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?  

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.  

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.