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How to Encourage Engagement in Virtual Training Sessions

It looks like virtual training is not going anywhere any time soon. While many people had never participated in virtual training before, tools like Zoom have become a familiar home for team meetings and training sessions.

For some, the virtual experience has been ideal, but there are certainly challenges that come with it. As a learning and development professional, one of the challenges for virtual training is getting people engaged and interacting.

There are all sorts of distractions that affect our attention in a virtual meeting. How you approach building and managing your training sessions can help boost engagement and create a productive learning environment.

In this episode of The Learning Xchange, Matthew Brown (Schoox’s VP of Learning and Brand Success) shares some great tips and insights into engagement in virtual training sessions.

Listen to the podcast below to learn more or keep reading.

Know how to cope with distractions during training

One thing that a lot of people don’t consider is the distractions in our learners’ spaces. When we give in-person training sessions, some of those distractions can be pretty obvious. We can pick up on body language. We might see someone grab their phone or even place a laptop on the desk.

While this can be frustrating, it’s sometimes a bit easier to contend with these distractions because we can see them.

But what about virtual sessions? In some cases, we might have employees who aren’t willing to turn on video or audio if they feel uncomfortable. They may need to stay on mute if they’re at home due to noisy children or pets in the background. 

But if there’s no audio or video, how do you read the room? How do you adapt to your learners and spark engagement? Video and audio help to build a connection, but we shouldn’t mandate it if the other person is uncomfortable.

So, what can we do? Perhaps we should think about these distractions before we even start building the content. You could do this in a few ways, which we’ll outline below.

Build your virtual training course with some flexibility

Rather than rigidly planning each course down to the minute, you could instead build it to be flexible enough to suit your learners.

Sometimes we need to be flexible. Rather than planning a course where each piece links nicely to the next, you may want to think about cutting your course into micro sections. When you build storyboards and design the content, you can take these micro sections, move them around, cut them, and still have a valuable course.

This gives you a great amount of flexibility in structuring the content, engagement, and creating much-needed breaks for learners.

When building a course, we need our audience to understand that we’re not there to hold them hostage. We’re there to help them achieve whatever they’re there to accomplish. Being flexible with your content and working your plans around your learners will help develop good engagement and trust.

Be aware of different personas

In most training sessions, there will be three types of people. There are those who are ready to engage, ready to be vocal, and participate.

Then you have a group of people who are a bit slower to warm up to the group, but once they feel comfortable, they will engage.

The third group is those who show up because they’re told to. They don’t want to engage. They may or may not believe they already know everything you’re going to cover.

When training is virtual, it can be a bit more challenging to manage all these personas. We need to think about creating a pathway for everyone to feel comfortable enough to participate.

Consider how you market virtual training sessions

When you are telling people about the session, how do you explain what it is? How do you set expectations before anyone arrives? How we market our courses piques interest, helps you build trust, and also sets some expectations.

When we market our courses, we need to ask ourselves, how can we get people excited about it? How do we get them to want to come and feel comfortable about what to expect?

People prefer to know they’re entering a safe space where there will be multiple ways to interact. Many people will be comforted knowing that they won’t be called on or put on the spot if they’re shy. If people know they won’t be put in the hot seat, they may be a bit more enthusiastic about joining and participating.

Set expectations

Whenever we have a class, we should try to set expectations – not just for the course’s content but also about the rules of engagement and the session’s length.

If we have people in a learning environment who have something urgent going on in their lives or work, we need to balance that. Those people will be distracted, so it helps to break a session into little chunks and set that expectation for the person to work around.

Another good thing about breaking a course into small chunks is that it reduces the temptation to multi-task. During virtual meetings, many people will have different tabs open or read emails when attending virtual training.

Keeping sessions in short chunks and communicating that structure from the start can hold people’s attention a bit better.  We should let them know that we understand that life is still going on and other things need their attention. Building our sessions around that will require a bit of creativity.

Give people permission to contribute

You may be wondering, why do I need to give someone permission to contribute? This isn’t a formal thing, it’s mostly subliminal, and it’s all about group dynamics.

We mentioned above that there are three types of people who show up to a training session. Those who are very vocal and don’t need encouragement can cause a bit of an imbalance. Those in the middle group who just need some warming up may feel hesitant to contribute if the more vocal people are dominating the conversation.

If we don’t consider the different needs of different personas, we could miss a lot of opportunities for engagement. That’s why sometimes a mix of different interactive features can be useful – for example, using polls or reactions on Zoom rather than just waiting for people to jump in and speak.

The more interaction and engagement we get, the more comfortable many will feel to share their thoughts. This can go a long way in developing trust in the group, making a much more productive learning environment.

Being a training session facilitator is a lot to juggle. With distractions and different group dynamics, it can be difficult to get people to engage but setting clear expectations, managing group dynamics, and offering different ways to contribute are great ways to encourage engagement.

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