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.

Meet Virtual Facilitator Blaine Rada

March 8, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
In my line of work, I have the pleasure of working with talented people from all over the world. Today, I would like to introduce someone that is almost in my backyard. Meet Blaine Rada.  As a Chicago-based trainer, speaker, and communication coach, Blaine also serves as a Virtual Facilitator here at Mondo Learning Solutions. Some of our clients find their virtual instructor-led training (vILT) programs growing at a rate in which their internal facilitation team can’t meet the demand. When this happens, we are often called upon to provide skilled Virtual Facilitators to supplement the internal team. Our Virtual Facilitators, like Blaine, have years of experience facilitating learning on a diverse set of topics. Once engaged with a client on a new program, Blaine works closely with the client to understand the unique learning needs of the learners, and quickly learn the course curriculum and virtual classroom set-up.Many qualities about Blaine impress me but the following two really standout for me…First, is his ability to make content come alive in the virtual classroom. When the situation calls for it, Blaine has the ability to take client specific or off-the-shelf course material and deliver customized, comprehensive, and relatable learning experiences for our clients. There is an unmatched energy when Blaine is facilitating.Second, is his commitment to continuous improvement. Blaine routinely seeks out new ways to engage and promote learning retention; he is always considering how he can enhance the learning experience. Blaine has an impressive background as well: He is a member of the National Speakers Association and has earned a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation, a recognition held by fewer than 15 percent of professional speakers worldwide. He has more than 20 years experience working as a corporate trainer for the mortgage industry. He was also named “America’s Greatest Thinker” in 2005 after competing in The Great American Think-Off, an exhibition of civil disagreement put on by The Cultural Center. In addition to his work with Mondo Learning, Blaine is a regular keynote speaker and trainer throughout the country and also coaches individuals on how to be more effective communicators; skills necessary for all facets of life and business. For more information about Blaine, check out his LinkedIn profile here.  

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?

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?

Virtual Facilitators, Are You Prepared to be Spontaneous?

May 3, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
For facilitators of virtual instructor-led training, a commitment to planning, preparation, and practice is the most effective strategy to foster spontaneity in class. Wait, what? I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but a significant amount of work needs to be invested before anyone even logs into your class in order for you to be that spontaneous engaging facilitator you want to be.   To better illustrate this point, let me share a “light bulb” moment experienced by one of my workshop participants. During a recent workshop session, a group of virtual facilitators and I became engaged in a discussion about the nuts and bolts of planning a virtual learning event. As I stressed the importance of planning, preparation, and practice, one workshop participant shared her concerns. “I am not seeing how I can be spontaneous when the entire class is mapped out in such detail…it feels like shackles to me…where’s the personality…I need to operate in the moment.” Knowing that spontaneity is important, we decided to move forward with the class agenda and revisit everyone’s perspective on the topic later in the workshop. By the time we finished going through case studies and a few exercises, the same participant realized that facilitators simply can’t be spontaneous if they aren’t well-prepared with a solid plan going into a session. The work you do in advance will allow you to operate in the moment, be yourself, and effectively roll with the technical challenges and participant curve balls. What do we mean by planning, preparation, and practice? This means being organized enough to plan the session outline, and even script or semi-script out the content of your virtual session. Not surprisingly, as facilitators, you want to sound natural in your delivery, and be flexible and nimble in responding to participant needs and discussion points in the moment. You desire the outcomes that flow from spontaneous discussion and worry that scripting out parts of the session or creating a timeline will hinder your ability to seize the moment. I’m here to tell you that, almost always, the exact opposite is true. A detailed outline gives you a strong foundation to manage time and discussion in a targeted, but flexible manner. You may have the luxury of having this part of the planning done for you by your instructional design team. In a recent post, I covered several pros and cons of using a script or outline for your virtual learning session. These tips may help with your planning process: To-Script-or-Not-That-is-the-Question. Additionally, having prepared contingency plans, determined ahead of time, will help facilitators make adjustments on the fly if a class size is smaller than expected, participant reaction to the material is different, or if technology fails. I call it “plan B” and “plan C.” Without contingency plans, a delivery team is left scrambling and the time, energy, and attentiveness will not go to the participants, it will go to figuring out what the new plan should be. Keep in mind that if you are working with a producer or a host, contingency plans that relate to failed technology may be his or her responsibility. Preparation is also important when it comes to delivery. Facilitators should be comfortable enough with the class material to realize, in the moment, which exercises will or will not work with a particular group of participants. For example, some groups of participants will be better suited for informal verbal discussion exercises, while others, perhaps larger groups, may benefit from seeing ideas shared in writing on a whiteboard. This can help move the discussion to a deeper level or to prioritize ideas. The right amount of practice will ensure you are familiar with the material and the virtual environment. It also gives you the opportunity to “test drive” your plan. I have seen many last minute changes made after a dress rehearsal because an exercise didn’t hit the mark or content didn’t flow as expected. I have also witnessed less significant content removed or condensed to allow additional time for more critical information. Proper preparation, planning, and practice allow facilitators to focus on the moment, fully. This strategy actually increases a facilitator’s ability to be spontaneous. Do you agree? I’d love your feedback.  

Does the Facilitation Team Bring Its A-Game to Your vILT Programs?

February 24, 2015 12:14 by Dana Peters
I have yet to meet a delivery team for the virtual classroom that didn’t want to knock it out of the park on every single session; you know, bring their A-game and really rock the house. Having a meticulously prepared facilitation team is another component organizations need to focus on in order to successfully implement (and maintain) a thriving vILT program. A facilitation team, at minimum, generally consists of a presenter (trainer/facilitator) who is responsible for meeting the learning objectives of the course and a producer (host/moderator) who handles the technical aspects of the environment so that the presenter can focus on the content, the participants, and course material.  Well-defined roles, and a facilitation team that is familiar with the course material, the technology, the participants, and the learning objectives of the course will mean the difference between success, and a quick derailment. Extensive time and preparation should be allowed for each member of the facilitation team to become comfortable with: their role within the virtual learning environment their modified skill set to be effective in this environment the technology required to fulfill their responsibilities the course materials and content While the delivery methods between a face-to-face session and a virtual session are different, how we define success in the learning environment, and what we need to do in order to be successful are the same. Facilitators should be prepared to utilize the same skillset they are familiar with for delivering in-person trainings, with adjustments to account for not being able to see faces and read body language. There is a lot we could dig into when it comes to the virtual facilitator’s skillset. Here are a few of the biggies.Virtual facilitators need to learn to ask questions differently. “Are there any questions at this point?” Nine times out of 10 when a virtual facilitator asks a closed ended question like this one, it will be greeted by silence. Whereas a question like this one is more likely to result in responses: “I have just given you several scenarios…which one is most relevant to your work and why? I’ll give you a minute to think about this. Please raise your hand when you are ready to share.” A few more thoughts around questions: I always suggest counting to 5 before deciding no one wants to contribute. Remember, they need to think of a response, remember how to raise their hand, and take their phone off mute. Always give clear direction as to how you want participants to respond. Making connections with participants. Use participants’ names frequently in session. Reach out to participants before the session and learn what they are hoping to gain from the session. Learn as much about the group as you can. Yes, this will take time, but it will make the session more personal which draws people in. Ask people for simple contributions and call on certain participants to elaborate. 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 steer the discussion down a certain path you could call on one or two individuals to elaborate for the group. Facilitators won’t become experts overnight. They should be given the material and ample amounts of time to not only prepare for session delivery, but also to practice and become familiar with using the virtual environment. Consider a development plan that provides an opportunity for facilitating in real-life situations, and the opportunity to observe other facilitators in action. Of course, a virtual facilitator is in the best position for success when working with materials developed specifically for the virtual learning environment. Check out our post on this topic: The Design Difference: Considerations for the Virtual Classroom. What successes have you had in preparing your own facilitation team? Is there anything that worked particularly well for your organization?   From our perspective this component in our approach is just as important as the other three. If you’re wondering what the other components are, you can read about them in my post: Building Bullet Proof Online Training Programs.