In Jennifer Hofmann’s blog post, The Role of Virtual Classrooms in Modern Blended Learning, she states that the focus of virtual learning should be fundamentally on the learners, their experiences and their learning environments. And I agree. But I encourage you to expand that focus to include collaboration.
I believe it is the ability for learners within those experiences and learning environments to make connections, participate in collaborative efforts and tie back to real life and work situations that turns a webinar-type session into a real lesson where learners are eager to come back for more.
Twenty-two years ago, I was given the opportunity to jump on the virtual training bandwagon. I quickly said "yes" to get off the road and work from my home office for a while. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would still be on that bandwagon today. But here I am; loving it. This may sound similar to many of you that just started teaching virtually due to the pandemic. You will find that the impact you have in a virtual classroom is as good or better than what you could do face to face.
Has someone tied me to my chair, holding me prisoner to my virtual classroom? NO! I have fallen in love with virtual training. Because it is so much more than just training. In fact, I was in a training session several years back where learners were from all over the globe. I had just asked them all to return from a breakout to debrief the topic that we had been discussing and someone said, “Karen, that was so cool. It was as if we were in the same room together collaborating, yet we are thousands of miles apart.” It was in that moment I knew that online training could have a real impact on learners across the nation and the world.
The best compliment we virtual facilitators can ever receive is “wow, that was almost like being in a real class.” As facilitators, we long to make connections with our learners and allow them to interact and engage with us as they would in a face-to-face class.
If you follow these three simple tips, your learners will not only feel like they are in a real class, learners will be able to connect, collaborate and apply content to real life situations instead of going to a class, getting information and then filing it away somewhere only to get lost in the mountain of thoughts running through their head.
Tip 1. Keep it about people instead of the content.
It is especially easy in the virtual classroom learning environment to focus on the content and EdTech, rather than the relationships between your learners. Learner connections, both to each other and from you to them, increase the likelihood of learning retention and program success.
- Creating relationships. Turn on your webcam to introduce yourself or make a point. The success in using the webcam is the finesse of turning it on and off. Don’t depend on it to replace your virtual presence! Design it in and use it with purpose and intent.
- Learning about your audience. Find out some fun facts, traditions, why they are in the lesson and where they are from. Tell stories that connect the learners and the content. Stories connect people to the content. Provide opportunities to hear from your learners through voice, chat, whiteboard, etc.
- Using ice breakers to warm up the audience to get them ready to learn. Teach learners about the tools to allow them to connect. Learn about the learners’ WIIFM (What's In It For Me). Build teams confidence within the technology. Then transition to content.
- Connecting often. Use learners’ names as much as possible. Use the feedback tools as a way to showcase nonverbal communication. Keep all avenues of communication open, including audio, chat and private chat.
Tip 2: Create opportunities for learners to collaborate.
Use the virtual classroom tools at your disposal to generate collaboration and community. My favorite options include:
- Design pair and share activities. For example, use private chat so learners can have intimate conversations with a fellow learner about the content.
- Don’t be afraid to use breakout rooms. These virtual classroom modules provide small group collaboration where learners can feel part of something bigger.
- Incorporate the public chat feature. It’s great for group brainstorming and allowing learners to share experiences and stories in a non-threatening way.
Tip 3. Hold learners accountable.
Ask learners to apply skills and create real-life work connections through adult learning principles. Try these approaches:
- Develop whiteboard activities that encourage learners to document their collaborative efforts for all to see.
- Utilize gallery walks so learners can “see” what other groups came up with in their breakout rooms.
- Note: We define a virtual gallery walk as -
“a discussion technique that allows students to be actively engaged as they virtually walk throughout the classroom. Learners work together in small groups to share ideas and respond to meaningful questions, documents, images, problem-solving situations or texts, then come back to the main room and walk through the other teams' whiteboards to review their discussions and add questions and suggestions in a different color.“
- Note: We define a virtual gallery walk as -
- Outline personal learning paths so learners can continue their learning through webinars, workshops, infographics, and other online resources.
- Provide case studies to help learners apply skills and connect content to real-life situations.
- Create "just in time" type training that helps learners feel connected and wanting to come back for more.
- Empower students to take ownership in the learning. Direct them to find the WIIFM and outline the golden nugget that will become the learner’s "aha moment." Once they are committed to an aha moment, the learner will visualize how to use the content back on the job.
Connecting with learners through warm conversation, laughter, storytelling, consistent connections, and ongoing collaboration through real life and work experiences will create a real classroom feel that learners will beg to come back to. Also, using technology as a vehicle to bring learners together, rather than a place to bring them to, will turn the focus on the learners and content connections will evolve.
Blog: 5 Facilitation Tips to Increase Engagement in Virtual Classrooms
Looking for additional facilitation tips? Jennifer Hofmann, virtual and blended learning pioneer, shares her favorite tricks for learner engagement through successful facilitation.
Whitepaper: Virtual Classroom Tool Design Basics: A Virtual Engagement Primer
Don’t let the virtual classroom EdTech intimidate you. Download this complimentary whitepaper to learn how the technology can support your mission to generate learner engagement through effective facilitation.
Certificate Program: Virtual Classroom Facilitation Mastery Series Certificate Program
InSync Training guides practitioners to a level of facilitation mastery in this comprehensive and accredited continuing education program. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see the real classroom modeled and learn to be a more effective virtual facilitator.