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virtual-trainingVirtual instructor-led training (VILT) offers many benefits over face-to-face or traditional classroom delivery. However, it is important to understand that VILT differs from face-to-face facilitation in a number of ways.

The use of technology alone creates a challenge for both the facilitator and the learners. The other challenge, of course, is that you cannot see the learners to check their level of understanding or engagement.

Follow these ten tips to avoid the pitfalls of VILT and maximize your effectiveness.

1. Teach the platform tools. Keep in mind the learners may not be familiar with the platform you are using. Though most VILT platforms are similar, each comes with their own set of tools and how to use them. Provide very specific instructions for logging into the system and who to contact if they have technical issues. Provide leaners with a tutorial on the use of the tools you will expect them to use.

2. Set ground rules. Participants may not be comfortable learning in this mode. Setting ground rules, such as those displayed below will set expectations for the session. Here, you can set the expectation that learners can be called upon by name. This keeps learners engaged and paying attention.

3. Don't lecture. This is even more critical when we can't see the expressions of our participants. In VILT, you should engage your audience with interaction every three minutes. This can be a poll, whiteboard collaboration, or simply asking for feedback.

4. Ask for learner feedback regularly. Because we cannot read the expressions on our participants' faces, it is important to ask for feedback regularly to ensure they are understanding you and paying attention. This can come in the form of verbal responses, typing in chat, or changing emoticons.

5. Use a variety of tools in different ways. Some VILT platforms come with more interactive tools than others. But, you can create engaging activity with the simplest of tools. Create whiteboards or PowerPoint slides that allow participants to use annotation tools to type answers to scenario-based activities. If your platform does not have built in polls or quizzes, you can display questions on slides and ask participants to verbalize or type answers on screen or in chat. Don't limit your activities to just one of these. Change it up to provide a variety of activities.

6. Allow learners to collaborate and ask questions. Learners can become frustrated if they are not able to ask questions or exchange ideas. Allowing learners the opportunity to chat and collaboration with each other will provide for a greater learning experience.

7. Use relevant, real-life scenarios. Provide a scenario on screen or in a handout and ask learners to collaborate with each other to come up with solutions. You can do this with breakout sessions, chat, or calling on individuals.

8. Use a "producer". A producer or co-facilitator (also referred to as the host or session moderator) can introduce the session facilitator and handle any technical issues that may arise. They can monitor chat activity, questions, and polling; manage breakout rooms; document or highlight items on whiteboards or slides; and handle other technical aspects of activities. This allows you to focus on content delivery and the learners.

9. Arrive early. Log on to your session 30 minutes early. Use this time to ensure the technology is working, upload presentations, downloadable materials, and set up poll questions. Instruct learners to log on at least 15 minutes early so they are ready to begin at start time.

10. Do a dry-run. Always schedule a dry-run with your producer to practice the activities and interactions. No matter how prepared you are, technology can be unpredictable. Be prepared with a backup plan. What will you do if there is no Internet, or the software is not working?

By Jennifer Tomarchio. Source: ASTD

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What do we need to change in today's workplace to allow learning to truly transform organizations? Here are two challenging elements based on current trends in workplace learning.

Culture of Delivery
Poll a group of people in the workplace about what learning looks like and a good portion will describe death by PowerPoint.
This is because learning is seen very much as something an expert dumps in the lap of the learner. However, that's not what learning is. In fact, we know that lectures and one-way delivery end up resulting in very little learning. For deeper meaning to occur, companies need to invest not in presentations, but in professionally facilitated experiences that enable their staff to form mental models they remember. They also need to get people thinking before and after the training to ensure that mental model stays fresh in the mind.

Culture of Cutting Time
Managers want training in shorter and shorter chunks. The demands of the workplace are increasingly complex and stressful, so any time out of the office is a serious cost. Therefore, having staff listen to presentations for an hour and not have the time for structured learning sabotages the investment when the learning program could be substantially improved by adding a few extra hours to allow the learning to be consolidated.

Culture of Un-Fun
We know that learning takes place when people have fun, stress is low, and the environment encourages discovery. Want proof? What do you remember most about the last time you went to a really lousy training class? Probably laughing with other participants. We need to make learning memorable and emotionally positive. Make classrooms cheerful and open rather than dull and quiet. Encourage lots of informal learning opportunities. Give more control to the learners to shape their experience.

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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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