As we navigate designing, producing and facilitating virtual classroom and blended learning, we identify solutions to common challenges. To support the mobile, social, and modern virtual classroom, we share our findings and lessons learned with our audience to encourage the creation of training that sticks.
For example, as anyone who has taught or participated in a virtual learning environment knows, audio plays a key role in a program’s success. Audio connectivity issues can quickly derail a session, making effective planning essential. How should you encourage learners to connect to audio? As virtual learning architects, how should you think about audio in relationship to the overall learning experience?
Types of Virtual Classroom Audio
One of our expert producers, Helen Fong, has some suggestions related to online platform audio connectivity. She points out that, traditionally, virtual classroom platforms like WebEx, have two audio options: landlines and computer audio (VoIP).
Landlines, which are separate from the internet, aren’t dependent on bandwidth, and typically provide redundancy for users (predictable experience) and high-quality sound. Landline audio typically costs more than other options, and many of your learners have likely phased out their landlines in exchange for cell phones.
While virtual classroom platforms often discourage calling in via cell phone, Jennifer Hofmann shares that her cell phone provides much better quality than her landline. She recommends that you complete testing with a cell phone if you aren’t working from a traditional office setting. Additionally, keep in mind that a landline must be a true public switched telephone network (PSTN) line, not a VoIP backbone landline such as Vonage or those provided through your internet provider.
The second standard audio connection option is computer audio (VoIP). It’s convenient and cost effective. However, background noise and potential bandwidth issues can plague computer audio users. You can alleviate background noises by using a headset plugged into the computer. Unfortunately, if bandwidth issues present a serious challenge, our expert team recommends choosing a landline over computer audio.
This information about each type of audio connection will help frame the connectivity direction you provide to your virtual classroom learners.
Advice for the Learning Architects
Jennifer encourages virtual classroom facilitators and producers to keep the following in mind when it comes to audio:
- Always ensure maximum audio quality. If you have audio issues, it’s impossible for people to stay focused. This includes background noise and noise from the phones themselves. You may have to mute phones or ask a participant to leave if you can’t isolate their audio problem.
- Pace your lectures. Lectures are necessary at times, but try not to go more than five minutes without re-engaging the participants. You may want to give them a “lecture” alert which helps your learners stay tuned in.
- Don’t read directly off the screen. It’s tempting to upload your PowerPoint presentation and read the content directly off the slides. However, this approach irritates people as it’s something they could have done on their own. If something MUST be read, it’s better to ask a participant to read it out loud.
- Change your inflections. Make sure that you vary your voice when presenting in the virtual classroom. Speak louder and softer, faster and slower, in a way that supports the content. By changing the audio environment, and keeping it fresh, you will capture people’s attention repeatedly throughout the session.
- Call on people using their names. This is a technique we use in our virtual learning events because it keeps people engaged. Since they don’t know if they’ll be called on next, they tend to pay closer attention. It’s best to set the expectation at the beginning of the event that they may be called on at any time to offer their own knowledge.
- Have fun! As the facilitator or producer, you need to sound as though you are having fun and really enjoying the interaction with the audience. Think about it this way: how long would you stayed tuned in to a radio station if the announcer sounded bored, irritated, or as if they wished they weren’t at work? Truthfully, you likely wouldn’t remain engaged very long.
Your voice as audio and the audio connection of your learners are fundamentally important tools in live online learning events. Keep both in mind and your virtual classroom sessions will have a higher rate of engagement and success.