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Nurturing Emotional Engagement in the Virtual Classroom

Nurturing Emotional Engagement in the Virtual Classroom


People often perceive corporate training as a mandatory, impersonal process: they fulfill the requirements and proceed to the next task. This reflects a traditional "push" learning culture that centers on content rather than individual experiences. However, this approach overlooks an essential aspect of effective learning — the emotional component.


Engaging learners emotionally is crucial for fostering a productive hybrid learning environment. This engagement goes beyond merely understanding new concepts; it taps into employees' intrinsic motivation to excel in their roles. Employees yearn to perform well, acquire necessary skills, meet their objectives, and successfully juggle professional responsibilities alongside continuous learning. Recognizing these emotions and aspirations can significantly enhance the learning experience.

In a hybrid learning environment, where face-to-face interactions blend with digital learning, engagement becomes even more critical. High emotional engagement contributes to increased retention rates, improved performance, and a more enjoyable learning experience. It helps learners engage more deeply with the content, encouraging them to take responsibility for their own personal and professional development.

As facilitators, we have a responsibility to acknowledge these emotions and address them in our delivery approach. By doing so, we can transform virtual training from a compulsory task into an enriching, personalized learning journey. In the evolving landscape of corporate training, the focus is shifting from content-centric to learner-centric models. Consequently, nurturing emotional engagement in the hybrid learning environment has become not just beneficial, but critical.

What is Emotional Engagement, and Why Should It Matter to a Virtual Classroom Facilitator?

In a hybrid learning environment, where we mix traditional face-to-face interactions with online learning experiences, the need to foster learner engagement becomes increasingly significant. In particular, emotional engagement becomes a cornerstone of successful learning outcomes.

Emotional engagement is a powerful tool that can lead to higher retention rates, improved performance, and ultimately, a more fulfilling learning experience. It empowers learners to establish a deeper connection with the content, cultivating a sense of ownership and commitment towards their personal and professional development.

As facilitators navigating the virtual learning landscape, we bear the responsibility of acknowledging and addressing the emotional aspects of learning in our delivery approach. By doing so, we can transform the often-perceived mandatory virtual training into an enriching, personalized journey of learning. The shift in corporate training from content-centric models to learner-centric ones underscores the growing importance of emotional engagement. Nurturing this element in a hybrid learning environment is no longer merely advantageous; it's an essential component of effective learning strategies.

How learners perceive and feel about the learning experience largely influences its quality. As facilitators, we should strive to create a positive learning environment that not only educates but also fosters a sense of community among learners.

Charles Dye’s research reinforces this perspective, identifying emotional engagement as one of the three critical components of learner engagement, alongside environmental and intellectual factors. This underscores the pivotal role emotional engagement plays in shaping a successful and impactful hybrid learning experience. He clarifies:

"Experienced facilitators focus on activities that might exemplify this aspect of learner engagement, including positive collaboration with peers (McDonald & MacKay, 1998; Calvani, et al., 2010), articulation of shared experience and social modeling (Bandura, 1986), scaffolded development/demonstration of skill/expertise with a facilitator (Vygotsky, 1986), and the sense of self-worth that comes from participation in a learning experience (Cooper, 2010)."

7 Engagement Strategies That Nurture Emotional Engagement

Virtual classroom facilitators can nurture emotional engagement by:

  1. Inspiring confidence in the virtual classroom experience. When a facilitator is adept in the use of the tools, the virtual classroom fades into the background and learners start to ignore the technology. This helps them feel like they're in an actual learning setting, motivating them to participate more in the training.
  2. Demonstrating that all contributions and interactions are valued. When we acknowledge and reinforce learners' contributions, they realize that they are not anonymous and that their participation in the learning environment matters. This helps them feel confident and so they tend to contribute even more. This is especially important in the virtual classroom, where learners rarely see the facilitator or their peers.
  3. Nurturing an environment in which learners feel safe about offering opinions and asking questions. When learners feel intellectually "safe," they may feel more inclined to contribute to conversations and to ask questions. Training should offer a safe space for making mistakes and questioning for understanding. Facilitators can contribute to the learners’ belief that their contributions have value, even if they miss the mark.
  4. Creating an environment where individuals enjoy learning. When learners are enjoying themselves, they feel better about being part of the experience. Spark interest! Spread joy! Even technical training can include an element of fun. Advanced facilitators can inject passion into their delivery and into the environment itself to create a more exciting event.
  5. Encouraging learners by providing positive, personalized feedback on contributions and progress. Learners feel valued when they recognize that someone notices their individual contributions. They will potentially contribute more, enhancing the experience for everyone. Facilitators should provide positive reinforcement throughout the process. It can be as simple as saying, “Thank you, Sally, for sharing. Your point aligns with the content we will discuss after our break.”
  6. Reinforcing why the content is important. When learners recognize and internalize why certain content is important, they feel good about participating and are more open to learning. The importance of content produces a positive emotional response because the learner feels that if the content is important, the fact that they’re in the classroom learning it means they are important as well – in this sense, training assumes the role of reward and recognition for the learner.
  7. Encouraging community among learners. When relationships start to build between learners, there is an increased likelihood that they will work cooperatively within the learning experience to make it more effective for themselves. Learners “get outside of their own head” and start thinking about “we the learners” within the learning experience – they will build on each other’s contributions, develop and articulate positive contributions, and seek to adapt the materials to both themselves and the entire class.

The emotional element of learning is not to be underestimated in the virtual classroom. As facilitators, our role extends beyond simply imparting knowledge; we must also foster an environment that engages learners emotionally. This involves recognizing and addressing the emotional aspects of learning, valuing all contributions, and creating a safe and enjoyable space for learners.

By nurturing emotional engagement in our virtual and hybrid learning models, we can transform the often-perceived mundane corporate training into a rich, personalized learning journey. As we navigate the evolving landscape of corporate training, remember, the shift from content-focused to learner-focused models underscores the growing importance of emotional engagement. Therefore, nurturing this vital component in a hybrid learning setup is not just beneficial — it's essential for increasing learner engagement and getting successful and effective learning outcomes.

What's Next for Virtual Trainers?

Earn your Virtual Facilitation Certification today! Register for InSync's Virtual Classroom Facilitation Mastery certificate program and become an expert in fostering engagement and creating dynamic virtual learning experiences. Take the next step in shaping impactful virtual classrooms.

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: https://opencommons.uconn.edu/dissertations/2403/

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