When virtually training remote and hybrid teams, engagement is key to the program’s effectiveness. Yet finding active and creative ways of engaging online learners can be challenging for many organizations and training teams, especially those newly transitioning from in-person to online training. With the continued rise of remote work and the hybrid workforce, it is vital for your organization to understand virtual classroom engagement and to be able to cultivate it in your virtual training sessions.
Fortunately, there are many ways to encourage participation and active engagement in the virtual classroom. With many platforms, apps, and tools at your disposal, it’s now easier than ever before to curate intriguing training sessions that motivate learners to participate, learn, and apply the training to their jobs. Let’s take a look at the importance of engagement, how engagement works for virtual training, and 11 effective strategies for increasing engagement in the virtual classroom.
The Importance of Engagement in the Virtual Classroom
All too often, online training consists of pre-recorded videos and lengthy lectures on content. Even with in-person training, these methods can prove unengaging for many learners. When made virtual, they become even less effective at successfully transferring learning that will be applied on the job.
Prioritizing learner engagement makes these training sessions more effective and sustainable. Helping learners be curious, comfortable, and engaged leads to more retention and better application of content, benefiting both your team and your organization.
The Three Dimensions of Learner Engagement
Before we discuss strategies for increasing virtual classroom engagement, it’s helpful to know the various dimensions of learner engagement from InSync’s InQuire Engagement Framework™, which offers learning insights based on neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and psychometrics. Designing with these dimensions in mind will help you to foster the ideal environment for high levels of learner engagement. Here are the three dimensions of learner engagement:
- Emotional Engagement. This dimension refers to the overall sense of belonging, investment, and enthusiasm of online learners. Achieving emotional engagement requires incorporating content that encourages collaboration, discussions, and communication between learners. Learners who feel that they are a valuable part of the discussion and of the overall experience are more likely to be emotionally engaged.
- Intellectual Engagement. This type of engagement refers to the overall captivation and curiosity of learners in the virtual classroom. By providing high-quality content that is interesting and intellectually stimulating, you engage learners and spark their motivation to retain the training and apply it to their jobs.
- Environmental Engagement. This dimension of learner engagement refers to everything in the training session outside of the individual participant. It includes the technology used, the location from which they are accessing the training, ease of access to materials and information, and potential distractions. With virtual training, the environment can be difficult to control remotely; but you can optimize the environment by encouraging proper virtual etiquette and minimizing distractions.
Keep in mind that each dimension of learner engagement supports the others—meaning that whenever you foster one dimension, you also encouraging the other two. Taking them all into consideration will help you to engage online learners so that everyone gets the most from each session of virtual classroom learning.
Effective Strategies For Increasing Virtual Classroom Engagement
Are you ready to dive into 11 effective strategies for increasing engagement in the virtual classroom? We’ll discuss a wide variety of strategies that work with all three dimensions of the InQuire Engagement Framework™ to keep your learners engaged.
1. Make Objectives and Expectations Clear
Take a moment before diving into content to set your expectations for learners and your overall objectives. By doing so, you eliminate confusion about the class and about the virtual environment and help get everyone on the same page. Right away, you are helping learners all feel included and emotionally engaged and are getting them excited to collaborate.
Each session of a longer class, give an overview and objectives at the beginning to establish what learners should gain that day. Don’t wait for the content to maybe draw your learners in; start off with engaging them right away.
2. Ensure All Content Supports the Main Objective
Teaching and learning in the virtual environment presents unique challenges, including “Zoom Fatigue,” that feeling of being completely drained from having to be on webcam and stare at a screen for hours on end. It can be easy for learners to check out of seemingly irrelevant content or of a virtual training that seems to just drag on and on. You can cultivate effective learning rather than virtual learner misery by carefully curating only the most essential and relevant content—that which supports your main objective. Feel free to give additional videos, blogs, and other on-demand resources that learners can research on their own time, but keep the fluff or unnecessary information from distracting and tiring your learners in the main sessions. Help them stay engaged for the most crucial information.
3. Engage Learners within the First 5 Minutes
Establishing a connection with learners quickly helps to get them focused and emotionally invested early. Start strong—either before or after your objectives and expectations, include some time for quick introductions or an interactive activity. Then keep that personal touch and energy up throughout the whole training session!
4. Design Blended Content
Blended learning has become an increasingly popular strategy for the virtual classroom, and for good reason. The countless ways to implement blended learning help trainers to fit their plans to their needs, provide various assignments and environments that help make sure no one—no matter their learning style—gets left behind, and keep variety and therefore interest in their programs. Blended learning can incorporate diverse resources online—live, asynchronous, and self-directed—as well as a blend of in-person and online classrooms. Whether your team is usually in-person, hybrid, or remote, blended learning can level up your training designs.
Blended learning designs can also increase the takeaways and ease of the training. For example, establishing and using a community learning forum for in between live trainings can allow everyone to learn from everyone else through assignments, questions, and discussions. Many more learners can benefit than back when such discussions could just take place in a small group in a hallway!
5. Encourage Participation through Questions
Having blended content or platforms is not enough to transition your training to the online virtual classroom. You also need to move away from the old lecture format which simply does not work as well online nor translate to well-trained and motivated learners. Keep listeners from disengaging environmentally (getting distracted by other things), emotionally (getting bored) and intellectually (stopping listening or zoning out) by asking the group for questions. Not only will this practice help keep learners’ attention and make them feel like they are part of the overall experience, but also it will result in more productive and tailored communication between facilitators and students.
6. Use Activities to Initiate Interaction
Take a little time to check out what interactive tools your virtual learning platform offers and find ways to incorporate a few of these in your training sessions. Asking participants to complete a poll, give a green check mark emoticon to signify understanding, or raise their hand with a question keeps learners alert, focused, and more engaged in the virtual classroom and your material. Just make sure that the activities you incorporate are relevant to the content and objective, well-planned for the size of your group, and something that adds to the learning experience rather than being a distraction.
7. Add Regular Opportunities for Active Virtual Classroom Interaction
Try to ask questions or use small activities every 3-5 minutes to help keep learners’ attention (or bring it back promptly if their thoughts have started wandering). Make sure that you design these into the training session to keep the engagement high throughout; don’t simply try to throw one in if you sense learners losing interest!
8. Make Time for Discussions
Opportunities for interaction do not need to be limited to questions and activities. Depending on the size of your group, discussions can be another great option for mutual communication among students and facilitators, stimulating intellectual engagement and encouraging learners to become further emotionally engaged in the content. Discussions also help the trainer to gauge what participants already know about content as well as what points they have learned or missed in the training. They can be used for brainstorming ideas and planning how to apply the content.
Make sure you plan discussions well for the size of your group. Encourage everyone to be engaged by making sure no one is left out. While discussions can work well in the main training session, breakout rooms can also be a great option, especially with larger groups.
9. Incorporate Breakout Rooms and Activities
Breaking up a group into smaller groups for discussions or collaborative activities that apply the content is a great way to foster engagement. Breakout rooms not only give more participants the chance to contribute; they also help shier learners or those overcoming a bad day or facing a culture gap to feel more comfortable sharing since they have less of an audience. Breakout rooms actually foster all three types of engagement: intellectually, they provide discussions or activities that stimulate interest and make learners think and collaborate; emotionally, they make learners feel more important and more invested because they now play a significant role; and environmentally, they lower the level of distraction by creating smaller groups.
10. Include Periodic Breaks to Prevent Fatigue
Do not succumb to the temptation to just hurry through slides or activities. Rather, remember that staring at a screen is tiring for most people, even when the content and activities are varied. Make sure to design in breaks, especially in sessions longer than an hour, to help learners mentally reset a bit and stay alert. Designing in a few minutes for learners to turn off their microphones (and webcams, if they were on), stretch, go to the bathroom, grab some water or a snack, or just otherwise take a break will actually help overall engagement and retention of training content.
11. Use Microlearning
Microlearning harnesses short, concise pieces of information. Working through smaller pieces of content helps learners focus and retain what they’ve learned. As such, it is a fantastic strategy for fostering learner engagement in the virtual classroom. Find bite-sized lessons to mix in with your lengthier content to harness the benefits microlearning provides.
Learn More about Effective Ways to Engage Online Learners and Other Teaching Tools for the Virtual Classroom
Are you eager to learn more ways to improve the virtual classroom experience? InSync Training can help! With over 20 years of experience in the virtual classroom arena, InSync has the experience and expertise necessary to help you improve the quality of your virtual training. Take a look at our workshops, check out our teams to help with your next virtual training, or schedule a meeting for tips and strategies to take your virtual classroom to the next level!