Engage Trainees via an Instructor-Led Online Forum

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It can be tough to keep students attention in a classroom, and there you can interact face-to-face and easily exchange dialogue as well as those more subtle forms of communication such as facial expressions and body language. Online, it can be tougher to keep trainees engaged, but not impossible said Neil Lasher, chief operating officer, Trainer1. Lasher offered four tips to keep trainees interested in instructor-led training via an online forum.

Facilitate, Don’t Train
Surprisingly, Lasher said that in order to successfully gain and keep trainees attention online, trainers will have to evolve into a new kind of trainer who is not a trainer. Instead, they will become facilitators, encouraging interaction rather than presiding over a technology-enabled instructor-led training session. “Don’t have a set structure of what you’re going to do in an instructor-led forum,” Lasher said. “The best results are where you actually facilitate what’s going on rather than try to train on the phone. You create a forum, set something in motion, decide an intervention and allow the users to interact with you as the subject-matter expert, professional facilitator. That works really well.”

Know Your Subject Matter Well
In order to engage trainees online, the facilitator has to be more than just knowledgeable. Don’t simply translate instructor-led training into an online version. Adapt your content for technology. This means going beyond using technology for its own sake. “It’s no good going into this type of environment if you’re not a subject-matter expert. You end up with a facilitator who’s not a real expert trying to do these instructor-led online courses, and the problem of course is the trainer can’t see the color of the people’s eyes,” Lasher said. “You have to have the skills of a facilitator rather than a trainer. Facilitation skills apart from trainer skills are very different. You have to know the subject, be willing to dance in the moment, respond in the moment and get back to the business at hand.”

Lasher said that although you can’t plan every moment because you don’t know what questions will be asked, you can spell out objectives beforehand, and let audience know at the end of the session they will get the opportunity to try out the information for themselves, ask questions and take advantage of future online meetings. There has to be a set lesson plan to avoid going off on distracting tangents that leech strength from the training lesson’s message or purpose. “You’ve got to plan in the same way you would plan any classroom facilitation,” Lasher explained. “Often that’s not what happens. The design really for best practices would say you’ve really got to build in some clear objectives. You’ve got to build in the motivation to apply it into your workplace at the end of the day. It’s got to be extremely relevant to what people are doing, and it’s got to be delivered in such a way that the people who are watching it have the opportunity to enter into some forum of discussion to be able to stay with it and go forward with it.”

Use Breakout Sessions, Support
Trainee attention span online is shorter than in an instructor-led class. There are fewer stimuli to engage the senses and help maintain a meaningful interaction with the audience. Offering some sort of post-training support vehicle can boost engagement during and after a lesson. “Often, it’s good to break people into breakout groups and give them tasks to do but be available as the instructor-led facilitator to work in and out of the breakout rooms if your technology allows you to,” Lasher explained. “Give them the chance to try, give them the chance to question, and give them the support to follow through with it, somewhere to go afterwards that says, ‘I heard what she said, I saw what she did, I’m now trying to do it, but it’s not working the same for me because I can’t remember. Now what?’ If you’re in a classroom doing this, you get the opportunity to try it and wave your hand around and say, ‘This isn’t working very well.’ When both sides can’t see what both are doing, you begin to run into issues. If there’s no phone to pick up or no one to speak to or no way of getting into a chat room or having the support, (training) falls flat.”

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