Let’s focus specifically on the unique role of the trainer in the virtual classroom.
Many classroom-training skills are still used in the virtual environment. Let’s review the basic training skills used by the virtual and classroom trainers alike, with special focus on what’s unique in the virtual classroom.
In both training environments a key role of the trainer is to facilitate. Facilitation consist 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 a 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.
Trainers should ask very specific questions during virtual delivery, with emphasis on how participants should respond.
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 the question, 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 then ask a follow-up question to a participant whose hand is raised “Sandee, tell 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?”
Great facilitation techniques also include providing positive feedback for participation. Thank your attendees for completing an exercise. Use positive reinforcement phrases (“Good” or “Excellent”) when someone answer a question. Use names to encourage specific individuals. Praise learners frequently for their engagement when they contribute to the 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.
Virtual class size.
In order for the trainer to effectively facilitate discussion, the class size should be conductive 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 a 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 individual attention during class.
Give instructions for Group activities
One of the trainer’s primary responsibilities is to lead participants from one activity to the next during class. Give clear directions for each exercise and set expectations with the participants. If activity directions are not clear, confusion and frustration results. Participants are more likely to disengage from the class if they do not have a complete grasp on what they are supposed to be doing at any given time.
When you give activity instructions, there are two guidelines that are true in both training environments but warrant special attention in the virtual classroom:
- Be explicitly clear about every intricate detail of the exercise. Participants need to know exactly what buttons to click, where to type their responses, what to watch for, or what is expected of them during the allotted time.
- Give directions both verbally and visually. Participants need to both see and hear the instructions for comprehension and retention. Providing directions verbally helps participants understand what to do. Providing directions visually helps those who process information by sight. A visual aid with instructions also allows participants to refer back to them during the exercise. This visual aid can either be on screen or in a participant handout that is printed prior to class.
Manage Class Time
As a trainer, have you ever been rushed to finish a class? Or realized too late that you have more information than time? Or wondered why some of your training classes finish early and others leave you gasping for air?
Time management concerns are amplified in the virtual classroom because synchronous online classes are often shorter in length. Every single minute counts.
Maximise every minute of your classroom time. Good time management will help you have credibility with your audience and make the most of your time together. For example, if you have a face-to-face class scheduled to begin 9:00AM, and you start a few minutes late because you were sipping on water while walking to the front of the room, the participants would not think much of it because they can visually see you and know that it is time to start the class. However in the virtual environment, if you start the class a few minutes late for any reason, your participants may think, “Did I get the wrong time?” and they might disconnect from the session. Also, you may have to scramble to make up that time during the class.
When you prepare for your virtual session, make sure you clearly know how much time each activity should take and how much discussion time you have. It’s up to you to manage the pace of the class.
Review the following table, which will help you recognize and eliminate the most common time waters in the virtual classroom.
Dealing with time wasters
Taking too much time on introductions
Use a brief activity, such as a poll, to learn about you audience instead of asking them to introduce themselves one by one.
Wasting time reviewing logistics
Share logistics prior to the class start time, either via email or on an introductory screen.
Spending too much time showing how to use the virtual classroom software tools
Require a prerequisite session on how to use the virtual classroom software.
Invite new users to join the session early for review.
Requiring an answer (or response) from each participant
Use one of the software tools – poll, shared whiteboard, or chat – to allow for simultaneous responses.
Not seeking input from participants on the timing and pacing of activities
Ask participants to electronically “raise their hands” when finished with an exercise so you know it’s time to move on.
Hofmann, Jennifer. “Teaching online is like teaching after lunch” T+D Magazine, Jan 2004