Adoption of virtual classrooms for training delivery has become a critical component of an organization’s learning strategy. Unfortunately, we’ve been delivering one-way webinars for so long, it is difficult for facilitators to make the transition to a more collaborative instructional approach.
New facilitators need to start with the basics, including being able to:
- Use collaboration tools to support communication between everyone in the virtual classroom;
- Work effectively with a producer to effectively manage the experience; and
- Be able to effectively manage any technical or instructional problems that arise.
But we need more than just facilitation basics.
As facilitators become more experienced with this learning environment, the focus needs to move from technologies and tools to a more holistic training delivery approach. Virtual classroom facilitators need to engage learners on an emotional, intellectual, and environmental level. And that requires more than relying on the technology.
To truly engage learners, we need to connect with them. And the key to that connection is strong facilitation.
Advanced Techniques That Facilitate Virtual Classroom Success
To create a learning environment that produces engagement that is equivalent to (or maybe even better than!) a more traditional face-to-face environment, start by adopting these three techniques.
1. Provide purposeful and authentic delivery to engage on an emotional level. In the virtual classroom, your language needs to be clear and purposeful. Every word counts. Pay special attention to voice tone and inflection and watch out for your verbal crutches! (Um, you know, etc.) They are more noticeable in the virtual classroom.
To support an authentic environment at the emotional level, practice ‘purposeful pausing.’ When you are responsible for delivering a narrative, silence can seem like a failure. We are concerned that if we stop talking, our audience will leave. This is not true. Silence give learners the opportunity to reflect, respond, and react to the content. It also provides YOU the opportunity to craft your next remarks. Be patient with yourself and trust the silence so that learning can happen with reflection. Give the learners time to reflect and connect to their real work.
2. To stimulate intellectual engagement, minimize lecture and maximize facilitation. While we want our presentation-focused webinars to be engaging, they are still focused on delivering content and clarifying concepts. Training programs, during which individuals acquire new skills and behaviors, require us to flip the classroom into a less lecture-intense approach and tap into the learner intellect. Accomplish this in a number of ways, including focusing on the way questions are asked and answered, and debrief activities.
Facilitators need to adopt questioning techniques that encourage learners to respond and contribute. For example, have everyone post one idea into chat and click the green check when done. Now you have many ideas upon which to build, instead of waiting for one person to raise a hand.
3. Learn to manage, and embrace, multiple learner environments. Diversity can make virtual programs more engaging and worthwhile, but we need to learn to manage this diversity. By maximizing environmental engagement, facilitators use that diversity to enhance the program, rather than detract from its success. Anticipate and manage environmental factors, including multicultural audiences, learners participating from mobile devices, and groups of learners in a multi-method delivery situation.
- Multicultural audiences require facilitators to develop cultural intelligence or, “the ability to consider the audience and facilitate interactions that are inclusive and provide needed support for the culturally diverse global audience.” This ability helps us to recognize the influence of culture, and multiple cultures, play in the classroom and guides in adjusting our facilitation to accommodate our audience. Sometimes we just need to acknowledge the diversity and ask the learners to assist us in learning about one another.
- Virtual learners may choose to learn from their mobile device instead of from their desks, and this creates its own series of challenges. Virtual classroom tools look different on a mobile device, and often don’t have the same features. Individuals also interact differently with a mobile device than with a desktop. Facilitators need to learn how to manage this dynamic. (Download our whitepaper on the Mobile Virtual Classroom.)
- Multi-method delivery is the simultaneous support of non-co-located learners. This means some learners are at their own machines and using their own audio, some are on in the same room sharing audio or machines, but not both, and some learners are in a conference room watching a shared projection of the virtual classroom. All of these scenarios create their own complications, and change the way the facilitator interacts with the group. What often occurs in this situation is well-designed programs devolve into straight lectures. With preparation and awareness, multi-method programs can be successful.
When it comes to virtual classroom facilitation, I can’t emphasize this enough: BE SPECIFIC. Because you lose most of your physical cues in the virtual classroom, you need to make sure you’re using very specific language. Say, “Raise your hand with your questions. If you don’t have one, mark the red X” instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?” Not only do you keep your learners audibly engaged, you’ve given very specific direction to invite them to discuss.
And don’t forget the debrief – that’s where the learning happens. As I mentioned in a previous post about activity debriefs, we’ve been using virtual classrooms for over 20 years now, and still seem to be holding on to a content model that is focused on getting through all of the slides. Debriefing allows learners to process what they just did, in context with the content, and then connect it to real work. Modern learning design strives to connect training content and events to real work application. As facilitators, if we can make the connection clear to our learners, we are able to demonstrate relevance to adult learners, motivating them through lecture-heavy content. That connection makes the learning stick.
Reinforce the basics of live online instruction and build advanced skills through application in the Virtual Classroom Facilitation Mastery Series. Register for an upcoming certificate program today!