Lately I’ve been doing a lot of coaching of corporate classroom trainers, helping them to transition their skills to the virtual delivery environment. It’s been an “aha moment” for me to realize that some folks just aren’t “cut out” for virtual delivery. Purely from my experience, here are some of the techniques that work in the classroom but do not work in vILT (virtual instructor led training).
Asking Open Ended Questions - In the classroom, open-ended questions encourage participation; online they encourage confusion. “Who has a manager who is a poor communicator?” Crickets, crickets versus “Who has a manager who is a poor communicator? Raise your hand.” Open-ended questions typically get no response in the online classroom – primarily because folks just don’t know how to respond.
An Example - While we often look to an expert to provide us “lessons I’ve learned, so you don’t have to,” in the online environment this leads to a lot of talking by one individual, which can become monotonous and tiresome and cause learners to tune out. Online facilitators must talk less and pull the lessons from the learners more – this not only keeps their attention because they never know when they might be asked to contribute, it also encourages them to “buy in” to the learning concepts because they think they’ve come up with them on their own.
Small Group Coaching – In the classroom we often send folks off to work in smaller groups and then circulate around in order to answer questions or ensure they are on track. Online we don’t always have the time to visit each small group (breakout) so it’s often wise to “do the first one as a group.” If you want small groups to work, explain the process both technically and educationally (you’ll use your text tool, and brainstorm the answer to this question) and then do a practice round in the large group to ensure everyone “gets it” before you send them off to work on their own. You’ll find you get much better results and much faster group activities.
Ask for Volunteers - In the classroom we almost never directly single a person out to answer a question or contribute to a discussion – this is because we can read their body language and determine who is engaged and willing to participate. It would be just as easy for us to call on the person who does not look eager, but we rarely do. In the online environment we must “enforce” participation by randomly calling on people to contribute. This eliminates the long silences discussed earlier; keeps people engaged in the learning and moves the class along by never pausing to wait for participation. It would be kind to allow one “pass” per person per class, however.
Don’t Follow the Leader Guide – (Remember, this is a list of things that work in the classroom but NOT in vILT). A great classroom facilitator does not want to have his/her nose in the leader guide. He/She should master the course content well enough to be fully engaged with the audience. But in the online environment timing is everything. Many topics or activities are allotted 3 minutes or 5 minutes. Additionally, in the classroom it is easier to “regroup” if a discussion runs longer than planned, but it is much harder to redesign on the fly in the vILT environment when activities and discussion are much shorter and have to hit their “aha moment” much more quickly. While the facilitator most definitely should not sound like they are reading, they must carefully follow the script and timing in order to provide the best learning experience and end the class on time. Some seasoned classroom facilitators simply cannot adapt to this new way of conducting themselves and end up delivering classes that are more like webinars (one-way presentations) or leave their learners confused about the purpose of the class. If you are looking to facilitate in the “new world” of virtual learning, take these cautions to heart and practice, practice, practice.