21 Jul Top 10 tips – Make your virtual sessions more engaging
As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to be felt around the world and social distancing measures look to be in place for the foreseeable future, businesses are feeling the pressure to move training online.
Many are concerned that this move out of a shared classroom environment to online might be less engaging and therefore less effective.
We have all had our fair share of video conference calls since March and there is a real feeling of being ‘Zoomed out’. It’s therefore easy to understand the reticence to make the leap to moving training online, rather than waiting it out or adapting to smaller, socially-distanced in-person groups.
Certainly, learning in a classroom environment face-to-face does have a positive impact as learners can discuss ideas together, practice and role play with a facilitator to guide them.
This shouldn’t detract from the many benefits that online training offers. Learners have been telling us for many years that they want to learn digitally. They want to choose when and where they access training and more often than not, they want to do it via their own devices. Offering this level of autonomy and flexibility is a big selling point for online training.
When it’s done well, online training is not inherently less active or engaging than face-to-face – it’s all in the design! I’m here to provide you with some of our tried and tested tips for making online training interactive, fun and above all, highly effective.
Designing engaging virtual classrooms
So, how can you design virtual classroom training that keeps learners engaged and stops them dozing off behind their screens? Make activity and conversation the heart of online training.
Rather than everybody listening as the facilitator presents, learners should be encouraged to speak to each other and get the conversation going. If you as the facilitator are NOT doing most of the talking, you are on the right track!
Here are some activity ideas which can help you to achieve the action and conversation. These can be used in isolation or as a combination.
Tip 1: Use a virtual whiteboard app
Whiteboards support activities such as brainstorming, sharing and discussing content, and group design or planning sessions. Take a look at Miro or Mural. These apps allow individuals to collaborate at the same time.
Tip 2: Include online quizzes or polls
Split participants into teams to add a competitive element. Questions can test existing knowledge or be ‘what do you think’ guess questions or questions to test comprehension of pre-reading materials. Popular apps such as Mentimeter support these types of quizzes, or you can use your own (such as a bespoke e-learning quiz).
Tip 3: Ask open-ended reflection questions
Participants can respond in the chat window of the virtual classroom. This is great for simple questions such as ‘Would you do X or Y’ or ‘Name one thing’.
Tip 4: Commission a custom game or activity
Everyone uses the game or activity during the session with the facilitator sharing their screen. We’ve recently produced a series of interactive games which allow others within the MS teams environment to view and comment on the action to support online training for a large multinational oil and gas company.
Tip 5: Give a preparation task
Ask participants to share their results/thoughts/reactions. The idea is this becomes a coaching or de-brief type session.
Tip 6: Run a role-play style session
This is possible in virtual environments in the same way as you might do face-to-face. Have participants act out roles guided by the facilitator (first person), or have them view a third-person scenario and as a group decide what they feel the person in the scenario should do.
BONUS TIP: For any discussion or role-play elements, it can be valuable to ask participants to temporarily turn on their cameras, as this helps with communication and helps bring these elements to life.
Tip 7: Try the ‘flipped-classroom’ model
If you do feel the need to present content, try letting participants view content BEFORE the session (e.g. view an online e-learning module first) then discuss or explore it together. Participants can just as effectively view content alone, especially if they know they will need to discuss it later.
Tip 8: Use an icebreaker question
If the participants seem reluctant to participate (at least at the beginning), it is good practice to ask some easy ‘warm up’ or icebreaker questions where each person has to answer in turn to draw them into the conversation. These sorts of prompts directed at specific individuals can also be useful as the session proceeds.
Tip 9: Keep training under one hour
Remember to keep your sessions a reasonable length, usually no longer than one hour. It is difficult to stay engaged for longer than this.
Tip 10: Set homework
There is value in setting participants some post-session homework. This could include continuing the discussion in an online forum (or channel in Microsoft Teams, for example).
Support your online training activities with multimedia
Many of the above activities can be supported with bespoke multimedia resources, for example, e-learning scenarios, custom quizzes and games, video and animated presentations.
Remember, it’s all about making the most of time together. Where do you get the value from being live together? It’s the value of being able to discuss, share thoughts and ideas, argue, brainstorm, reflect and make decisions.
There is a cost to synchronous sessions – people need to login to the same place at the same time and of course it interrupts their day. As I mentioned in the introduction, we are all having lots of online conference calls at the moment and that can become exhausting over time which leads to low attention levels. Do your best to show this time together is worth it.
As we spend less time together in a physical office space due to social distancing measures, training needs to continue and it needs to take place online.
Learning and Development teams are of course concerned that moving training from face-to-face to online will mean the quality will suffer and the outcomes will be less effective.
This certainly isn’t the case and in this article I’ve shared 10 ways to make online training engaging and effective. Yes, you can still roleplay and use icebreakers to get the session flowing and there’s an added bonus of including games and really nice whiteboard apps to add an extra level of interest.
Before you go ahead and run your next (or possibly your first) online training session, remember to consider the value of this time together for your team and clearly communicate that value to them before they get started.
Adopt these activities in your online training
We’ve recently produced a series of bespoke, interactive games which allow others within the MS teams environment to view and comment on the action to support online training for a multinational oil and gas company. They have been using this in their online workshop session to increase participation and overall engagement.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you to develop online training that your employees will love, contact Andy Gamble firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07368 437 094