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?        

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.

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.

Quiz Time! Does Your Company Culture Support vILT?

March 14, 2017 10:00 by Dana Peters
In case you missed our previous post, there is still time to take our quiz and see!Looking for something to revitalize your company’s training and education program? A new virtual training program or an expansion of your existing program might be the right move. But will your company culture support vILT? Before spending the time and resources to launch a robust vILT program, consider taking our assessment to help determine how ready your organization is, and what steps you need to take in order to develop a culture that fully supports vILT. Find out now! Does Your Company Culture Support vILT?

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Online Learning | Training | Virtual Instructor-Led Training

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?  

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.  

Making the Pitch: Selling Your Executives on Virtual Learning (Part 2)

April 26, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
As we reviewed in Part 1 of this post, more and more companies are turning to virtual instructor-led training (vILT) programs to support their skill development needs and competency attainment goals. We know that gaining executive level support is crucial for vILT programs to be successful. In order to do so, learning and development professionals need to put on their sales hats and move beyond the day-to-day mechanics of how a vILT program works to communicate the big picture value. Success lies in positioning. What business need does vILT address? If leaders don’t see relevant benefits, they will not be on board. In the five-step sales process we outlined in Part 1 of this blog; steps 2 and 3 require the seller to identify the needs of their buyer and then present a solution that solves the immediate business need. In essence, we are the sellers, our decision maker is the buyer, and our solution is our product so it makes sense to consider a sale process as we determine how to win this support. So what are some common needs vILT addresses? In our work, we have watched our clients leverage vILT to address a multitude of challenges they are facing. We’ve outlined several of those challenges below, and discussed how vILT can solve the problem. Our hope is, that if you, and your executive, are dealing with the same or similar challenges this post may shed some insight on how to frame your sales pitch. Challenge: Budget Cuts Despite all the research and documentation telling us not to; in a down economy or a struggling market, training and development is, unfortunately, one of the first things to be trimmed back. Companies may eliminate some programs all together to save money, or may implement a company-wide travel ban which restricts employees and trainers from traveling to conduct or attend company training. A virtual instructor-led training program can provide an opportunity for companies to reduce expenses while maintaining or even exceeding their learning and development goals. When budgeting hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses in order for employees and trainers to attend or deliver training sessions is not practical, making a modest investment in vILT to connect training facilitators and learners virtually is a solution to consider. When proposing that vILT will solve a budget challenge, make sure you go into that conversation with some solid numbers. Any executive is going to want to know how much savings is estimated and how you arrived at your number. Challenge: Bridging Geographic Gaps Between Departments and Regions As covered in Part 1 of this post, business is done on a global scale today. More and more companies are turning to vILT programs to effectively manage globally disbursed employees, and develop a consistent culture and message across departments and divisions in different geographic locations. Virtual training sessions allow participants and facilitators to connect from anywhere there’s an Internet connection – allowing for more opportunities for collaboration and exposure to expertise and insight from colleagues across the globe. When addressing how vILT will bridge different segments of employees and help break down silos, it is important to help executives envision the potential impact. Compare the exposure people in the organization have with today’s learning and development strategy in comparison to what they will have with a robust vILT program. Challenge: Reaching Segments of the Population at a Deeper Level This challenge is related to the last one. In geographically dispersed organizations in which there are smaller pockets of employees in more remote locations, it is often times challenging to get them the same learning opportunities as your larger populations. Whether the issue be distance, facilities, or adequate employee coverage while folks are in training, virtual instructor-led training can eliminate or at least reduce some of these obstacles – thus allowing the expansion of your learning offering to these hard to reach segments. When proposing how vILT can effectively reach these segments of the population we suggest supporting this value with data. The comparison of today’s approach to vILT enabled training should demonstrate the power of the solution to combat this challenge. Challenge: The Need for Fast Delivery of More Information Virtual training programs offer an air of convenience for learners and facilitators. A virtual learning environment can quickly and visually connect employees from all over the globe, and do it in a personal way. The speed of delivery provides the opportunity to be more productive by utilizing less time. Travel time eats into productivity. With virtual sessions, learners can reserve a couple of hours during the day to complete the necessary training instead of spending days on the road or a full day in a training session. Time that isn’t spent traveling can be spent working.   Again, data is on your side when proposing how vILT provides the opportunity to deliver more in less time. Compare time investments of both the learner and the training team with today’s delivery approach in comparison to programs delivered virtually. Another angle on the time savings benefit is to compare how long it takes to deploy a training initiative today, start to finish, vs. a comparable vILT initiative. Many executives live and breathe speed to market. You’ll be speaking their language with this one. These are just a sampling of the variety of situations where a vILT training program can solve a business challenge. What are some ways that you’ve gotten executive buy-in for your VILT program? Are there other challenges your vILT program has addressed? We’d love your feedback.

Making the Pitch: Selling Your Executives on Virtual Learning (Part 1)

April 19, 2016 10:00 by Dana Peters
Companies today often have thousands of employees spread across multiple office locations and facilities. Business today is global. In order to operate competitively and develop and retain top talent, more and more organizations are turning to virtual instructor-led training (vILT) programs to support their skills development needs and competency attainment goals. Learning and Development Professionals probably understand the benefits of vILT, but how do you gain executive level support to sponsor your vILT programs?  The answer to this question requires us to take off our learning and development hats for a moment and put on our sales hat. What is your sales process for gaining executive level support? Let’s look at a common five step sales model, and think about how it applies to our situation: Planning the Call. Spend time planning and preparing for those first conversations with the executive. Decide early on your approach, expected responses, and potential questions and challenges the executive may raise. Identifying Needs. Understand the problems your executive is trying to resolve, the goals they are working toward, or the projects they have on the horizon. Identifying the needs will help you understand (and later on the executive) how a vILT program can meet those needs. If you don’t understand your executive’s needs, how can you propose a solution? Presenting your Solution. Once you understand how you could help your executive, you are in a position to present your solution. Here is where you will want to demonstrate how vILT will solve their problem. (Part II of this post). Make sure you keep the conversation on track by focusing on what is important to the executive and how your vILT solutions resolves the needs discussed. Relevancy is key to success here. Be concise and stick with what matters most to your executive. Manage Feedback. Presenting the solution will start the process of receiving feedback from the executive. Feedback may come from either direction, positive or negative. If the feedback is positive: “This is great, what are the next steps?” move on to Step 5. If there are some objections or concerns: “I am not sure this type of training will truly be effective,” there is still some work to be done. If the feedback you receive is negative, start by digging in to the executive’s concerns to learn more about the need with questions. This may mean a return to Step 2. Gaining Commitment. The final part of the process is gaining commitment. We have to ask for it to get it. A simple step that is some times overlooked. Our hope is that you will find this five step sales model to be a great starting point when planning your conversations to win over executives on your vILT solutions. This process will take some time and effort on your part, but by addressing the specific needs and concerns your executives are facing within the business, vILT can be showcased as a very appealing option. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where we will explore several business needs that we commonly see our clients solve with their vILT programs.