Time to think differently about your virtual learning applications.
COVID-19 has taken over all aspects of our lives and has created a new normal. There is understandable concern about travel and traditional instructor-led training and virtual learning is again a topic of conversation. (This post was originally created for Litmos, and has been updated)
Here’s the deal. We all knew virtual and self-directed training were appropriate methods of delivery and could be just as successful as any F2F event, but change can be slow until your hand is forced. So here we are.
Because of the circumstances, some businesses are now turning their heads toward delivering their traditional training in a virtual setting. It’s time to dust off the webex and put it better use. The key is helping others understand that as an educational tool, webinars must be created to address the adult learning needs. It’s not just getting someone to go on screen and say EXACTLY what is on the PowerPoint slide at the moment. That is the surest way to lose people and create virtual zombies.
Say No to Virtual Zombies
Creating engagement activities for your virtual audience is very different than planning those for the live classroom. We’ve all participated in webinars that were killers; and those that were buzzing with activity. What was the difference? How do we get from zombies to buzzing?
Planning for engagement is the secret sauce. The key is to develop a space that promotes the exchange of knowledge, and be able to apply that knowledge after they depart the webinar – we all know when a session is engaging and interactive the odds are greater people will learn something.
How to make this happen? Not to worry – I’ve got you covered! Let’s dig into a bag of virtual tricks and tips. I’m sure I’ll leave something out and this is where you come in. Do you have a favorite webinar activity that keeps engagement alive? Please share those tips in the comments.
Virtual Learning Tips
Before your virtual learning – plan:
- Have a producer! This is key, especially if you are new to the virtual game. One person to handle tech issues allowing the facilitator to do their thing.
- Send out information on how to test their system. This is to be sure everyone knows how to access your virtual classroom and their systems are compatible.
- In a separate communication piece, send out webinar expectations. If this is the first classroom-based webinar, tell people! This way when bugs happen (and they will) the participants will be more patient.
- Send nudge reminders. Telling people when to show, and what the expectations. Telling people once isn’t enough.
- Plan and practice your interactions. See below.
During your virtual learning program:
1) Be fun and personable.
- Have a fun welcome activity. An icebreaker serves 2 purposes. First, to get everyone in the groove of practicing with the webinar tools. Secondly, this is your sly way of checking for possible technical issues.
- Start with an interesting question. Not your typical boring, “How was your weekend” type of stuff. Ask people about their bucket list vacation destination or guilty pleasure. Ask the question aloud, type it in the chat, and be sure you have a welcome slide with the question on it. Then, be specific about how you want the attendees to respond. “In the chat area, type your response.” Repeat the instructions every few minutes as the people trickle in. Be encouraging but firm. This activity is setting the expectation that interaction will be the name of the game. You are setting the tone that it won’t just be a talking head webinar.
2) Create slides that are mini-activities by asking thought-provoking, open-ended questions
Less is more! For any PowerPoint presentation, you should use more visuals and less text. This is especially true now. Having tons of text on a slide creates cognitive overload and BOOM zombies. If all you are doing is talking through your slides, they don’t need you – record the webinar and email the slides out and be done with it.
For the most part, create slides to be mini-activities. The key to engaging conversation is to provoke thought, and to do this in a virtual setting the questions must be open-ended and specific.
- What would be the first step you would take if a customer has become non-responsive to your emails?
- Review the picture on the screen – what mistakes do you see?
- Look at the chart on the screen: With the information given, what conclusions can you make?
- There is a business scenario written out on the screen – How do you think the supervisor could have handled the employee issue more successfully?
3) Raise your hands!
Raise your hand if you know. This is also a slightly different paradigm than in the classroom. In a class, people will just shout out the answer if they know it. In a virtual setting, ask people to raise their hands. Example: Everyone go to Google and search for “Places that have the most people over 75 years old”. Come back and raise your hand when you have the answer. You can use this technique to ask for volunteers as well.
4) Use the Whiteboard
Have the participants brainstorm on the whiteboard. Ask a brainstorming question, “List the attributes of a successful candidate.” Show them how to grab the text tool and write on the screen. Then grab the screen and email the brainstorm list to the participants after the session is completed.
5) Create a poll.
This is a great way to get people involved. One way to use polls is to allow your audience to choose the learning path. Example: “We have 5 topics to cover today about communication skills. You choose where we start”? Here are your choices:
- Body Language
- Tone of Voice
- Effective versus non-effective
Have the participants vote in the poll, deciding where to start.
6) Or, Use Polleverywhere in conjunction with your webinar
By using Polleverywhere you can run surveys, create polls to check for understanding, or create competitions. Go to their website for tons of ideas.
7) Pair and share!
Have the participants do pair and shares or teach backs.
- Using the whiteboard or chat, list participants in pairs.
- Instruct them to chat privately to share best practices, ideas, or brainstorm. (be sure to specifically explain how to chat privately)
- If there is an odd number of people, have the odd person partner with you.
- After the time is up, have the pairs write out one main idea or take away from the discussion on the whiteboard for others to see.
- Ask for specific comments in the chat, “Which idea are you going to use immediately after leaving this session?”
8) The Chat! Use the Chat!
It’s frustrating when presenters turn off the chat function, or only allow for direct questions to the presenter. UGH! If you want engagement, let people talk, and the only way they can talk in a virtual session is through the chat feature. Here are some tips about the chat feature.
- Don’t try to control the chat. People will talk about stuff. That stuff may or may not be relevant to the class, and that’s okay. As soon as you try to moderate a conversation, the conversation will stop. Let the chat flow.
- The chat will require you to talk and “listen” at the same time. This means you will have to talk less and read more. Do not be afraid to tell the audience to give you a second so you can catch-up with the chat. Tell them you are looking for unanswered questions. They will be cool with that.
- Be sure to read the questions aloud. Not unlike repeating the question in a face-to-face session. Some people may have missed the question, you repeating and answering it is quite helpful.
- Address the questions by name. Example: Brad had a question about how to build charts in Excel… at this point you can throw the question to the audience to see what suggestions they may have. Then wrap up the answer by saying – “Brad, did that answer your question?”
- Have fun with the chat. “Everyone with me?” If so, type “JAZZ HANDS” in the chat. If not type, “SO LOST”.
Bonus tips! Here are some added tips to help make your next virtual session a success.
- Buy a good microphone/headset. I love my blue snowball, if you have a favorite put it in the comment section.
- When at all possible, use dial-in. Because VoIP is internet-based, it is susceptible to all the hitches that comes with using broadband, jittery connection, dropped internet service, latency, distortions etc.
- The rule of thumb is to limit sessions to 90 minutes. Personally, I think 60 minutes is enough for one sitting. If you go over 90 minutes, be sure to plug in a 10 minute stretch/bathroom break.
- Have directions for breakout rooms, whiteboards, or annotation tools clearly written out ahead of time so all you have to do is copy and paste them into the presentation. Don’t try to verbally explain how the whiteboard works, you’ll end up confusing people. (Trust me, I’ve done it – it hardly ever goes well.)
- Practice, practice, practice! Practice the tools, and practice the timing. Sessions that fit within a 60-minute time frame when face to face, may run long in a virtual session. Why? Because of all the pausing, instructions, reading questions, waiting for people to type in responses…plan accordingly.
So there ya go! start with these tips to ensure you have a successful and interactive virtual learning session. I’m sure I’ve left out a thing or two, please add your tips and tricks for a successful session.
Let Learning Rebels help you. If you need to move your ILT training into a virtual setting, but don’t have the time and bandwidth to create quality content. Learning Rebels can help. We take your ILT curriculum and convert it into an engaging virtual program. We also include facilitator notes and tips with a participant guidebook. Contact us now!
Shannon, I loved this post and how you updated it to reflect how COVID has impacted everyone’s lives. Our post-COVID world has changed onboarding and training for organizations everywhere, and I don’t think things will ever go back to the “normal” that businesses had come to expect. This is one reason why I’m all over information about virtual training solutions lately. Personally, I love working remotely, and I’m excited to see so many businesses turning their focus to training and onboarding in virtual settings. It truly feels like a new age, and with every new development in business comes new demands. I’ll be saving this post since I think it’ll stay relevant for some time to come. Your section on avoiding virtual zombies was great, by the way, and I can tell that you’re already an engagement expert! I agreed with every one of your tips, they’re all essential, and I wish that every organization had this list printed and framed on their wall. I think my favorite section was the planning phase, before virtual learning, because this is one area that isn’t obvious to organizations that are new to this whole remote-oriented way of working. Great information throughout, I mean it here.
Shannon Tipton says
Thank you Rachel! There is so much growth in this area because of the circumstances around us. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were a lot of knee-jerk reactions “Let’s just throw our training into a Zoom room!” Only to discover, after it was almost too late, that this approach wasn’t the answer. As we know, it’s not a 1:1 conversion. Unfortunately, this rapid-fire approach has left a bad taste in the mouths of businesses – it’s time to correct poorly planned actions. I hope that people give virtual training the chance it deserves!