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Jan 30, 2014 Jennifer Hofmann

Use Interaction & Collaboration to Maximize Engagement in the Virtual Classroom

In the virtual classroom, "Engagement", "Interaction", and "Collaboration" are often used interchangeably, this post addresses the differences. You can learn even more about the application of engagement, interaction, and collaboration through hands-on practice with the experts in our Virtual Classroom Design Mastery Series certificate program. 

The (live) Virtual Classroom has been around a lot longer than most of us realize. In 1995 I worked for a health insurer in Connecticut, and we were using LearnLinc (with VoIP and Breakout Rooms) as part of our "Distance Education" initiative.

Collaborating in the virtual classroom

That's almost two decades of virtual events, and our industry still struggles to design successful programs.

No matter what topic you are discussing or what Virtual Classroom you are using, I believe the 'secret sauce' comes down to convincing participants to be fully present and engaged. But what are the ingredients of that secret sauce?

The first thing we need to do is clarify some definitions. "Engagement", "Interaction", and "Collaboration" are often used interchangeably. We've made an effort to distinguish the three concepts, and create some guidelines as to when they should be applied.

Engagement is defined by Merriam-Webster as emotional involvement or commitment. When a participant is engaged, that participant wants to be involved in the event; he or she wants to hear what you have to say and wants to meet the objectives of the program. Whether delivering a one-hour Webinar or three-week blended curriculum, we need participants to be engaged for the program to be successful. Interaction and collaboration are the engagement techniques used to ensure this success.

Interaction is communication between participants, trainers, and technology. The purpose of interaction in a virtual classroom is to keep the program moving, make sure participants are paying attention, and to clarify misunderstandings. Interaction provides feedback to all involved, and focuses on data/information. Learning objectives that fall into a 'knowledge' category (recite, recall, list....) can usually be taught using an interactive approach. In the virtual classroom, interaction can be accomplished in many ways, including polling, web scavenger hunts, and Q&A sessions. These types of interactive activities don't include PRACTICE of a new skill or APPLICATION of new knowledge. They simply confirm KNOWLEDGE. Interaction should be the primary engagement technique during events with titles like "Webinar" and "Presentation." As we move into events with training goals, interaction is used to ensure the transfer of baseline information before participants need to practice skills or apply knowledge.

Collaboration builds on baseline information, and is one of the factors that, in my opinion, moves and event from being a presentation to being true training. The purpose of collaboration in a virtual classroom is to ensure participants achieve the desired level of content mastery while working with other participants. (If they could have learned it on their own, why bother sending them to a live class?) Collaboration is exemplified by the PRACTICE of new skills and APPLICATION of knowledge by the participants. We can achieve collaboration in a virtual setting by using breakout rooms, share whiteboards, and facilitated discussions, all the while moving up the Bloom's Taxonomy ladder. Generally, collaboration can best be achieved with small groups and supplemental participant materials to support the learning process.

Training incorporates both interaction and collaboration when engaging participants. Check your virtual designs, and make sure your content is meeting the needs of the program.


Mobile learning and blended interaction by Steve Wheeler (Note the discussion on Interacting with Content as well as technology. Interesting read.)


Published by Jennifer Hofmann January 30, 2014
Jennifer Hofmann