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Facilitation Skills for face-to-face and Virtual training

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Personal-and-Professional-DevelopmentTraining Skills Used by the Virtual Trainer

Virtual training is still training. In the next set of posts I'll review the basic training skills used by virtual and classroom trainers alike, with special focus on what's unique in virtual classroom. This post is about Facilitate Discussions. In both training environments- the face-to-face classroom and virtual one – a key role of the trainers is to facilitate. Facilitation consists of:

  • Asking questions to provoke discussion
  • Drawing people into conversation
  • Praising learners for their participation
  • Enabling participants to apply the learning.

Trainers ask questions for variety of reasons. They seek responses to a query and poll the audience for input. They probe to make people think. And they ask provocative discussion questions to draw out comments. Every question a trainer asks during class should have purpose and meaning, moving the class along to the learning outcome.

The virtual environment requires the questions asked to be even more specific and directed. When asking questions during a virtual delivery, the trainer needs to not only ask questions, but also indicate how the participants should respond. For example, a trainer might ask, "Who thinks this topic is challenging?" However, in the virtual classroom, the trainer would first say, "If you think this topic is challenging, please click the 'raise hand' button," and ask a follow-up question to a participant whose hand is raised "Sandee, tells us what you find challenging about it." This specific method of questioning lets participants know exactly what you expect of them and how they should respond to your question. In a face-to-face class, the trainer might ask, "When would you use this skill in your job?" In the virtual classroom, that same question might sound like, "Let's have everyone respond to this next question in the chat window: When would you use this skill in your job?"

Trainers should ask very specific questions during virtual delivery, with emphasis on how participants should respond.

In Addition, the trainer should also use participants' names when only one person should respond to a question (such as, "Jose, could you elaborate on your comment in the chat window?"). The specific questioning approach eliminates any confusion for participants over how to respond.

A skilled facilitator also draws each person into the discussion while maintaining a comfortable classroom environment. (A comfortable environment means they don't embarrass people or put them on the spot in a painful way.) A successful trainer strives to create and maintain a comfortable environment because it helps discussion, the trainer might ask for a response "from someone we haven't heard from yet." Learners can also be drawn into the discussion when trainers use their names, or by referring back to something a participant said earlier in the class.

One way to keep the facilitation evenly distributed is to keep track of who is contributing to the class discussion.

Think About this: When asking a direct question to a participant, ensure it is a question that has no wrong answer. In other words, when you call on someone by name, make it a question that could have any response. For example, "Bryan, what is the square root of 362?" would not be appropriate because it has one specific right answer. However, "Bryan, what did you think about the video demonstration?" would be fine. This helps maintain a comfortable learning environment.

Great facilitation techniques also include providing positive feedback for participation. Thank your attendees for completing and exercise. Use positive reinforcement phrases ("good" or "excellent") when someone answers a question. Use names to encourage specific individuals. Praise leaners frequently for their engagement when they contribute to discussion. Also praise them when they use the virtual classroom tools. These reinforcement techniques should be used in any training environment, including the virtual one.

A word about virtual class size: In order for the trainer to effectively facilitate discussion, the class size should be conducive to participation. Class size is as important in the virtual classroom as it is in the face-to-face one. While there is no standard rule for the number of people to have in the virtual class, the number should be large enough to successfully complete the group learning activities and small enough so that everyone can contribute to a discussion. My preference is to have no more than 20 participants so that each person can receive my individual attention during class.

Finally, great facilitators create opportunities for participants to apply the learning. This fact is true regardless of the delivery method-face-to-face or virtual. Therefore, as a virtual trainer, encourage participants' experiences. Help participants see how the training topic can immediately applied and how it's relevant to them. Give opportunity to experiment and practice. These methods will lead to a beneficial program for the participants geared toward the learning objectives.

Reference: Virtual Training Basics, Cindy Huggett, ASTD Press 2010. 

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