Welcome to the virtual classroom!

With the recent global pandemic and the requirement for millions of people to work from home, organizations around the world have been forced to adopt remote learning strategies rapidly. In the rush to purchase secure, easy-to-use web and video conferencing platforms, don’t forget to identify and leverage a variety of interaction tools to increase communication and connection.

Use Your Tools

The rule of thumb savvy remote learning professionals use is to allow no more than three to five minutes between participant interaction opportunities. Skilled use of the interaction tools embedded in your web conferencing platform is the key to your trainers’ success at delivering remote learning that captivates and engages your learners’ attention. Your online tool kit should include these features:

  • Chat, which enables people to type comments that the facilitator, producer and (ideally) other participants can see.
  • Polling, which enables the facilitator to ask questions with single response, multiple response or text response options.
  • Emoticons, also known as status icons or emoji, enable participants to signal their feelings and thoughts.
  • Annotation tools, which enable the facilitator and participants to type, draw and point to text and images on the screen.
  • Breakout rooms, which enable the full group to break into small groups, with audio moving to each separate group.
  • Streaming video, which enables the facilitator and/or participants to display video using their web camera.

Interaction tools

Gaining and Keeping Attention

The social convention of paying attention in a classroom is often ignored or undermined in a web meeting or virtual training experience. Of course, the easiest way to test assumptions about who is paying attention is to put everyone on web camera. However, this solution may not always be a practical one, especially if the group is larger than 10 people. Expert virtual facilitators build interaction into their learning designs and gauge the level of attention by the amount of participation they observe.

Multitasking is a serious issue when learning moves online. Participants report that they make coffee and complete other projects, mow their lawns, and bake birthday cakes. The painful reality is if people are not paying attention, they are not learning. It’s imperative to demand more from participants than simply placing their derrieres in their chairs and watching (or ignoring) a webinar presentation. Skillfully integrated interaction keeps learners alert, participating often, reflecting on their experiences, connecting with others and applying content.

Don’t make the mistake of delivering 10 minutes of content, followed by a cursory poll or chat question, then delivering 10 more minutes of content, followed by the next obligatory poll or chat question. It’s all too easy to build that repetitive, mind-numbing flow into a one-hour web training experience. This mistake is compounded by opening the floor for questions at the end instead of allowing participants to ask their questions when they are relevant or meaningful.

Look online for examples of interactive webinars, and study them to see what does and doesn’t work in the virtual classroom. As an example, this webinar, “MAGIC! Five Secrets of Stellar Virtual Trainers,” demonstrates a facilitation style built on interaction and participation. Instead of lecturing, the facilitator poses interesting questions and challenges participants to compare their ideas and opinions. The design enables participants to vote on which piece of content they want to see first, and the facilitator then delivers the content in the order that these learners prefer. It’s the same content, delivered differently for each set of learners, in a stimulating use of the interaction tools to engage attention and interest.

Tie credit for completing a specific course to active participation during a live online workshop. It’s not enough for the learner to log in and view a web event. Active learners contribute thoughts, complete polls, reflect, and share ideas and comments. To encourage active learning, the best facilitators create vibrant learning environments that leverage the variety of interaction tools available in their web conferencing platform.