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Sep 07, 2023 Jennifer Hofmann

Fostering Environmental Engagement in the Virtual Classroom

If a tree falls in the woods and no one witnesses it, does it make any noise? If an individual hates the virtual classroom, does their reaction have an impact on the success of the program?


Of course it does. Various factors impact both the learner and the learning environment in hybrid learning and the virtual classroom. Such factors include the learner's contributions, interactions with other learners, content delivery, and interactions with the facilitator. To create an engaging learning environment, we need to make learners feel comfortable with the capabilities and requirements of the virtual classroom.


What Is Environmental Engagement, and Why Should It Matter to a Virtual Classroom Facilitator?

The virtual classroom is a crucial component of both hybrid learning and remote work. It's a space where learners or workers can connect, collaborate, and contribute. Therefore, making learners or workers feel comfortable with the capabilities and requirements of the virtual classroom is paramount.

Communication, collaboration, and engagement are key. Learners need to feel connected to their peers and their tasks, even when they aren't physically present in a traditional classroom.

Our research tells us this: 

Environmental engagement relates to the perception of and interaction with the learning environment itself. We consider these questions: How do learners perceive the learning environment? Does it create a constructive, effective experience? Does the learner interact with the environment?
The facilitation process aligns with both design and delivery within a particular environment like the virtual classroom. When a learner is environmentally engaged, the learner knows how to interact with the environment and easily perceives opportunities in which they can connect and interact with the content, peer learners, or the facilitator.

Facilitators often think the virtual learning environment is something we cannot control. In reality, we have the power to actively manage and contribute to the virtual classroom environment to foster strong learner engagement.

There is no need to depend on platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, or Adobe Connect for increasing learner engagement. In fact, it is better to focus on facilitation skills than to rely on technology.

8 Engagement Strategies for Virtual Learning that Foster Environmental Engagement

Virtual classroom facilitators can foster environmental engagement with the following strategies:

  1. Fostering "comfort" and digital fluency in the virtual classroom environment. Creating an environment of comfort and digital fluency is crucial in the virtual classroom. When learners feel at ease, they can fully concentrate on their learning journey. For example, think about a learner who wants to contribute by raising their hand. Neglecting to provide guidance on interacting with peers, content, and the facilitator diverts the learner's attention to figuring out these basic mechanics instead of focusing on the experience. This can lead to frustration.

  2. Creating a diverse environment that is accessible to all learners. When learners perceive that their personal needs are being met, they experience a more inclusive learning environment and become more receptive to learning.

  3. Encouraging diversity of opinions and open conversations. When learners respond with “yeah, but,” “what if?”, and “in my experience. . .”, you have evidence that they are listening and connecting to the content. When they are engaged in active conversation with each other over these types of comments, you have evidence that you are taking the learning to a deeper level. At that point, the role of a facilitator is to guide the discussion to ensure every learner gets the most out of that experience.

  4. Fostering conversation with learners. Meaningful conversation between learners and the facilitator is evidence that the learning environment is becoming more natural, and it indicates that the learners feel “safe” to contribute.

  5. Nurturing positive engagement in the learning environment. The impact of learners contributing to the discussion in a meaningful way is positive as discussions become more interesting and sophisticated. Alternatively, when learners (or even one learner) contribute in a negative way, the entire learning environment suffers.

  6. Fostering a willingness to change and adopt new knowledge and skills. Training programs are designed to assist individuals in changing how they work. Persuasive lessons impact the learner’s willingness to learn new concepts.

  7. Supporting understanding by encouraging learner questions. Learners often feel they have more in common with other individuals in the class than with the facilitator. Therefore, meaningful questions from other learners spur individuals to pay more attention.

  8. Encouraging interaction between learners. Meaningful interactions between learners are evidence that they are focused on learning rather than the technology, indicating comfort in the learning environment. This is fundamentally different than two learners talking to each other–this is “building” upon another learner’s contribution in an active multi-voice discussion. In this scenario, the learning becomes a narrative with the learners telling the story.

From the perspective of a virtual facilitator, promoting environmental engagement in the virtual classroom is both possible and necessary. Strategies that prioritize comfort, diversity, open conversation, and interaction can transform virtual training into a dynamic, engaging virtual learning experience.

Rememberwe're not just curating content; we're shaping a learning environment. In doing so, we empower learners to concentrate on the knowledge and skills being delivered rather than the technology being used. Let's pledge to create a virtual learning environment that is interactive, inclusive, and conducive to growth. Keep in mindthe success of a virtual program isn't determined solely by the tools we use, but also by how we facilitate the learning journey within that environment.

What's Next for Virtual Trainers?

Earn your Virtual Facilitation Certification today! Sign up 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 which optimizes learner trajectory by considering the learner, the learning environment, and the learner-environment interaction through measurable and well-defined measures of effect. Check out the original research behind our industry-leading approach.

Published by Jennifer Hofmann September 7, 2023
Jennifer Hofmann