How Do I Keep People Engaged in Virtual Learning?

L&D Mastermind - Sheridan Webb Milton Glaser Quote

It’s a very common question asked by training designers and facilitators right now as Zoom fatigue sets in. It’s certainly one of the biggest concerns of people attending my Designing for Digital Delivery Programme right now.

Our initial reaction is often to look for ways to keep people entertained, and that’s why we seek answers in whizzy tech.

But before we reach out for the latest app, lets remind ourselves of what makes great training. The 6 Training Trumps defined by Sharon Bowman taken from neuroscience provide some simple guidelines for creating effective training:

  1. Movement trumps sitting.
  2. Talking trumps listening.
  3. Images trump words.
  4. Writing trumps reading.
  5. Shorter trumps longer.
  6. Different trumps same.

These 6 Trumps remind us that engaging training needn’t be complicated. When redesigning Power Hour training materials for virtual delivery, I kept things simple following these principles. Why? Because I have no way of knowing how tech savvy the facilitator or delegates will be, nor do I know which tools they will have access to.

So, what does this mean in practice?

  1. Movement V Sitting: Include physical exercises where possible, or at least encourage people to get out of their chairs. But any ‘doing’ exercise helps to engage people, so if you want a tech solution, a simple Jamboard can be very effective. Simply moving virtual post-it notes about on a screen gives delegates something physical to do.
  2. Talking V Listening: Keep groups small and give everyone a chance to speak. Don’t limit delegate contributions to short answers in chat or zoom polls. Use the breakout function to allow more detailed discussions in small groups.
  3. Images V Words: Keep your visual aids VISUAL. Include video and hand-drawn graphics. Get delegates use pen and paper. Just switching off the slides and allowing people to see each other’s faces can be very refreshing. If you WANT a tech solution, Mural and Deckhive are worth investigating.
  4. Writing V Reading: There are so many ways for delegates to create their own take-aways it would be silly not to encourage it. From a simple noticeboard via Padlet or just using a shared GoogleDoc to create their own handouts and capture their own thoughts encourages engagement and transfer.
  5. Short V Longer: There’s no reason to avoid a full days’ training, but it needs to be broken into bite-size chunks with breaks of 10-15 minutes in between. Encourage people to step away from their screen, move, and change their visual focus.
  6. Different V Same: The brain notices novelty, so doing something different will capture people’s attention and increase their engagement. But this DOESN’T mean using a different method or app every time you want interaction. That will actually cause confusion and stress and be more difficult for you to manage. Using something like Mentimeter, PollEverywhere and Mural can be helpful as they have lots of different ‘formats’ so you can use the same app for many exercises, meaning delegates don’t have to keep learning how to use a new tool, or log into a new app.

Remember – the method (or app) should be determined by the purpose of the training and the content you are covering. We shouldn’t select an app and then force the content to fit.

But knowing what’s out there, and what it can do is always a good idea. That’s why VIP members of the Training Designer’s Club are getting together to explore lots of different tools this month. Having more tools in your kit bag is very helpful, but you don’t need to use all of them all the time. In fact, you can keep things very simple and still have high engagement – check out these 12 simple ways to engage people without even leaving Zoom.

The main thing to remember is that learning is an ACTIVE (not passive) experience – and that people learn from PEOPLE. So, get them to engage with each other in an active way. Nothing beats the feeling of being listened to. Nothing sticks quite as well as an experience we’ve had or an answer we’ve found for ourselves.

So, although tech can be helpful, it has never and will never be the answer.

Sheridan Webb helps busy L&D professionals to create learning solutions that deliver results. Find out more about her work at Power Hour Training and the Training Designers Club.

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