How to create engagement and focus in the virtual classroom

owl with bright orange eyes focusing solely on the viewer to help get across engagement in a virtual classroom.

We’ve all experienced those virtual training sessions that feel more like a free webinar, minus the sales pitch at the end.

You log in and sit quietly as the trainer talks at you for an hour, seemingly in love with their own voice. All the while you’re answering emails and scrolling through social media. Worst case scenario, your webcam ‘breaks’ and you use the opportunity to catch up on some household chores…

It goes without saying that if any of this happens, you’re not going to learn much. Poor engagement, interaction, and focus destroys your ability to take in what you’re being taught. Yes, you might remember enough to answer the multiple-choice quiz at the end, but will you be able to call upon that knowledge in a month when it really matters?

Probably not.

Great virtual training shouldn’t be this way. At the Virtual Training Team (VTT), we recognise that getting people engaged is of absolute importance of fostering engagement during your training sessions, to keep your participants focused and on task.

Want to learn with experts? Check out our virtual workshops to see how we can help.

Great virtual training sessions are critical. Because when people are involved, they’re focused and on task.

Most virtual classrooms like Zoom Microsoft Teams Adobe Connect, and WebEx have built-in tools that you’ll need to keep your session on track and get the best learning outcomes.

Our top tips to increase engagement in the virtual classroom

Here are some top engagement tips for you to add to your virtual training repertoire:

Pay attention to virtual body language and visual cues

We say so much through our body language. You might be worried that you’ll lose access to this vital information when you’re communicating virtually. The good news is, you won’t! (So long as you use the tools available to you).

There are loads of different ways to gauge the interaction of your participants. For example: yes/no buttons, ticks and crosses, raised hand emojis, and more. The exact methods you’ll have available are determined by the online learning tool that you use.

Take a note of how long it takes participants to respond when you use them. A slow response might indicate that your participants have trouble understanding the content, or you could be losing their attention. It’s also a good idea to measure the quantity of feedback you’re getting. Specifically, when you ask your participants to engage with a task, consider how many actually do it. Anything less than 100% should be cause for concern.

If you suspect they might not be fully engaged, apply one (or more) of the following techniques to get them refocused on the task at hand:

Call on participants by name

Using someone’s name is a surefire way to bring their attention back to you if it had wandered elsewhere. We’re programmed from a young age to pick up on the use of our names in conversation, so it’s a great tool to use in virtual classroom settings to keep your participants focused.

Use names strategically to encourage collaboration and dialogue among participants to foster laser focus and proactive participation.

Find new ways to ask questions

Asking, “Any questions?” in a virtual workshop almost guarantees a tumbleweed moment. It just doesn’t work virtually like it does in-person.

Instead, try more direct questions like, “Please give me a green tick if you are ready to move on.” If you don’t get the response you expect, it’s a good indication that your participants need a bit more help. Should this happen, follow up with more direct questions to get to the root of the issue.

Don’t make slides to read from

Sometimes, even the best of us fall back into the bad habit of creating a presentation out of text-heavy slides and reading them out like a script.

Take care when designing your virtual classroom slides. When participants see a wall of text that the facilitator begins to read out, they ignore the content in front of them. Worse, the more words you put on the slides, the more likely you are just to read it out like a robot, and that’s no way to engage an audience- virtually or otherwise!

Also, remember that most people read faster than you can talk. So, use your voice to fill in the blanks between the bullet points.

Collaborate, don’t lecture

Virtual training is a conversation, not a presentation or a lecture. Establish this early on so your participants know that their collaboration and engagement is expected, not optional.

If you have content that requires a lot of explanation, be sure to use other techniques to break up the delivery. Because just talking for an extended period is enough to send even the most diligent delegate to sleep.

Always remember that when your participants feel like partners, the whole learning journey is more successful.

Use other media (but only when it makes sense) 

What’s worse than having no media in your content?

Having too much!

Filling your slides with video and audio is futile if they don’t support your point. Not only that, but they can be a source of distraction that hinders rather than helps the learning process.

A good rule of thumb is to use only the simplest technology you need to effectively meet your desired learning objective, and nothing more.

Limit your audience size

The more people in your audience, the harder it is to keep everyone focused.

Get around this by limiting the number of people in your workshop. This will make it easier for you to get your participants to ‘buy-in’ to your session by making them feel attended to and valued.

We recommend groups of up to 10. It’s a good number of people that allows for detailed discussion without voices getting lost or participants overlooked.

Want to master virtual training delivery?

If you’ve got a virtual training need, big or small, and need some help contact us today.

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