Companies around the world are adapting to the global health crisis, trying to navigate this new, uncharted business landscape. In many organizations, human resource (HR) leaders are paving the way, rising to the challenge to support remote workers. Training plays a key role in helping employees develop the skills they need to thrive in the new normal — but remote learning must overcome a new set of challenges to be effective.
Working from home is different than working from home in the middle of a pandemic. Many “stay-at-home offices” are not equipped to be offices at all. Further, an emotionally charged home — a child’s meltdown, home schooling, significant others sharing office areas, dogs barking — is not the most hospitable environment for learning. Remote workers have more distractions than ever, while also needing to overcome “Zoom fatigue” from hours of screen time. To be effective, online training needs to be engaging.
To complicate matters, moving engaging on-site content to a virtual platform is not as straightforward as a simple cut-and-paste job. Training professionals must (re)consider a number of variables (e.g., length of time, the platform, their audience and their remote office setup, distractions, and morale). These variables might affect the curriculum and should definitely influence delivery.
The conversion to virtual is exponentially more complicated when moving experiential learning from on-site to virtual classrooms. For example, anyone who has any familiarity with improvisation knows that it is an active and engaging affair. Successfully moving something as immersive and dynamic as improv from an on-site activity to a high-energy virtual classroom takes hundreds of hours. Training professionals must define the essence of what makes experiential learning powerful in order to turn training into effective in virtual and online solutions. This process takes hard work, but the investment in creating engaging online training is an investment in human capital.
This global pandemic has created many new challenges. It has also created one important opportunity – the opportunity to learn and grow. With the hope of shortening a few learning curves, here are seven simple steps to make your remote learning more engaging:
1. Know Your Audience
This tip should be a “Presentation 101” no-brainer, but in a virtual environment, it is even more important. When communicating through a computer, time is limited, and the manner in which we present is finite. Make sure your training speaks directly to your audience’s needs. Knowing your audience also means knowing their learning environment — and how stressed or chaotic it is.
Courses that work well in person are not always effective when taught virtually. Consider your content, and make sure your trainers give themselves time to experiment and test the material in this medium. Then, adapt, tweak and otherwise change other content to make it work through the various platforms.
3. Bring Energy
Let’s face it: The majority of virtual presentations are flat and boring. Through a computer, low energy can easily be interpreted as apathy and a lack of passion. This problem is a dangerous one, because energy is contagious. What the trainer brings to any engagement (virtual and on-site) rubs off on others. Entering into virtual engagements with energy engages learners, reads as excitement and passion, creates momentum, and affects the way learners perceive the message.
4. Design Around “Zoom Fatigue”
Zoom fatigue is real. It is happening because we are overusing the virtual medium. Turn some of the less critical content (i.e., the material that does not need collaboration, explanation or discussion) into prereading materials or another asynchronous learning format. This step is about respecting where your audience is at this moment. (See step No. 1.)
5. Pick up the Pace
The virtual medium lends itself to supporting short attention spans. Though speed does not equal energy, moving at a faster clip will force people to stay engaged, because they have to keep up. After all, the human brain can process between 350 and 500 spoken words per minute, and most people only speak around 120 words per minute, according to Robert Bolton’s book “People Skills.” As a result, we have extra brainpower that we are not allocating correctly. Instead of letting the audience’s mind drift, trainers should force them to keep up.
6. Eye Contact
A lifetime of human interaction tells us that we’re being respectful when we’re looking at the person who is talking with us. In a virtual platform, while we are looking at someone’s eyes on screen, that person’s view is of us looking down at our computer screen.
The way to establish “eye contact” using a computer is by looking at the camera. Though it is not eye contact, it looks and feels like eye contact to the person on the receiving end of the message, which increases engagement. Additionally, when trainers show “eye contact” by looking into the camera, they demonstrate that they are present, which acts as an accountability practice, increasing engagement.
7. Be Yourself
Let your personality and sense of humor come out to play in your virtual engagements. There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun right now.
Ultimately, when it comes to making remote learning more engaging, I fall back on the old adage, “To be engaged is to be engaging, just like to be interested is to be interesting.”