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Mar 03, 2022 Jennifer Hofmann

5 Ways Facilitators Can Stimulate Intellectual Engagement in the Virtual Classroom

Intellectual learner engagementThis is the second installment in a four-part series that explores actionable approaches facilitators can use to improve learner engagement through purposeful facilitation using InSync's InQuire Engagement Framework . Learner engagement turns on three factors: an emotional response to the training; an intellectual response to the training; and an environmental response to the learning.

Can the virtual classroom actually achieve the same learning results as a face-to-face approach? Or is it a ‘second best’ solution?

I believe that, if our approach is authentic and well-designed, facilitators can ensure that virtual learning is REAL learning. And help learners recognize this as well.

In the same way they can foster environmental engagement, facilitators have a unique opportunity in the virtual classroom to stimulate intellectual engagement. This opportunity isn’t NEW - great teachers have piqued our interest and motivated our participation since the earliest educational experiences. But many of us have doubts as to whether intellectual engagement in the virtual classroom can rise to the levels we expect in a more traditional approach.

Intellectual engagement involves more than learners feeling mentally inspired by training content.  Facilitators must recognize that the learning environment is changed by how people are learning, and how much they are learning, and manage the class accordingly.

Charles Dye explains that facilitators need to focus on specific, proactive action in order to support this dimension of engagement:

Research demonstrates that activities that might exemplify this aspect of learner engagement would include asking sophisticated questions (particularly “follow-on” questions that build on a point made earlier in the same discussion) and a sense of alignment of subject matter with task and performance (Cooper, 2010) – they may make frequent comparisons to practices “in the field,” and questions from such a person would be directed at the question of real-world implementations of theoretical or activity-based concepts presented in the learning experience.

5 Facilitation Techniques That Stimulate Intellectual Engagement in the Virtual Classroom 

Facilitators can stimulate intellectual engagement by:

  1. Connecting content to individual experiences. Adhering to adult learning principles is just as important in a virtual learning environment as it is in a face-to-face environment, and learners react positively when they clearly see the connection between training and their work. When learners recognize the relevance of the content to their individual situation, interest is stimulated, and they become curious to learn even more. Facilitators should clearly communicate the relevance of the blend early and often.

  2. Focusing on how and how much individuals are learning, and not focusing on the slides. They now guide learners through experiences. Advanced virtual facilitators gauge their learners’ needs and the benefits of the training material and bridge the two. When the intentions of the program obviously align with the intentions of the learner, learners feel the investment in their time and focus is worth it.

  3. Ensuring learning is transferred. Great corporate learning strives to impact business outcomes, and learning transfer ensures that happens. When learners can clearly self-identify that they have already gained new applicable knowledge and/or skills, it stimulates their curiosity to continue to learn. Facilitators need to consciously move beyond sharing information and toward true skill building and knowledge transfer.

  4. Demonstrating subject matter expertise. In the virtual classroom, both technical proficiency and subject matter competence matter to learners. When you share useful information/data that is not previously known, while also managing the virtual platform smoothly, your expertise is recognized, and learners stay interested because they assume more meaningful information will be shared.

  5. Highlighting and incorporating course materials into the content flow. When learners realize the value of content offered outside of the live lessons (eLearning, infographics, tools, videos, etc.) they will be more likely to access that content in other moments of learning need. As facilitators, our influence no longer ends when the live training event concludes. Rather, we also support informal training, and by positioning ourselves as experts, learners will trust the self-guided, on-demand resources, too.

Don’t limit the impact of your facilitation through surface-level learner engagement. Maximize learning’s results by facilitating content in such a way that the information revitalizes learners’ interest. By combining these five facilitation methods with my approaches for fostering environmental engagement, facilitators can increase their value to learners and the organization. For more purposeful professional development, register for the Facilitation Mastery Series - the next class begins on May 3.

Learn More About Facilitation Mastery

Whether you are using Zoom, MS Teams, Webex, Adobe Connect, or any other virtual classroom platform, you can't rely on the technology to engage your learners.

Read the other installments in the advanced virtual facilitation learner engagement blog series by tapping the icon below.

InSync's InQuire Engagement Framework  , developed by InSync’s Dr. Charles Dye, is based on an operationalized situated cognition model and neuroscience, and optimizes learner trajectory by considering the learner, the learning environment, and the learner-environment interaction through measurable and well-defined measures of effect. Access the original research here:

Advanced Virtual Facilitation


Published by Jennifer Hofmann March 3, 2022
Jennifer Hofmann