From remote schooling to online skill certification, virtual learning is having a major moment.
Virtual learning may not be new, but its adoption rate over the last year has far surpassed previous usage. This uptick in usage has brought greater attention to the need for best practices that support engagement. Just like with in-person sessions, virtual knowledge transfer is most effective when the teacher and student actively invest in the process.
As Director of Training, I love seeing someone’s eye light up when they’ve grasped a new topic. I can feel their energy and excitement. It’s as close to seeing the metaphorical lightbulb turn on over someone’s head as you can get.
Of course, when everyone is remote, it’s much harder to “see” this learning moment happen. It’s also a lot easier for employees to be passive rather than active learners. It’s tempting to turn off the camera and multitask on projects and email, letting a virtual learning session become background noise.
These are my secrets for keeping employees engaged and active learners:
Pick the right platform. Training is more than information dissemination. It’s about knowledge transfer, and picking the right platform to facilitate this transfer is critical to your training success. Most popular platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams allow the trainer and participants to screen share, and may offer other engagement options like breakout sessions or instant polls. Minimize any initial challenges by choosing a platform you and your employees are already familiar with. If your company communicates extensively via Teams, for example, this may not be the moment to try Google Hangouts.
If your business is in an industry with formal compliance and regulatory training requirements, such as financial services, you may wish to invest in a solution like Blackboard. Blackboard can integrate with your existing LMS and offers additional resources, like quizzes for fast grading, and tools for running different breakout rooms. Blackboard is a more expensive investment, however, and will require additional time and resources for LMS integration.
Minimize distractions. When facilitating virtual learning, I generally request that participants keep their cameras on. Having the camera on is like requiring attendance in a physical classroom. With the camera on, participants are less likely to leave the room or focus on other tasks. I also let participants know I may call on anyone at any time– an approach that keeps people on their toes and ensures they’re actively listening.
Utilize the chat feature. I often start a learning sessions by asking an exploratory question or talking about a big idea. I then invite participants to use the chat feature to share their answers to this question or their initial reactions to the discussion topic, and I’ll share select responses with the group. Everyone can participate without talking over one another and we avoid the common “you’re on mute” problem. This also gives your audience something to do from the very beginning, priming them for an active learning experience.
Keep participants involved. Most of us learn best by doing– we need to practice a skill rather than simply read about it or hear someone explain it to us. Effective virtual learning integrates opportunities for skill practice. For example, rather than relying on a slide deck to walk the team through a new platform, share your screen and show them the platform in real-time. Then, ask different participants to share their screens while demonstrating what they just learned back to the group. Just like an in-person classroom, it’s essential to vary the pace of each learning session and mix in different activities. If you’re using Zoom, for example, use the whiteboard feature to brainstorm with a group in real time and the annotation tool to draw attention to specific items on your screen. If you’re having breakout sessions for small group discussion, move between each of the discussion rooms to check in on the groups and how their conversations are going.
Think outside the traditional training box. When we’re together in the office, a lot of knowledge transfer happens outside of formal training. We drop by a coworker’s desk for a quick tutorial on a new system, our managers offer guidance during one-on-one meetings, and we can meet with small groups for leadership discussions. When we’re remote, these serendipitous moments disappear. Don’t wait for your company’s annual training– be proactive and create informal opportunities for your team. I love “Lunch and Learns,” where employees can join a topic discussion during their lunch hour. It’s a more casual learning environment with a focus on conversation and connection in addition to learning a new skill.
What virtual learning platforms are most effective for your company, and what implementation challenges have you faced over the last year? I invite you to share more about your experience with virtual learning engagement in the comments below.