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Due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, many training facilitators have been forced to pivot. Pre-pandemic, many of us taught a full schedule of instructor-led courses. But due to closures and stay-at-home orders, most in-person courses have been canceled or postponed.
Travel restrictions, budget cuts, and a remote workforce have led many companies to rethink how they continue to meet the training needs of their employees. Digital learning, specifically virtual training, now seems to be the most utilized form of training.
If you’re new to live online training, you’ll find the leap from the traditional classroom to the virtual classroom is not really a huge one. However, there are some distinct differences.
There are oodles of books, online tutorials, and blogs for trainers looking for tips to sharpen their virtual training skills. My best and favorite resource just happens to be my workshop attendees! So, I’ve gathered, and am happy to share, these eight tips to rock your virtual classroom experience:
Establish Ground Rules for Participation
Just like in the traditional classroom, the establishment of ground rules sets an expectation for classroom participation. A few ground rules to include: resist distractions, close your office door, mute your phone if you experience any background noise, close any other computer applications, raise your virtual hand if you have a question or comment, contribute to discussions by typing in the chat pod, and respond to polls. Ask for agreement from your participants as they might not know what’s expected. For example, ask your group, “Does everyone agree to engage and fully participate during the session?”
Master the Software
Not all virtual training platforms are created equal. A very robust platform typically includes tools and features like content sharing (display PowerPoint slides), chat, polling, annotation tools, virtual whiteboards, raise hand, agree/disagree, breakout rooms, and application sharing. You’ve got to understand both your platform’s capabilities and limitations. In most cases, the more tools you have at your disposal, the more interactive your course will be. However, if you’re limited with tools, you’ll need to determine a few workarounds and alternative activities for interaction and engagement.
Plan for Contingencies
In the virtual classroom, you’ll be utilizing more technology than in the traditional classroom. With such a heavy reliance on tech, things can and will go wrong. Plan for these hiccups and determine some solution-based contingencies and workarounds. Consider having a producer or co-facilitator on the session who can assist with all technical details and challenges. Have a second computer at your desk to glance at periodically. You can see what the participants are viewing at any given time—like a side view mirror when driving. Good virtual training facilitators don’t magically avoid all problems, but they recover from them well. Always have a Plan B.
Pare Down Text
Don’t include your entire script on your slides; save that for your lesson plan. The text listed on your virtual classroom slides should be focused on key tasks or ideas (one idea per slide). If needed, create downloadable handouts or post-course job aids for additional or “nice-to-know” information.
Prompt for Participation
A well-designed virtual classroom session will keep your learners engaged every three to five minutes. There will be ample opportunities for your learners to participate by using the various classroom tools. It’s important that you give them specific instructions regarding the use of these tools. Participants need to be encouraged and reminded to participate, especially in a live online environment. Tell your participants right up front that everyone will be expected to participate!
Ask Questions and Wait for Responses
When you ask the learners a question, how do you want them to answer it? Do you want them to respond verbally, by raising their virtual hand, or by typing their answer in the chat pod? With so many options available, it’s best to be specific with your instructions. For example, “Let’s have everyone respond to this next question in the chat pod.” Use your participants’ names when only one person should respond. For example, “Joe, could you elaborate verbally on your comment?”
Harness the Power of Your Voice
Effective use of your voice is critical to your success as a virtual facilitator. Pay close attention to your volume, tone, pace, and overall sound. Speak fast enough so learners don’t get bored, yet slow enough so they can successfully follow along. A good best practice is to say no more than 150 words per minute. Remember, in the virtual classroom, non-verbal communication is minimal. So, it’s extremely important to use your verbal communication skills as effectively as possible.
Use Feedback to Improve
Becoming an effective online trainer is an evolutionary process. Own your mistakes and view them as an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop. Solicit feedback from your learners (via a level 1 reaction survey) on the following elements of your delivery: conversational style, inflection, word choices, rate of speech, and clarity of activity instructions. Another option is to get feedback from a trusted colleague or manager who has observed your virtual classroom performance. Take part in virtual trainings whenever possible. It’s a great way to find out what works and what doesn’t.
Virtual training opens a whole new world in the field of learning and development. If you are new to this training platform, go into it with your eyes wide open. Learn as much as you can. Ask questions. Sharpen your skills. And practice! One of my favorite quotations from American football coach, Vince Lombardi, goes like this, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
What are you doing to perfect your virtual training skills?
Learn how to apply effective speaking skills to engage your learners, best practices for co-teaching with a producer, how to calmly handle unexpected issues in the virtual classroom, and so much more in The Virtual Trainer workshop.