One of the best compliments I can receive when conducting an online training is “It didn’t even feel like I was online. It felt like I was in an actual classroom.” Keeping learners engaged and interactive are two of the many ways to making learners successful during online learning. Let me back up though and give you a snapshot into my department.
Our training team consists of 24 trainers; half of them are dedicated to customer training and the other half to internal training. On average, we offer almost 500 hours of training a week, of that 95% of it is offered online. “Online” can mean different things to different people, in this context we mean that there is a trainer facilitating a “live” class using a combination of audio and web conferencing. With that being said, facilitating in an online environment is like second nature to us. I know however that it can be daunting to lead your first online class, so I’d like to offer a few suggestions on how to make learners successful during online learning.
Interaction – This is by far my number one recommendation for successful learning. When you are in a classroom, you have the ability to see the learners and get a gauge of how they are doing through facial expressions, body language, etc. When online, it is very easy for the learner to “check out” without you noticing. They have a great deal of distractions readily available (email, web surfing, cell phones). By keeping your training interactive, you will eliminate those distractions. My recommendation is that you have your learners engaged in some sort of activity every 3 – 5 slides or every 5 minutes. That leads me to my next tip…
Use the Online Tools – Web conferencing products have become very sophisticated in the sense that almost anything you can do in a classroom can now be done online. Web conferencing has grown leaps and bounds from its early days of just “presenting” a PowerPoint over the web. Some of my favorite tools to use to ensure interaction are whiteboards, polling, breakout rooms and chat sessions. In our Management Development Program (MDP) we will spend some time discussing a topic and then give groups a scenario that they need to solve. We then use the breakout room feature, which allows them to go into their own teams audio and web conference without actually leaving the main conference. As an instructor, I can then pop in and out of each of the groups to monitor their progress. At the end of the allotted time, they all come back and share their findings. Using a breakout room online is almost better than being in a classroom because the teams are not distracted by hearing the other groups chatter.
Rev Up the Energy – Training professionals by nature are energetic, however it’s so important for that to shine through during your online sessions. Although the learners can’t see you, they can hear your energy and enthusiasm. Smile when you are training, you can “hear” a smile through the phone. Energy is contagious, so the more energetic you are the more your learners will be.
Get to Know Your Learners – When you are in a classroom, it is easy to get to bond with your learners; during breaks you can share stories, there is chit chat while getting things ready, etc. When presenting online I’ve found that I get right into “trainer” mode and start up my class right away. Keep in mind that many of these people have never met each other or you before. We generally start out each of our online sessions with a slide that asks for the learners name, title, location, time with the company and a fun fact about themselves. As the trainer, I will start out to break the ice and then I use the participant list that can be found on most web conferencing products, and call on people to share their information. Although it takes time away from your “class time” it’s an important activity.
Call on Participants – My final tip is to make sure that you are calling on your participants. You need to ensure that you’re actively getting them to participate. Not only will this help them to pay attention more (who wants to be caught off guard by the trainer!) it will increase their retention of the material. In turn, you should also make sure that they know to call on you for questions, comments and feedback. Ask for their input on a regular basis. You can ask them to use the chat or Q&A feature or just speak up over the phone.
The moral of the story is to use the same tips and tricks you would use in the classroom, but modify them for an online environment. I have many more tips for successful online learning, so if you’re having difficulty with it please post a comment below and I’ll make sure to respond. I’d also love to hear some of your tips, so please post them below!