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Jul 18, 2019 Katelind Hays

Multitasking in the Modern Virtual Classroom

28259640_sThink back to the last webinar or virtual training session you attended. I’m willing to bet that you divided your attention between the event and other things like email, lunch, or a pressing project.

We don’t judge! Even the most committed learners and seasoned virtual classroom experts have a tendency to multitask in this learning environment. And for good reason – we all juggle an increasing number of competing priorities, and our organizations keep decreasing the amount of time available for learning.

The famous Bersin research about the reality of modern learning reinforces the truth that we all have too much to do in too little time. Because we try to accomplish a week’s worth of work in day – while also pursuing personal professional development – multitasking isn’t just commonplace, it’s essential.

In thinking about all the distractions we face, keep a few things in mind:

  • Modern learners will multitask. Whether you design a comprehensive eight-week blend, or you facilitate a one-hour informational presentation, learners will bring external “stuff” to your event. Don’t resign yourself to leading a program rife with disengagement but having an awareness of the likelihood for intermittent or lacking interaction can help you prepare for it.
  • Facilitators multitask, too. Not all multitasking diminishes the value of an event. The best virtual classroom facilitators manage learners, content, and collaboration activities all at once. These real-world skills contribute to a memorable and engaging experience, not detract from it. Our team often embodies the motto: “Be like a duck: calm on the surface, put paddling like the dickens underneath.”
  • Engagement can combat distraction. Learners will check email during your session. Sometimes poll questions will not have a 100% response rate. Not all participants will devote their full attention to a breakout room activity. But incorporating opportunities for collaboration, contribution, and connection can regain and refocus attention.

Resident facilitation expert Karen Vieth knows all too well this modern learning reality. Just as the virtual classroom evolves, so too must our perspective and process. Karen urges facilitators to:

"Ask the right questions. Foster discussion. Get people to listen to us and to other participants. Utilize purposeful silence – taking a moment to pause and allowing engagement to happen. Call people by name. Create conversation. Have conversation! Ultimately, combating multitasking and creating dynamic virtual learning events is less about me as a facilitator and more about them as participants. Encourage participation and create activities. Provide instructions so learners understand expectations and know exactly what to do."

The best practice of asking learners to actively participate or interact in the virtual classroom every 3-5 minutes may not offer a cure-all, but it can set the stage for success.


Published by Katelind Hays July 18, 2019
Katelind Hays