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Engaging Your Learners During a Cisco WebEx Training Session.

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Mark.Jones(VirtualTrainer)
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Learner Engagement in the Virtual Classroom 

One of the biggest challenges we as educators face, in today's ever changing business landscape, is how do we keep our learners engaged and education relevant?  What can we do to remain on the cutting edge, continuously delivering first class content to our workforce?   

In a recent study a 1000 people, who were asked a number of questions pertaining to their behaviours during online learning events, 92% admitted to multitasking during meetings, webinars and or training sessions, at some point during the event. (Texting, Tweeting, Emailing, Social media, or simply working on something else altogether whilst a fellow colleague, manager or director was hosting).  

So ... unless the program of learning or online event you are delivering, is really well designed and implemented, attendees will continue to lose both interest and concentration quickly.  

The secret to delivering an effective online event / or learning, therefore, requires a completely different approach to the task at hand.   We need to look at how we educate our workforce virtually in a completely different way. 

I liken this challenge, to that of a Recipe and like all great Master Chefs, any dish that you produce will never satisfy everyone.  If every Virtual Host were a Master Chef, they would of course tweak their ingredients in order to change the taste of the dish to suit the pallet of the audience, in order to satisfy their wants and needs. 
So what are the ingredients of a great online virtual experience, that is engaging?   

How to Design for Virtual Learning Success

Nothing succeeds like success!  Therefore it is vitally important that you give your participants the opportunity to be successful, and if you can do that, they will come back over and over again.   So when we design engaging content, do your best to create effective online learner materials, and ensure you have good support system and make sure that your programs are well designed.   Here are some useful tips to help get you started.   

  1. When designing your learners content, be sure to create materials that engage.  Engagement is integral to keeping your participants motivated and focussed.  Ensure your slides are visually appealing, and abide by the rule of 7 (No more than 7 items per slide including all titles and objects).   When crafting your scripts, be sure to use positive language consistently.  (For an example of good slide design, see the attached document)
  2. A well put together program of learning is by definition learner centric from start to finish.  Therefore, as the host and or facilitator of an online session, you must take the focus off the technology, and move it to the content and the participants by creating a number of learner focussed engagements. 
    (For an example of slide designs that promote interactions using collaborative Webex features, review the attached document).
  3. It is my experience, that individuals are motivated to learn things that they have a need to apply almost immediately. WIIFM (What's In It For Me).  When introducing your course, and on the Reception Deck be sure to state the benefits to the learner as soon as you can.  Demonstrate in your content, very clearly, how attending this online event or course of learning, will give the participants an immediate benefit and or edge over others.
  4. When designing your program of learning / event be sure to design into the schedule a number of hands on activities.  For strong results I find some form of interactivity every two to three minutes works really well.  Furthermore, regular engagement will help keep your participants focussed throughout the session and will improve both your's and their chances of success.   Interactions may include:  Specifically designed powerpoint slides that are supported by Webex Annotation Tools,  Interactive Whiteboards, Polling, Q&A FunctionInteractive Chat (Using the 3P's approach Pose, Pause Person - Pose a question in chat, pause and wait for a response, if you don't get a response pick someone).  The 3P's approach also works well at scheduled points during your session, via audio conferencing as well. 
  5. Peer pressure and peer support are integral to a successful online learning event, so when designing your interactive content, be sure to design content that uses these types of interactions.  When participants know and understand that they may be called upon at a moments notice to collaborate, they will be more engaged throughout your entire program of learning. 
  6. During live online sessions, always use a Producer to support participants with technical questions and to provide continuous encouragement to your participants (aka - Never go into an online event with a wingman "Talk to me Goose").   This leaves the Host free to focus on content, and activity management, as he / she guides the learner through the live experience. 
  7. It is highly likely that when a participant attends an online virtual event, that they will be the only person at a particular location who is taking the program of learning.   Be careful here:  When this happens, it is very easy for a person to quickly feel isolated and believe that no one will notice or care if they miss an online session.   The solution to this problem is to alleviate it, therefore, I would highly recommended that facilitators invest more time providing support and encouragement to all participants, as and when appropriate to do so, let them know you are there and be as responsive as you can.
  8. When designing your content; when you set the scene, be sure to wrap it in the power of story.  Stories with real responses from real people, are incredibly compelling, and when your audience is given something that they can immediately relate to, they will be like moths to a flame.  Their minds will want more! and finally.
  9. Another means of engaging learners is by developing a management mandate.  If you include managers throughout the entire learning process, by perhaps inviting them to an initial session or two and ask that they provide signatures on communications, this will communicate to the learner that the training process is of significant importance to the organisation.   It will be deemed as a serious venture as far as Management is concerned.   

In conclusion, I would also like to add that participants can quickly lose motivation by feeling “lost in cyberspace.” Email and other communication forms are great, as they are cheap, and an easy way to encourage your online learners.  However, when a learner knows that a real person is watching out for them, it helps to humanize the learning experience, and motivates participants to stay engaged for longer.   

I hope you find the above points and attachments useful, if you should have any questions at all, please get in touch. 

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