Best practice online engagement tips for Learning & Developemtn teams

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For many L&D specialists, the last two years have pretty much been about being thrown in the deep end and being told to ‘sink or swim’. After all, just because nobody was actually in the office didn’t mean that teams and individual employees no longer needed to be given opportunities to learn and develop. 

Internal training, team development workshops, and upskilling programs for employees all had to continue. 

It was simply a case of business (not quite) as usual. 

Amongst wearing many other hats, I have also been a remote / online facilitator for 15+ years. I can remember a long time ago setting up Tandberg video conferencing facilities in order to run simultaneous training sessions for different offices around APAC. Since then, I’ve run workshops on WebEx (by Cisco), GoToMeeting (by Citrix), and more recently on a plethora of other platforms including BlueJeans and Blackboard Collaborate (particularly common in higher education). Of course, the pandemic pushed applications like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to quickly provide enterprise-wide solutions bringing online facilitation to everyone’s fingertips.

Having said that, while L&D practitioners, facilitators, and educators alike had access to a suite of online delivery options, and while employees, delegates, and students could access classes, courses, workshops and seminars at the click of a button, holding people’s attention, and keeping participants engaged via online delivery was a completely different kettle of fish. 

Many expert facilitators and leaders in digital learning have described the continual need to deliver remotely as vastly unfulfilling.

At the same time, even the most diligent employees and committed students described ‘zoning out’, ‘losing interest’, and ‘disengaging’ after too many online sessions. 

How can you integrate your expertise as an expert L&D practitioner with digital technology to deliver highly engaging online content? 

When thinking about best practice online facilitation, it’s important to try to replicate the training room (or meeting room or boardroom) as much as possible.

However, it’s just as important to appreciate the often-subtle differences between facilitating a workshop online and facilitating an online workshop.

Perhaps at the onset of the pandemic the easiest approach to L&D ‘business continuity’ was to take any content that would have typically been delivered face-to-face and deliver it via Zoom. However, many such sessions quickly became quasi webinars run by a disembodied voice.  

An online workshop needs to be designed with the remote experience top of mind, an understanding that the pace will be different, that you will probably include elements of both synchronous and asynchronous delivery, along with the need to factor in time for group break-out activities. 

In an ideal world you also want to encourage all your participants to have their cameras on as much as possible. You would never run a traditional professional development workshop with nobody physically in the training room. So why should an expert facilitator run an online workshop talking to a blank screen with the only sign of life being some names in a chat panel? 

Of course, as an online trainer, you should always have your camera on, too. After all, from a communication effectiveness standpoint, video delivery is twice as powerful as audio-only delivery, and it’s 14 times more effective than a fully online discussion forum. 

When it comes to your physical set up (whether you’re facilitating from the office or operating from a home office), ensure that you have sufficient light in front of you. If the light source is behind you, your delegates will pretty much only see a silhouette. Try to mute any background noise, but at the same time with all the noise cancelling technology available today and the quality of the built-in speakers, there’s no need to raise your voice (unintentionally yell) when delivering online. 

Make sure you are not distracted in any way. Shut off all unnecessary apps. Participants can easily see when your eyes flick up or across the screen as an email notification comes in or a Slack message pops up.

If you were running a workshop in a training room, you wouldn’t be checking emails, LinkedIn, Facebook, or any internal messaging app while facilitating, so there’s no need to have any of these interrupting your online delivery. 

You may not have realised it, but as an online facilitator, you have more in common with a radio producer than you might think! You’re engaging an audience that you may never have met in person, monitoring a chat room, setting up break-out groups, sharing screens, all the while knowing that at any moment the wifi could go down kicking you off-air! Make sure that you provide your participants with some kind of “in the unlikely event of a technical glitch …” back-up scenario. 

In a more traditional training setting, for an experienced facilitator, it’s fairly easy to quickly spot the extroverts and introverts in the room.

Often an online workshop is an introvert’s dream but an extrovert’s worst nightmare.

So just as you would ‘work the room’ in a real-life scenario, you need to work the Zoom room, having one-to-one interaction with participants, perhaps messaging them privately to ensure they are comfortable and engaged, while encouraging a balance of online chat and live conversations. If possible, try to ask each individual participant to come off mute and contribute to the discussion at some point during the session. 

For even the most experienced facilitator, from time to time you might want to ask yourself: 

  • How can you avoid your online workshop becoming a mini lecture or webinar? 
  • Could you potentially convert traditionally tactile group exercises into an online format? 
  • How can you generate the spontaneity of a traditional learning environment in an online setting? 
  • How can you tell if your participants are actually paying attention and not bingeing Netlfix? 

In order to really nail the virtual participant experience, provide your ‘delegates’ with tips on best practice synchronous and asynchronous involvement and encourage online communication and collaboration.

From a facilitator’s point of view, always be every bit as professional as you would be in an onsite workshop while at the same time being as personal as you would be in a traditional setting, which will help build an extra level of trust and credibility. 

And finally, remember that facilitating online should never be about creating the perfect ‘separated participant’ experience. It should be about ensuring connectivity between participants (and between the participants and you) despite the separation. 

At hellomonday we work closely with L&D teams to provide support to leaders at all levels; prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained change; and reinforcing habits through curated learning. 

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