Recently, we were finishing up feedback on a virtual course a client asked us to review and potentially redesign. As each person gave their feedback, some trends appeared. “It took us a long time to get to content.” “The introduction seemed a little flat.” “Why did we spend so much time on all the tools in the virtual environment? We didn’t even use all of them in the session!” We weren’t surprised. We knew what the problem was.
In most virtual instructor I review, there is too much time spent at the beginning of the course trying to orient participants to the virtual classroom. This typically happens when virtual training is new to the organization. In an effort to be thorough and make sure the virtual environment doesn’t interfere with the participant’s ability to complete activities, we unintentionally cause two problems:
• Make the virtual environment seem so different and potentially complicated when compared to the “in person” experience that participants get overwhelmed.
• Disengage the participants by focusing on the technical process and not the reason why the training and content is important for them.
We need to engage participants immediately with the content and stop focusing so much on the delivery technology. The following tips can help you avoid this trap.
1. Introduce the classroom in bite-sized pieces
Don’t try and tell them every feature of the virtual classroom. Particularly ones they aren’t going to use or won’t see until the end of the 90 min. session. It’s classic. You get ready to use a different engagement tool you introduced earlier and someone says, “Where is that again?” I don't know about you, but my memory gets full pretty fast. Only describe the tools, as they are needed. They will listen more attentively and remember what you told them.
2. Demo the actual environment
Stop using slides as your means of orienting people to the virtual classroom. They never look exactly the same as what the participants see. This is particularly true if there has been an update or the people who are attending use different operating systems. Share your screen, share your session, or with the method your platform allows you to do it. Focus on simple things like check marks, raise hands, and chat.
3. Start your classroom orientation the moment they enter the classroom
Whether it’s the instructor or the producer, start getting participants using the key tools needed in the classroom (typically chat, hand raises, or file transfer) the moment they log in and you have audio. I have clients who worry about icebreaker exercises happening before the producer has done a full introduction of the classroom. If the exercise involves chat or simple annotation, get folks using those tools. The most important thing is to get them engaged with the content quickly.
Make your technical orientations brief and get to content immediately. Don’t wait. Every minute counts in the virtual classroom!