Facilitating virtually has the potential to make learning more accessible to more people. And that’s a good thing.
At the same time, if it’s done incorrectly it can just as easily have a negative impact on the level of engagement by learners. And that’s a bad thing. It is far too easy to tune out conversations or get distracted during virtual learning sessions or meetings that lack engagement. Luckily, there are techniques and tools to help get participants more involved.
So how can we say goodbye to cricket chirping when facilitating our online sessions? Let’s explore that, shall we?
Even before the learning program starts, it’s best to set expectations for engagement upfront with your audience. Send them an email with a simple explanation of what will be discussed during the program and the activities that will be taking place. Letting them know that the training program is more interactive, or conversely more presentational, will help them prepare mentally for engagement before they even join in. This is also a good time to let your audience know if you expect them to have their video or audio on during the program. Having video and/or audio on increases engagement, as it makes the session a bit more formal. Giving learners a heads up that they will be asked to have their camera’s on will allow them to prepare both themselves and their physical space to be seen. Just remember that some people simply may not have the bandwidth or environment to keep their camera on. In those cases you’ll need to rely on other engagement techniques to keep them involved.
Another way to increase engagement is making sure to ask your audience questions, and making sure that they feel like their answers matter. Asking a question or requesting feedback every 5 or 10 minutes is good practice to make sure your audience is following and to bring anyone who may have gotten distracted back to the conversation. Make sure you explain how you expect to receive an answer as well! They could type in chat, raise their hands, answer with a ‘yes or no’, or even hold up fingers for number answers. Make sure to give ample time depending on the complexity of the question as well. If no one is responding, it can help to reframe the question and decrease the complexity of the question just in case it wasn’t understood how you phrased it initially.
Lastly, activities are always a great way to increase engagement overall. There are three major categories for activities in an online classroom: polls/quizzes, breakout rooms, and games. Which one you use really depends on the amount of people you have and the topics you are discussing. Small Quizzes or Polls are good for a variety of group sizes and can help to give you feedback on how well your audience is understanding your subject. When doing breakout rooms, you want to make sure you set clear goals for the groups and clearly outline what they should be doing. Make sure that after the breakout rooms are over, you discuss everyone’s findings as a whole. When playing games, make sure you have tested out the game or platform beforehand and that everyone is able to play those games on their respective device.
There are a lot of great ways to increase engagement in online learning. The most important takeaway though? Making sure your audience knows their participation is important and that you care about their contribution to the virtual program.
If this all seems a bit overwhelming, don’t stress. That’s what virtual producers are for. If your not sure what a virtual producer is, how to use one or where to find them — check out our free eBook. It’s full of great information to help guide you.