Virtually There Session Recap
Virtual classrooms make up just one piece of the modern digital learning experience. Facilitators have the tall order of creating learner engagement in this complex, technical, and sometimes distant-feeling learning environment.
Karen Vieth, Lead Facilitator for InSync Training, has nearly two decades of experience overcoming these challenges and helping others build their skills as virtual instructors. During her recent Virtually There session with Jennifer Hofmann, she shared three advanced facilitation tips that have become cornerstones to her instructional approach.
Each of these three recommendations help new and seasoned instructors alike level up their approach. Try them out for yourself during your next webinar, live online course, or virtual blended learning event.
- Become fluent in your environment. The virtual classroom hosts an increasing number of interaction and collaboration tools. Facilitators obviously need to know how to use them effectively to teach content. Plus, part of the job (understandably) includes teaching learners how to use those tools. Virtual classroom facilitators instinctively share where the chat box sits, how to click on hand raise, red X and the green check mark. But environmental fluency takes these tools a step further. Advanced facilitators use these indicators of consensus, dissension, and interaction as a gateway to true engagement. Karen explains, “use tools like the green check mark as a soft way to call on learners to foster discussion. Don’t use them at face value as a simple yes or no.” Go deeper into content with learners to focus on intellectual engagement. At the start of the session, say, “As part of the program, I may ask you to come off of mute to contribute verbally to the discussion. I won’t cold call on you, but I may ask you to build on contributions you make in chat or through other tools.” Setting the expectations creates a safe space for later saying, “Jack, I noticed you gave a green check mark to that question. Would you mind verbally sharing with the class why you agreed with that statement?” This approach respects adult learners’ personal experiences and encourages them to share meaningfully and engage more deeply with the content on an intellectual level.
- Survey your group ahead of the event. Learners in training programs bring a vast wealth of knowledge, experiences, and perspectives to the room. In virtual programs, taking advantage of existing skillsets often gets overlooked. Advanced facilitators honor the wisdom in the room, and build engaging learning programs around it. Karen urges you to “survey your group of learners before the event to understand the makeup of the group. Pair or combine learners into small working groups based on this information and allow them to move through the content together.” In that survey, ask directly what learners expect or want to gain from the upcoming event. Their investment in the program will change if their expectations are not met. Facilitators have a better chance of meeting expectations if they can address them at the beginning of the program. Additionally, by acknowledging what learners already know, what they hope to gain from a training program, and the skills they aspire to build, facilitators encourage an emotional engagement to the content. The material suddenly means something to learners beyond a requirement. It represents true knowledge transfer, meaningful skill building, and creating true connections within a new personal learning network.
- Print your roster out before the session. Sounds simple right? The roster offers a surprisingly powerful tool facilitators can use to grow learner engagement. Karen explains, “Have that roster ready. Take a pencil and keep it next to you as you facilitate. As learners contribute in class, jot down notes and feedback about what they share. Reference it later on in the event in ways like, ‘When Lisa mentioned this point earlier, it led us to what we will talk about next, which is….’” This process connects the dots of the content for the learners and enriches the learner experience and your delivery approach. All facilitators understand the power of active listening in all learning environments. By reiterating learner feedback regularly and connecting it to the ongoing lessons, facilitators can demonstrate ongoing active listening. Advanced facilitators emotionally connect with the learner, and create emotional ties to the content, translating it to real work. Emotional engagement approaches like this one create memorable experiences and encourage learners to bring new information and techniques back to the job.
Moving beyond the key fundamentals of virtual classroom facilitation promotes a more productive modern learning experience for the learners and your organization. What steps will you take to promote true engagement in your next session? Share them in the comments below! For immediate skill building check out these available resources:
- Download the infographic Virtual Classroom Engagement: Facilitator Dos and Don’ts
- Watch the recording of Jennifer Hofmann and Karen Vieth’s Virtually There session Creating Engagement in the Virtual Classroom: Advanced Facilitation Skills for the Experienced Training Professional.
- Register for the brand new certificate program Advanced Virtual Facilitation – Driving Quality Digital Engagement