 10, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
Whether in a face-to-face environment or in the virtual classroom, good facilitators will engage and interact with their learners. Facilitators are taught to use questioning techniques and methods designed to ensure understanding, and encourage participation. In a face-to-face classroom facilitators can use eye contact, body language, and gestures in addition to different questioning techniques to encourage participants to respond and add to the dialogue throughout the course. In a virtual space, those cues are not as obvious. The types of questions you ask, and more specifically how you ask them are even more crucial. It goes beyond asking open-ended questions, in most cases you want to extend the conversation and offer opportunities for more participants to get involved. Below, I’ve outlined a few of the questioning strategies I’ve learned throughout my career. These are not all encompassing, and I invite you to share your own in the comments below. Questioning Strategies for the vILT Classroom Asking for the Evidence. The goal with this approach is to encourage your participants to offer evidence for a previous answer or response. Some examples: Why do you think that? How do you know that? What is that based off of? Asking participants to support their position with more information provides an opportunity for other participants to weigh in with different interpretations, scenarios, or evidence of their own. Creating Links and Extending. It’s important for your questions to create links to other portions of the session as well as to your participants’ own experiences. Ask your participants to link what is being discussed to previous content or their own situations and challenges. Some examples: How does this concept relate to the case study we covered at the beginning of class? Has this situation we just talked about ever happened to you? How so? Who can share a current workplace example of the challenge we just discussed? Linking and extending the conversation is imperative for learners to truly benefit from the discussion. It provides an opportunity for the discussion to click, and drives learning and engagement at a whole new level. It makes the content very real. Using Hypotheticals. There are instances where real life examples may not exist. Asking participants to come up with real life examples in some cases may not be possible, or the information may be confidential. In those instances, asking learners to imagine the hypothetical can drive effective conversations as well. Some examples: What might happen if you did encounter a situation like this in your workplace? How would you respond, react? What would you do? What might be the potential benefits of implementing a program like this in your workplace? Collaboration and brainstorming on challenges is a great way to move conversations forward.  Drawing Conclusions or Wrapping Things Up. Questions to summarize the session is an excellent way for learners to identify takeaways and move forward. Some examples: What else do you need in order to be prepared to handle “x”? Based on what we have learned today, what are your next steps? What do you plan to do differently based on what we have discussed today? Your goal with any question strategy is to maximize participation in the virtual session. Listen to your learners, and ask follow up questions in a way that forces everyone to get involved. Ask different types of questions to move the conversation forward and uncover valuable takeaways for your learners. What are some of the questioning strategies you’ve learned in your virtual sessions?

The Design Difference: Considerations for the Virtual Classroom

February 17, 2015 09:40 by Dana Peters
Content is king, and when it comes to delivering engaging virtual instructor-led training - content designed specifically for the virtual environment is extremely important. If you’re familiar with our work you already know instructional design, especially created for the virtual classroom, is one of the four crucial components to the successful implementation, and ongoing success, of virtual instructor-led training programs in the clients we serve. So what does that mean? That’s a loaded question. I am told we should keep these posts short, so here are a few basics to consider.Your PlatformYour instructional design should take full advantage of the delivery tools and functionality your virtual environment has to offer.  Materials should leverage the technology to drive discussion and participant engagement, but be mindful of how easy or how difficult the technology is for participants to use. This may require a little support and encouragement from your delivery team at first but, with time, the technology should become second nature for your participants.Your Participants Participants should be responsible for completing relevant pre-course work that will add to interactivity and discussion during the course. Pre-work can vary significantly among classes, but its primary function is to prepare participants to be able to fully participate in activities and contribute to discussion during the course. Heavy reading, thinking, and reflection should be addressed in advance through pre-work while in class time is used to focus in on key concepts, conversation, collaboration, and experience sharing. Participants will be putting some time and energy in before they even log into their first class.What Already ExistsIf you are working to transition a class from the traditional face-to-face classroom to the virtual environment there may be resources you can repurpose. The original instructional outline may provide you with a solid bird’s eye view of the existing course to consider how a longer in-person class could be segmented down into a series of pre-work assignment and shorter virtual classes. Often times, activities and exercises used during in-person classes can still be applied to the virtual environment; they just need to be approached differently.Existing images, graphics, diagrams, and models from your existing presentation can be dressed up, enhanced, or modified to have the impact you are looking for in your virtual design. The Visual The visual elements of virtual materials are extremely important as well. Vivid and thought provoking imagery should be applied to effectively communicate concepts. In the virtual learning space use of imagery is more beneficial than text heavy presentations and long lecture segments.To maximize impact, it’s important for something to happen every three to five minutes in the virtual environment to involve your participants.  Practice delivering your virtual session to a test group of participants, and track the interactions with participants on a chart. Plotting the interactions will visually display how often participants are asked to be involved and how long the lag-time is between interactions. However, use this a guide and not the gospel. Relevance is key, we certainly don’t want to build in interaction for the sake of interaction.Because of the added visual imagery, session pace, and the additional instructions related to the environment, organizations should expect to have presentations with 30 to 40 percent more slides than the traditional classroom presentations. Check out my previous post: Making the Move: Transitioning Face-To-Face Courses to the Virtual Classroom, for more specific tips and tricks on how to approach the design. Your FacilitatorAs always, your instructional design should support the facilitator by providing a strong foundation in which to share their knowledge and passion for the subject as well as facilitate captivating discussions.  A strong facilitator, in combination with a well-designed course, will immediately draw the participants into the session and give them a reason to be involved as well as provide ample opportunities for participation in order to make the classes the most beneficial for everyone.I have outlined a few elements here, what else would you add?Developing your materials to effectively utilize your virtual training platforms is just one important component to making your training program a success. The other three components are outlined in my post: Building Bullet Proof Online Training Programs.