The following is a guest post from Darlene Christopher, author of The Successful Virtual Classroom: How to Design and Facilitate Interactive and Engaging Online Learning.
Distractions in the traditional classroom abound and keeping learners focused and engaged is a challenge. In a live virtual classroom environment (sometimes referred to as a webinar or synchronous learning), distractions multiply at the quantum level. Unseen by instructors and absolved of the cultural imperative to publically “pay attention”, facilitators needs to work even harder to ensure success. Here are five things you can do to become a better live virtual classroom facilitator:
1. Tell a Story with Your Content
Story telling never gets old. In the virtual classroom tell concise stories, directly tied to your content and supported with images on slides that move along every 10-20 seconds or so as you make your point. Garr Reynolds offers great ideas for presenters.
2. Engage, Really Engage, Participants
When participants join your virtual classroom, you are competing for their attention with email, social media and a variety of other distractions. Manage this and take the “attention initiative” by inserting interactivity into your session every 3-5 minutes. Ask participants to respond to a poll, write an answer in the chat box or on the whiteboard.
3. Compensate for the Absence of Body Language
In the virtual classroom, you can’t depend on traditional visual cues for feedback from participants such as the “perplexed” expression or the “I’m lost” expression.” However, you can use virtual engagement tools to make up for the absence of body language. Use instant feedback tools and ask participants to select “agree” or the thumbs up sign if they have completed an exercise. Do check-ins via chat to get input and opinions on pacing and comprehension.
4. Practice Makes Perfect
Rehearse your session with a mock audience to make sure everything goes smoothly before you go “live.” Practice how you will open the session, transition from one topic to the next and handoffs between speakers. Also take the time to rehearse exercises to determine if your instructions are clear and if there is sufficient time to complete an exercise.
5. Don’t Work Alone
As the song goes, one is the loneliest number….Successful live virtual classroom sessions are typically supported by a team. Working with a producer is the best way to sustain a high level of interactivity. While you speak, advance slides and engage the audience verbally, your producer monitors chat, sets up exercises and polls, and troubleshoots technical issues.
Darlene Christopher is a Knowledge & Learning Officer at the World Bank. She oversees the learning program for staff in 20 Asian countries and advises foreign federal government agencies on distance learning programs. She has been designing and delivering synchronous training programs for global audiences for over ten years.