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online eventsParticipants in online meetings, webinars, and virtual training events want and need them to be great experiences. But what do great experiences look like? The business buzzword answer is that it's all about participant engagement—and for once the buzzword is on track.

A great online meeting engages all participants, while still achieving the meeting's objectives. A great webinar that gets information to stick engages participants as much as possible with a large audience. And a great training event engages learners so that they retain knowledge, gain new skills, and see the desired behavior changes and performance improvements.

Engagement in live online events looks essentially the same no matter what the context: meeting, webinar, or training event. Here's a breakdown of the clear difference between an engaged "participant" and a disengaged "attendee":

Engaged Participants:

  • Focused and attentive
  • Active
  • Enthusiastic and eager
  • Spontaneous
  • Curious and inquisitive
  • Ask questions
  • Willing

Disengaged Attendee:

  • Uninterested
  • Passive
  • Bored and frustrated
  • Reactive
  • Indifferent
  • Goes through the motions
  • Resistant

Put another way, meeting facilitators need to stop running their online meetings like a typical marketing webinar, where they read PowerPoint slides to a large, mostly passive audience, only allowing for a few questions if there's time at the end. It doesn't work.

Likewise, webinar facilitators need to stop assuming their webinars can serve as robust training programs. Such events have large audiences and don't allow for collaboration, hands-on or other realistic practice, expert coaching, and so on—the interactions needed for robust training to take place. Facilitators are setting participants up for disappointment and failure if they expect anything more than knowledge-level learning from large-audience webinar events.

And if training event facilitators are expecting rich learning outcomes—changed behavior and improved performance—they need to design live online training in a way that enables such results. Some basic guidelines for more effective results includes:

  • limit the participants to a reasonable number (a maximum of 16 to 20)
  • break out the audience into even smaller group activities
  • engage via audio, chat, and whiteboarding.

In other words, facilitators and designers need to think of the event in the same way as any other in-person training event.
Well-designed online activities—aligned with and in support of the event's goals—are critical to maximizing engagement. They provide structure and purpose to interaction and collaboration, and keep facilitators from becoming captive to the features of the live online platform tool.

For instance, facilitators need to avoid using a poll just to break up what is otherwise a lecture-driven webinar or randomly asking a question in chat in the middle of an online training event. Otherwise, they are simply falling victim to "shiny object syndrome"—the "Ooooh! Aaah! That feature is nifty. I'll use it!" response. Facilitators should not use a tool for the sake of using it. Rather, they should use it in support of the goals of the meeting, webinar, or training event.

Here are some general types of activities for use in live online events.

Warm-Ups and Welcomes
As with in-person meetings or classroom training events, participants need to prepare before they use the available tools. Welcome and warm-up activities are perfect for starting an online meeting, webinar, or training event. They ensure an on-time start, open the session with a purpose beyond asking participants to sit and listen, and help set the stage for interaction and collaboration. In addition, they function as early technical checks. What's more, they help ensure successful communication process among the participants, the producer, and the facilitator once the event starts and content-focused activities need to begin. After all, teaching participants how to use the chat feature only distracts all involved when reviewing the meeting agenda or the training objectives.

Ice Breakers
After a Warm-Up/Welcome activity, ice breakers are vital to creating an environment in which participants feel at ease enough to share opinions, ask questions, and learn something new. Because the online tools are still new for many people (even after a solid welcome or warm-up activity), participants need an additional way to connect with others who may be remotely connected and geographically dispersed. Ice breakers in an online event ensure that the participants are truly comfortable, engaged, and ready to interact. And ice breakers are especially import¬ant for anyone who joined the program late; they now have a second chance to learn some of the tools and get involved.

Content-Centered Activities
Whether you are facilitating an internal or external virtual meeting, a large-audience webinar, or a more intensive virtual training event, great activities are a key to interactivity and engagement. The goal is to convey information in a way that will stick or practicing new skills, such activities can be the most memorable and impactful segment of the event. They should also be the centerpiece of the meeting's agenda or the webinar's or virtual training's instructional design.

One of the biggest mistakes made in an online event is failing to leave enough time to properly bring the session to a close with a memorable wrap-up activity. Planning a closing activity for the online event will leave a lasting impression, one that ensures that the time spent in the event was well worth it. Closing activities engage participants to contribute their own thoughts and ideas on how they'll take the knowledge and skills learned in the online event into their own environments.

Recognizing important milestones, or celebrating holidays and birthdays provide themed opportunities to throw "virtual celebrations." Such activities can inspire online participants and make them feel honored to have been part of building and maintaining a virtual team. Enjoy, create, and celebrate!

Reference: This post is adapted from the new book by Kassy LaBorie and Tom Stone, Interact and Engage! 50+ Activities for Virtual Training, Meetings, and Webinars.

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onlineEven after many years of online training in business, industry, and academia, there remain many myths concerning this method of delivery.

Online training is impersonal. Online training can be made personal. The leader can post his profile, engage in discussions with the participants, and be available through video, chat, or email. Try using the coffee shop method by creating an informal virtual gathering place to share noncourse-related areas of interest.

There is no interaction with the facilitator or other participants. The myth that online training is limited to the learner and her interaction with the computer does not make the distinction between e-learning and online learning. The design of an online course can include team projects and meetings using virtual breakout rooms, individual documents can be shared with team members, and threaded discussions allow for easy sharing of ideas. The facilitator can also engage in any of these participant interactions. Remember, as with any training, the quality of the interaction is dependent on the background and preparation of the participants and facilitator. There can be significant and robust participant interaction.

Learners don't participate. In reality, there may be more participation because the fear of speaking in front of others is removed. The virtual classroom creates a safe environment where social and cultural barriers are diminished and it is easier to share ideas and experiences. Because participants lose their inhibitions, they become more freely engaged in virtual discussions and are held accountable for their interactions.

Online training does not provide the opportunity for team projects. Working in groups in a virtual environment is more challenging. However, teams can have virtual breakout rooms that are available 24/7. In addition, virtual meetings allow team members to be better prepared and more focused because they help alleviate schedule and time-zone issues. Completed projects can be presented to all participants using team presentations.

The course facilitator will not be accessible. Many facilitators set up several office hour blocks each day. This is time dedicated to the course participants. Facilitators also engage in the threaded discussions and discussion boards, and provide timely feedback on any submitted work. Participants can also contact them using email, video chat, and other methods.

Online training takes less participant time. Generally, online training will take as much or maybe more time than classroom training. Depending on the type of online learning, the participant may have to do more individual assimilation of the material and engage with other participants. However, there is no commuting, which saves time. An added benefit is the flexibility of scheduling much of the online work.

Online training does not provide for learning evaluation. Level 1 and 2 evaluations can easily be incorporated into online training. The usual Level 1 through end-of-course survey can be used and quickly tabulated. Level 2 evaluations can use online knowledge tests, projects, and case studies. Application exercises that provide feedback for transfer can be built into the program. On-the-job use can be assessed through surveys and interviews or focus groups, which all use online technology. Based on the metric identified, facilitators should be able to analyze the impact and return-on-investment. So, if the evaluation plan is designed into the training program, much like the face-to-face classroom, online training can be evaluated.

Online training is fundamentally different. Traditional and online training have many of the same design elements (objectives, instructional strategies, team and individual work, macro-design), use media, and have a defined meeting place where participants engage the facilitator and other participants (virtual or face-to-face classroom).

All online training is the same. The differences between online training, webinars, e-learning, webcasts, and virtual classrooms speak to the amount of interaction between the facilitator and participants, and whether the intent is to share knowledge or improve performance.

Online training is less demanding or complete. Any online training has the same performance expectations and contains the same requirements and assignments as a face-to-face seminar or workshop.

Online training is too disorganized. Online courses should not be hard to follow. A well-designed online course has:

  • goals and learning objectives
  • a course map with easy navigation
  • individual modules with distinct requirements and specific instructions, access, or embedded materials
  • submission deadlines with easy methods to submit the work.

When designed properly, online courses can actually be more organized than some face-to-face seminars and workshops. There is no getting off point, time-management issues aren't as common, and difficult participants aren't as disruptive.

Anyone can take an online training course and be successful. Completing an online training course requires discipline, self-management, and self-direction, as well as the ability to function with more autonomy and a willingness to ask for help from other participants or the facilitator. Learners must be active, taking responsibility for their own learning.

It is easier to cheat. It is possible that the person completing the projects or taking the assessments may not be the individual enrolled in the course. This does pose a dilemma, but here are some possible solutions:

  • Require a manager to sign off on a project.
  • Use item analysis of objective tests to help uncover collaboration.
  • Check for plagiarism using the available software.
  • Ask participants to sign an honesty policy.

Note: This article is excerpted from Facilitation Basics, 2nd edition by Donald V. McCain.

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digital badging"Digital badges are a 21st century credential. Why, in today's hyperlinked, online world, would we depend on an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper to carry all the significance of our learning? We've self-reported experience and KSAs for years on paper resumes; 21st century resumes need to be hyperlinked and connected, too. Make a claim, provide evidence."—James Kerr, Instructional Designer, Capital University

In another post early this year, we discussed how digital badges are used as a measure of mastery. Essential, digital badges can be used by professionals to instantly display the skills and competencies they have acquired from professional development opportunities, in addition to providing evidence of memberships with professional organisations.

Now, let's look at how to use these badges as stackable credentials in the workplace. Here's how it works.

Whereas certifications primarily function to filter candidates out of positions or advancements, digital badges exist to help candidates compete by showcasing their strengths. Because digital badges enhance an employee's traditional credentials, they are often referred to as "stackable credentials." These stackable credentials particularly help as they demonstrate the employees' competencies that that their employers value most.

Vocational Education and Training in Australia had codified workplace competencies in Training Packages, including Qualifications, Skill Sets, and Units of Competency. This VET "Jargon" doesn't communicate the outcomes of training effectively all stakeholders. VET certifications are reported on a Competent/Not-Yet-Competent basis for units of competency that provide little indication to employers, as to which skills they have mastered and which they have not. For example, a job seeker who just passed their phlebotomist certification may be perfectly competent to handle hazardous waste items, but have trouble handling sensitive patient information. This job seeker may pass the certification assessment, but then become a liability to an employer.

Meanwhile, as a stackable credential, a digital badge could highlight the specific competencies that employers expect and require from new hires. In this way, candidates and employees can demonstrate to a prospective manager that they have the perfect blend of skills needed to thrive in the workforce—not just that they passed a certificate program. These credentials also help current employees add to their qualifications by showcasing professional development that has taken place since being hired.

Indeed, certifications have become a necessary tool for job seekers and employees in many professions. But they are not without limitations.

The benefit that badges provide enables employers to identify specific competencies that an employee possesses:

  • Digital badges/stackable credentials give individuals a HUGE advantage in the competitive workplace world of advancements and promotions. Everybody has a certification, but badges help individuals stand out with credentials that target their employer's expectations.
  • Digital badges/stackable credentials only reflect the skills that employers care about. Most certification exams reflect all the material covered in a given program, regardless of importance to employers. Stackable credentials, however, are more targeted to employer needs.

To learn more about the usefulness of badging and how digital badges work, the following resources may be helpful:

Is your organisation using digital badges/stackable credentials? If not, you may be missing on a huge opportunity to meet your stakeholders needs.

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