I recently attended a few classes online after having spent the last couple months teaching numerous online sessions. Wow! What an eye opener it was to be on the other side of the microphone. I had coffee with a fellow trainer friend afterwards and told her that I think I’ve become an online learning instructional design snob. My tolerance for poorly designed courses and inconsiderate instructors is at an all-time low. In an effort to capture the insights I gained from my recent experiences, I’d like to share in hopes that you may also improve your designs and learner experiences in the online learning sessions that you are delivering and attending.
Tell me what to expect.
We need to prepare the learners for what type of experience they are going to have, especially online.
- If the learners will be doing activities during the session or talking over their audio connection, then I need to let them know that ahead of time and tell them how to do so. With many offices having open floor plans now, it may be that they need to go to another location, so as not to disturb their coworkers.
- If your organization’s primary mode of training is online, you should provide learners with headphones or other equipment they may need. As a workaround, suggest they call in using their mobile phones with earbuds versus having to be on speakerphone or crook their neck to listen and participate at the same time.
- Be prepared for people who may not be comfortable participating or who are unable to participate online. Preparing them ahead of time may make them more likely to try.
- Think about all the ways you can reduce the stress of those attending, because whatever energy they are putting into that is reducing their cognitive load for the material to be covered. Not everyone is as comfortable with technology as you may be.
Value my time.
If I show up on time, it is very annoying to wait while those who didn’t spend the first several minutes connecting or having technical difficulties. Be respectful of your attendees’ time. There are some simple preliminary actions that will help with the typical delays.
- Set the expectation that the instructional portion of session will start at the appointed time, so people should connect 10-15 minutes prior to the start time.
- Send attendees a link ahead of time to install whatever might be needed for the web conferencing platform you will be using.
- Have slides displayed when people log in to the session that let them know how to deal with common technical issues and how to participate online. Better yet, send this information ahead of time too.
- Let people know in the intro slides whether there will be a recording of the session and where they may download slides or handouts.
- Please, please, please mute everyone or remind them to mute their phones! Say it multiple times, if necessary.
- Have a producer or host online with you to deal with basic questions and technical issues, so you can focus on conducting the session.
- The producer or host should also watch the chat and/or Q&A for questions or items that may need to be addressed mid-session.
- If someone is being rude or disrespectful during the session, the host or producer should be prepared to address that via solo chat with the individual to keep others’ online learning experience from being diminished.
Engage me beforehand.
Don’t wait to engage with your participants when the session begins. You can start to engage them before your session even starts.
- Be online well ahead of time and greet people as they arrive for the session. They shouldn’t have to wonder or ask, “Is this the x session?” Start increasing their comfort level at the outset.
- If there are handouts, share those ahead of time. Many people like to print them out and take notes during the session.
- Send a link to a blog post or article on the subject to get them thinking.
- Send a “how much do you know” or “test your expertise” quiz before the session. You can even design this as a worksheet to be used during the session. It gets people to see the terminology and content an additional time, which helps aid their retention. Also, to show results, have the learners take the same quiz before and after the session and share the overall results with them.
Less talking. More doing.
If there is something I am supposed to be able to do after attending your session, then get me doing it during the session. Informational sessions are all well and good, but the more I can be actively doing the activity, the better I will learn it. Use the features in your web conferencing platform to have people work in groups or hand over controls to have them try things. One instructor had several of the students drive during the session. It kept us engaged and alert to know that we might be asked to share our screen. Of course, she also gave people the option to volunteer or opt out, which is also important.
I like to have people vote at critical decision points during a session or tell me the steps to take. This is especially helpful, if there are some people who may be somewhat familiar with the content, and it’s a situation where the training is mandatory. Remember that you are competing with their email and other interruptions. You need to keep everyone actively involved in the session, so they don’t check out during the parts they may need.
Put critical information in a handout.
For Pete’s sake, please do not explain 30+ options to me when you could put that information in a handout. That time could have been spent covering the 5 or so most common ones and other activities to help solidify the learning.
Remember, 7 +/-2. This is the approximate number of things I can remember at one time. Pick out the ones that you think are most critical to remember and focus on ensuring those stick in my memory. Use repetition to help aid in retention.
Also, don’t expect me to remember the 20 steps that we went through during the session. If there are steps to a process or workflow, then provide a handout with that information. If I can’t apply what I learned, then the time spent in the session is pretty worthless to me.
If the learners are supposed to be following along, you need to slow down and clearly state the steps to take. In one class I took, one forgotten instruction to close out of a specific view had me completely lost and scrambling to figure out why my screen didn’t look like the instructor’s.
Allow plenty of time for people to complete the actions and then confirm they have done so before proceeding. WebEx has a green check mark that is great for this purpose. However, it is a fine balance between checking in too little and too much. One instructor kept checking in way too often. I had to stop, open the chat panel, and respond every few seconds. It totally blew the flow of what we were doing and my thought process.
Choose the best tools…and use them
Speaking of WebEx’s green check mark, take a critical look at what tools are available in your web conferencing platform and use them in your design. Also, look at other platforms and the interactive tools they provide. Just because you have used one platform for years doesn’t mean that it is still the best fit. New tools are developed and existing ones improved all the time.
Don’t simply take an instructor-led class and turn it into an online class. Redesign the content for online delivery. Build in activities using some of the suggestions described above to create an effective online learning experience.
Learning doesn’t usually stick in a single session or event. If you truly want people to learn something, get them to do some follow up activities. It is best if these activities are spaced over time, and the learners are asked to recall the information learned, as opposed to being prompted. This helps make critical connections in the brain to solidify their learning. Design a string of follow up activities to boost the learning!
Better yet, get the learners connected and sharing. Leverage the power of the group, so they can learn from one another.
Also published on Medium.