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Aug 08, 2019 Jennifer Hofmann

Are You A Virtual Trainer? How to Engage your Learners at an Advanced Level

Virtual Facilitators Wanted Competent virtual facilitators have quite a few enviable skills.

They’ve been trained on the nuances of how to teach virtually and have mastered their virtual classroom platform. (Zoom, Webex, Adobe Connect, etc.) They consider the principles of adult learning throughout every delivery. They manage the entire experience. And so much more!

The infographic associated with this post provides a pretty detailed list of the qualifications and responsibilities of a good virtual facilitator, in a “job posting” format. (Download here and feel free to adapt for your own use!)

But how does a facilitator go from good to great?

Jim Collins, author of Good To Great and Built To Last, reminds us that it is not possible for EVERYONE to be above average. Exceptional virtual facilitators need to learn and exhibit advanced facilitation skills.

But what are advanced facilitation skills?


Engaging your learners on three dimensions

Exceptional facilitators go beyond the basics. They are able to engage with learners on three dimensions: environmentally, intellectually, and emotionally. Specifically, they master the virtual classroom environment and can answer the following three questions:

  1. Are the learners interacting with the learning environment and is the environment changed because of the training?
  2. Does the instructional experience require and involve the learner’s intellect?
  3. How does the learner “feel” about the content and its presentation/treatment?

Obtaining the answers to these questions means the virtual facilitator effectively becomes a detective. The answers are often subtle; in the way the facilitator proactively manages learner engagement in difficult situations can have a profound impact on the outcome of the class.

Here are some examples:

  • Example of how to foster environmental engagement: One of the most challenging situations a facilitator needs to handle in the virtual environment is what we call a “multimode” or “multimethod” class. This occurs when some learners are working individually from their desks; others are sharing a conference room and watching a projected version of the virtual classroom; and possibly still others are working from a mobile device. Another potential complication could be that the facilitator and some learners are sharing a physical room, while others are attending the training in the various ways I just mentioned. It’s very easy to disengage learners in these situations – the tendency is to focus on just one group. To avoid this, the facilitator needs to identify how all the learners are participating and adapt exercises and interactions so that all learners are successful. The facilitator can anticipate the audience demographics and prepare options for each group. Dependence on the producer as an instructional partner is critical.

  • Example of how to stimulate intellectual engagement: A way to intellectually engage learners using virtual classroom tools is by asking questions. In order to ensure that we get responses to questions, most facilitators rely on polls to ask them. Unfortunately, we don’t do a lot with that data that comes out of those polls. And when we don’t use that data well, learners have stopped paying attention. They are pressing buttons just to ensure the class moves forward. (I worked with the client once that was very frustrated because people were logging on to the class, answering all the polls, and leaving the class without ever having joined the audio. These facilitators were using polls as the primary engagement technique – and nothing else. The learners didn’t see the value in participating and for answering the polls just to get credit.) An advanced facilitator uses the responses to these polls to intellectually engage the learner – and is ready to adapt the content based on the responses from the polls. The polls shouldn’t be an end point, they should be the beginning of the next conversation. Or an in depth debrief of the previous conversation. The poll results should move the conversation along. And the facilitator needs to adapt and evolve the conversation based on the results.

  • Example of nurturing emotional engagement: Emotional engagement is really about safety. All competent facilitators know to keep an eye on their learners, but are they really “seeing” the individuals? Facilitators can gauge whether or not people are actually listening using basic techniques, but how do we know they are actually learning? One way to ensure learners are emotionally engaged is to practice active and reflective listening. This is not as obvious as it might sound – the overabundance of webinars over the last 20 years have taught facilitators the virtual classroom is about us talking, and not listening to learners. Of course, in order to listen someone else may need to be saying something. The advanced facilitator ensures the learners are contributing to the class. This creates a sense of belonging and starts to foster community.

So what are advanced virtual facilitation skills? In short, they are the ability to uncover the clues provided by your learners, and use that information to ensure they are being engaged, and reengaged, environmentally, intellectually, and emotionally. This post shares just a few examples of how you can achieve these outcomes.

If you’ve been training virtually for a while, then you have the basic skills you need to evolve your skill set.

Have I stimulated your curiosity to learn more about advanced virtual facilitation skills?

Build on your fundamentals with the brand new Advanced Facilitation certificate program.

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Published by Jennifer Hofmann August 8, 2019
Jennifer Hofmann