I attended a fascinating webinar on Energising Your Training by the author Bob Lucas. He talked about the importance of movement, asserting that physical activity has been shown to increase attention and improve problem-solving skills.
At BiteSize Learning, we have always sought to get people on their feet as early and as often as possible in our classroom training. In the virtual training world, we recognise the importance of participants being active, and have employed stretching and shake out exercises as well as activities, such as virtual scavenger hunts, that involve participants getting out of their seats and fetching items from around the house. Even getting people to raise their hands physically (rather than using the hand-raise icon) helps.
This got me thinking about other ways in which we energise virtual classroom training, and using the appropriate acronym ACTIVE to remind us of the importance of movement, have listed our other six tips below.
A = ATTENTION
Grab attention regularly as people’s attention span is limited. Drop in an unusual slide, a challenge, statistic or question. In a classroom, there are fewer distractions – politeness and respect will usually dictate that people will not have phones on or check emails. At home, there is every likelihood that email and text alerts will be on, so we have to do more to maintain attention. We find that changing the pace and adding things that are new, unique or unexpected really helps. For example, when discussing persuasion, we fill the screen with a picture of sheep in a bright green field, and ask what this picture has to do with persuasion? You can see people sit up in their seats.
C = CAMERAS ON
We set the expectation, before the programme, that people have their cameras on. We tell them that we don’t mind if things happen in the background (we’ve had great contributions from children, grandparents and pets!). It is so much easier to engage with people you can see, and that participants can see each other creates a stronger sense of a shared learning experience. Participants in a classroom learn a lot from each other and it is our duty to facilitate that, as much as it is to teach, for this reason we highly recommend that virtual classroom sizes are kept to around 16 (including the trainer(s)).
T = TIME
The trainer’s role in virtual classroom training is often likened to that of the radio DJ, keeping the airwaves filled with noise. This may be true of a webinar presentation, but misses an important point when it comes to training: people need time to process information, to reflect and to answer questions. Silence is uncomfortable if it is unexpected, but not if it is offered: such as “I’m going to give you a minute to think about how this might apply to your world, and then I will take comments and questions”
I = INCLUDE EVERYONE
One of our trainers had a great idea, keep a participant list and make a mark next to their name whenever they contribute, then, if you have people who have not said much, nominate them as spokesperson for the next group exercise or even ask for their input on one of the more straightforward questions. We usually say hello to everyone individually as they join the call and ask a few questions then, that way we find that contribution from everyone is higher.
V = VOICE
Here we actually mean “Find a second VOICE”. It is important that the session is interesting to listen to. Adding another voice can really help. We do this by having a producer on the session. Not only does this person support participants technically, but also manages the questions and comments in the chatbox. Because our producers are trainers too, they can add their experience and thoughts, which changes the pace and dynamics. If you haven’t got a producer, think about using video clips, just to refresh and add variety to the session’s soundtrack – this will keep the energy up.
E = EARLY PARTICIPATION
Whether it’s a poll, early breakout room, or question for everyone to answer, get the participants to be participants as early as possible. This gets their attention from the outset and sets the expectation that we expect them to contribute. This early participation is the most important step in encouraging people to ignore distractions and stay focused. We even inform participants that we will be asking each of them for their thoughts as we go through the session.
Many people will tell you that virtual classroom sessions have to be short. We have found that by effective design, we can keep energy levels high for much longer – meaning that virtual classroom training can be as engaging and, importantly, the learning as deep and valuable, as in the classroom. We hope you’ve enjoyed our thoughts, and we would love to hear yours.
Updated Jan 2021