It’s a very common question asked by training designers and facilitators right now as Zoom fatigue sets in. Learner engagement is certainly one of the biggest concerns of people attending my Designing for Digital Delivery Programme.
But contrary to what we might be led to believe, the key to learner engagement does not lie in some fancy, complicated (and often expensive) app. People haven’t changed in the last 12 months. We are still engaged by the things that ALWAYS engaged us. What makes a great virtual training learning experience isn’t so different to what makes a great in-person experience. It’s about concern, context and connection.
- Concern is the extent to which the training MATTERS to us. Do we WANT to be there and learn, or are we being MADE to attend something that we don’t really see the benefit of? If it’s the latter, engagement will be lower, and we have to work harder to keep people paying attention – just as we did face-to-face.
- Context is about how RELEVANT the training is to us and how well it reflects our situation. Bespoke training will always be more engaging than syllabus or theory-based training. It’s easier for us to see how to apply it and this is motivating. Making the training as close to their own situation as possible makes transfer of learning so much easier, and people are more likely to try. Timing also comes into play here – training that helps us to solve a problem NOW is always going to be more engaging than training that covers some hypothetical situation that you might have to deal with at some point in the future.
- Connection is all about the HUMAN touch. We still learn best when we interact person to person. When learning is a two-way process and when we can engage the heart as well as the head. It’s also why peer-based learning, and leaning via community (like the VIP members do in the Training Designer’s Club) is so powerful.
So, these are the underlying principles of designing engaging virtual training. But they perhaps don’t help when you open up a virtual session to be greeted by a sea of black boxes (no cameras) and microphones turned off. Getting people to shut down email, ignore social media, speak to you and (if broadband allows) actually switch on their camera and join in, can sometimes feel like a real challenge.
And so we feel pressured to entertain. And that’s why we seek answers in whizzy tech.
But before we reach out for the latest app, lets remind ourselves of 6 Training Trumps defined by Sharon Bowman taken from neuroscience and provide some simple guidelines for making training events effective:
1. Movement trumps sitting.
2. Talking trumps listening.
3. Images trump words.
4. Writing trumps reading.
5. Shorter trumps longer.
6. Different trumps same.
You can learn more about this HERE if you haven’t come across it before in just one of the 50 Video Tips available via resources section (or free in the VIP members area)
These 6 Trumps reinforce that learning is an ACTIVE (not passive) experience – and it 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?
- Movement V Sitting: Include physical exercises where possible, or at least encourage people to get out of their chairs. But any ‘doing’ helps to engage people, so if you want a tech solution, a simple Jamboard can really get people involved. Simply moving virtual post-it notes about on a screen gives delegates something physical to do. It also means we shouldn’t be afraid to send people off to do tasks or to use role play. They will come back energised.
- 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. Get them unmuted and use the breakout function to allow more detailed discussions in small groups. Encourage the telling of stories – that’s what we remember.
- Images V Words: Keep your visual aids VISUAL. Include video and hand-drawn graphics. Get delegates to draw things using pen and paper. Using a selection of pictures to initiate discussion works brilliantly and just switching off the slides and allowing people to see each others faces can be very refreshing. If you WANT a tech solution, Mural and Deckhive are worth investigating. You can really engage people creatively when you step away from bullet lists on PowerPoint.
- 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 notice-board via Padlet or just using a shared GoogleDoc, creating their own handouts and capturing their own thoughts triggers the IKEA effect and automatically makes learning more engaging and meaningful. Of course, you can encourage people to make notes the old-fashioned way too!
- Short V Longer: There’s no problem with running a full day virtual session, but break it 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.
- 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. Choose 2 or 3 tools and stick with them. It’s also easier for you or the facilitator (if its not you)! The more apps you use, the more you have to manage and the more that can go wrong. For longer courses, 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 haven’t got 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. Falling in love with a shiny new toy and trying to make everything fit will rarely lead to a good learning experience.
You can still keep things simple and keep people engaged – check out these 12 simple ways to engage people without even leaving Zoom.
Select the right tool for the job. 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 in an informal setting 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.
Remember that people learn from PEOPLE so the more ways you can get them to engage with each other in an active way, they more they will engage. 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 the answer.