Drive Learner Engagement in a Live-Virtual Setting

When I was in high school, there was a teacher that fired chalk erasers at students who were falling asleep, or otherwise distracted, in class. That wouldn’t work in today’s world—throwing objects at unsuspecting students is likely to lead to a reprimand, never mind the fact that chalk erasers are ancient relics from an older way of teaching.

Dealing with distracted, or worse – disengaged, learners during instructor-led training has long been a challenge. Facilitators have used a variety of methods to bring their participants back into the moment, whether asking questions of those that are clearly not paying attention to snap them back into focus, getting everyone up and out of their chairs to move, or simply bribing them with candy. Those approaches work well when you are in person…but what about when your cohort is all online, and all you have before you is a 3×3 grid of bored faces staring back at you (if you’re lucky to have everyone turn their cameras on)?

Live-virtual training has become an aspect of the “new normal” in many companies, bringing with it a new series of challenges. How do you engage participants when you can’t see many of them (those galleries are only so big), or they are distracted by emails and conversations happening in other windows? To successfully engage live-virtual cohorts, it’s important to make the experience an active and participatory one.

Here are some successful strategies that can help you ensure your participants get the most out of their live-virtual learning experience.

  1. Master the technology and get help. Nothing will disengage learners faster than issues with screen-sharing, poor bandwidth, or a distracted facilitator who is trying to read chat and carry on a conversation. Practice so you are fluid with your tools, or better yet partner with someone who can manage the technology while you focus on your participants. And, whether you have a support person or not, do a dry run!
  2. Provide explicit instructions and set expectations. In the virtual environment, the participants can’t look around for visual cues from the group if they don’t understand what is being asked. Make sure everyone understands the goal for every activity, and what is expected of them.
  3. Break it down. More precisely, use breakout groups to form smaller groups with focused discussion topics. Breakout groups are just as easy in the virtual environment. In fact, they may be easier given the tools available within today’s video conferencing solutions that can auto-assign participants to groups, provide whiteboards, and communicate across groups through broadcast messages.
  4. Use interactive polling tools. There are a variety of tools (think Mentimeter,, Slides with Friends) that allow you to engage with the whole group in real-time. Gone are results that appear as simple bar charts – these tools allow you to easily integrate polling into your slide decks and visualize engaging results with word clouds, quiz shows, and much more!
  5. Gamify the experience. Nothing drives engagement within groups better than competition. Find ways to bring out the competitive side of your participants by ranking participants or breakout groups on a leaderboard. You can create your own or use partners (like Smartfirm!) to design a gamified learning experience.
  6. Be authentic! Bring your whole self into the session and share as much of your personal experience as you can. The more relatable you can make the content through stories, the more they will remember and take away.

Despite the excitement that comes with an in-person experience, live-virtual training will continue to be a big part of how training is delivered going forward. Practice these techniques and your cohorts will come away with nearly as much enthusiasm as if they had attended in person! And they will appreciate that they didn’t travel for hours, dealing with airports and spending time away from their families.

Are you planning a live-virtual event for your employees? Smartfirm can help you design the perfect experience that includes engaging activities, clear facilitation guides, and a web-based participant portal to promote your event, deliver materials, and even gamify with a fun leaderboard competition. Let us help you design an impactful live-virtual event!

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