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Aug 09, 2022 Stephanie Eubanks

3 Steps to Keep Virtual Learners Engaged

Learners engage emotionally, environmentally, and intellectually - Here are 3 steps help you help them!

A few weeks ago, I logged in to a virtual instructor-led class and soon felt like taking a little nap. I even muted myself so other participants wouldn’t hear an accidental zzzzzzzzz. Don’t get me wrong. I was interested in the content. I wanted to learn about it. But there was almost no interaction. Try as I did, I couldn’t feel a part of the session.istockphoto-1336139577-612x612

In other words, I was unengaged. In fact, I felt bored, drowsy, and a little grumpy. By the time the class ended, I hadn’t learned much more than I already knew.

All in all, my near-nap reminded me of three tips for keeping virtual learners engaged – emotionally, environmentally, and intellectually (Dr. Charles Dye, Ph.D., How Brain Science is Transforming Virtual Training). I’ve found them to be extremely helpful in leading virtual classes of 15 to 20 people. I hope one or two – or even all three – will come in handy for you.

Step One

Greet learners during login to create emotional and environmental comfort.

You can get your class off to a great start as early as the login process. It’s as easy as greeting your learners by name as they log in. It creates a great transition from your learners’ “real world,” and it can help them begin to feel comfortable in the online environment – even if they’ve faced any challenges logging in.

You’re also supporting your learners emotionally with this type of conversational opening. The point is, they’ll all hear friendly human voices as they join the class, even though you can’t greet every learner when two or three names pop up at once.

Simply open your class with everyone unmuted and engage briefly with as many learners as possible as they log in. It’s easy and natural to say things like:

“Welcome, Name! Thanks for logging in early.”

“Hi Name! How’s your day going so far?”

If you already know them, “Name, great to see you here. Thanks for coming!”

If you know a learner’s location, you can always ask about the weather. These days, everyone has something to say about the weather. A local sports event can also be good fodder for a greeting, as in “Great Team Name win last night!”

And be sure to give your learners a few seconds to respond. If they’re not accustomed to being greeted when joining a virtual class, your greeting can take them by silent surprise.

Congratulations! Your learners are beginning to feel emotionally at ease in the group and environmentally at ease on the platform you’re using. They’re ready to expect and enjoy a positive learning experience.

Break the ice even more with a personal question your learners can answer in emotional safety

Here’s an approach that gets an active bang for your content buck. Even though it goes against all the “rules” about sticking to the positive during class, it works beautifully.

Step Two

Ask what your learners don’t like about the way others do whatever you’re training your learners to do.

Answers go in chat. Learners love answering this type of question, and they can usually come up with answers quickly.

By asking an open-ended question about personal opinion, you’re giving your learners a chance to identify with each other and feel emotionally safe interacting with each other.

For example, to warm your learners up in an email writing class, you can ask everyone to list what they don’t like about the email they get from others. They’re sure to give answers that the whole class can relate to, because they all receive at least some annoying emails every day at work.

Or, for an class with a focus on emotional intelligence, you might ask how the learners would not want their team leader to react to a common, uncomfortable situation – say, arriving late and apologetic for an important meeting. Your learners would probably be able to share unwanted reactions that the others can relate to.

Now that your learners have identified with each other, they can enjoy interacting with your content and with the other learners – on screen, in chat, or in voice. They can feel, “Hey, I can probably say what I really think in this class.”

Or, as Dr. Dye explains in Jennifer Hofmann's blog post, you’ve begun to help learners feel unafraid of judgment or ridicule from their peers. The emotional part of their brain doesn’t have to feel defensive. Instead, it gets to react positively so the cognitive part of their brain can learn in peace.

Congratulations! You’ve begun to create a community of happy, active, receptive learners.

Bonus: You can easily feed their ice-breaker answers into your delivery of the class content, positively reinforcing the learners who gave certain answers.

Step Three

Support your learners’ intellectual engagement by offering relevant challenges, privacy, and prizes.

Learners need to feel intellectually engaged as well as comfortable online and emotionally safe. Every class needs to help learners stay motivated about mastering the training content, remembering it, and being able to use it.

But a virtual class can risk boring its learners with repetitive learning – slide activities, chat, and audio – no matter how interactive it all is. So you might try relevant multi-tasking to help your learners stay intellectually engaged.

Give your learners two related tasks to complete at the same time. For example, you can customize a game for them to play privately while they’re interacting with the content on your slides. It’s not overkill, because they must use the content on your slides to “win” the game.

It’s kind of like that chewing gum in the green wrapper. Remember? Double your flavor/Double your fun? And, like the chewing gum, the training’s sticky.

Bingo’s a good bet. You can customize a printable Bingo board to reflect almost any content – and send it to your learners ahead of time. Just fill the board squares with the “answers” learners can find on the slides when they’re interacting with your content.

This encourages learners to be active on two environmental layers at the same time – the online slides and the printed Bingo board. On the slides, your learners interact with the group to change and improve a learning point. On their printed Bingo board – in the privacy of their own location – they find the learning points they revised on the slide. No visible competition to make anyone feel judged!

For example, you can use a Business-ese Bingo board for communication classes. Just fill the board with the business jargon and other pretentious phrases you’ve embedded in the learning activities on your slides. Since learners often struggle to break the habit of using words like “ballpark figure” or “initiative,” the game makes learning how to spot them challenging and fun.

And don’t forget to give prizes! We’re all motivated by winning prizes, right? You can put a congrats GIF in Chat for each Bingo! Or, right after class, you can email an inexpensive gift certificate from a popular coffee shop. You can even send a small promo item in snail mail.

Your happy winners will remember what they learned – in the enjoyable, emotionally safe environment you created for them!

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Published by Stephanie Eubanks August 9, 2022