Humanizing the Virtual Classroom: Using Tools to Drive Real-Time Connection

Every day more companies make the switch to virtual classrooms to save time and money on things like airfare, lodging, and meals. While the shift to virtual eliminates these expenses, some worry it comes at the cost of face-to-face, real-time human connection, but it doesn’t have to.

You can have a similar level of interaction in a virtual classroom using software like Adobe Connect or WebEx Training Center, but you have to use them wisely for your training to be effective. According to ATD, 80 percent of online presenters use fewer than 25% of the interactive features available in these type of platforms. This somewhat disconcerting statistic is how virtual classrooms got the reputation of being less human. Because let’s face it, learners don’t like to be talked at, they like to be engaged.

 

Tools to Use in a Virtual Classroom

Here are the tools you can use to create a sense of human connection and boost engagement in your virtual classroom.

Foster Personal Connections with Webcams

To help boost that face-to-face connection, have the facilitator use their webcam to introduce themselves at the beginning of the session. To boost credibility, start out with who they are, an explanation of their role, and how long they’ve been with the company. Then, dive into something more fun. Have them share a joke, their greatest success, or an anecdote about the training topic.

Using the webcam functionality builds trust, drives connection, and humanizes the facilitator.

Then, take it to the next level by asking any guest presenters, or even learners, to use their webcams too. If it’s a smaller training session, you could use the webcams for the duration. If it’s a larger group, use it strategically when someone needs to share something with everyone in attendance.

 

Encourage Groupwork in Breakout Rooms

Breakout rooms allow you to divide participants into smaller groups and give them their own private virtual space to collaborate on an assigned activity. The word private here is key. Think about an in-person session where there are multiple groups in a classroom. Each group can hear the chatter from the others and may be inclined to copy their answers rather than come up with their own.

The independent thinking that virtual group work requires boosts participation, engagement, and retention.

In a virtual classroom, the option to copy other groups disappears, pushing your learners to come up with their own unique answers. Once the activity’s time is up, just pull everyone back in the main room and have each group share what they discussed. You’ll be surprised by what each group is able to come up with.

 

Garner Participation with Polls

Polls are a great way to build human connection. Just send out a question, set a timer, and wait for the responses to start pouring in. As you close a poll, it’ll generate group-wide results you can share with your learners. From there, invite the group to discuss their reaction to the results. This open conversation helps learners forge connections with each other, but also form a sense of belonging in the larger group.

You can ask all sorts of questions with this functionality. One of our favorites is using the polls to gauge comfort level with some of the training topics. Use the poll to check comprehension of a topic you just taught or start the session by sending out a poll to gauge how much learners know about a topic upfront. That way you know what content to review and what you can skim over if everyone’s already got it down.

 

Gauge Emotion with Emojis

We use emojis on our phones every day to show people how we feel. Maybe we’re sending the cry-laughing face in response to a joke or a heart to someone we love. The same principle applies here, but it has powerful learning implications.

At the beginning of a session, give a few emojis a designated purpose. For example, in WebEx you can use the green check and the red “X” for a variety of purposes. It could be how they respond when you pose a True/False question (check for “true”, “x” for “false”), based on comprehension (check means they understand, “x” means they don’t), and so much more. Emojis provide powerful, yet fun, visual cues for how people are feeling.

 

Facilitate Conversation Through Chat

Use the chat functionality to send a message to individuals, all participants, or just the session leader. Again, this comes in handy when someone has a question or needs help, but learners can also use it to submit responses.

Say you want your sales leaders in attendance to share the greatest opportunity for their respective sales teams – why not ask them to send in their responses via chat? If a response comes in and you want to hear more about it, just call on that learner, unmute their line, and ask them to tell you more. By engaging with the responses you see, you’re bridging the gap and forming a human connection by acknowledging someone’s point of view.

When you’re building out instruction for a virtual classroom, keep all of these tools in mind and do your best to use as many of these interactions as possible. Whether it’s chat, webcams, polls, or emojis, these little touch points go a long way to making your virtual classroom feel more authentic, and most importantly, more human.

 

Need help?

If you need a hand with the writing or strategy piece of your virtual training, reach out to us. We geek out over this sort of stuff and would love to partner with you.

 

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LMS vs. LXP: How and Why They’re Different

Learning and Development (L&D) is an industry that loves acronyms – for learning platforms alone we’ve got LMS, LXP, IOL, SEP….the list, like the Energizer Bunny, goes on and on. For a lot of folks, the distinction between them is a bit hazy, but it doesn’t have to be. When it comes to Learning Management System (LMS) and Learning Experience Platform (LXP or LEP), the difference is simple – it boils down to who controls the content and the learning journey.

Let’s break down the key differences and why they matter.

 

The Basics: Defining Key Terms

Learning Management System (LMS) is a common industry term. It’s what most people think of when they think of a training platform. The traditional approach, an LMS is the software where you house, deliver, and track your training content.

Learning Experience Platform (LXP or LEP) is a newer term by comparison. It’s a platform where content is both curated and aggregated for personalized learner experience.

Everything you need, nothing you don't

The Spoke® learning platform provides a seamless experience between formal and informal learning. The results are 5.5x increase in training completion rates and 4x more user engagement.

Who Controls the Content

In an LMS, the LMS administrator controls the content.  That could be someone in HR, someone on the leadership team, or a trainer. This individual uploads courses into the LMS and makes them available to learners.

This person is typically also in charge of approving any user-generated posts that would appear within the system. If a learner asks a question, the admin must approve it before it appears for the general population. Think of this admin as the dam. They control the volume and flow of the content and hold back anything that isn’t essential. In an LMS, the admin has complete power over the content.

Meanwhile, in an LXP, everyone helps curate the content. That means someone in HR may post something, but so could your field sales rep or front-desk team member. That’s because LXPs are built to be content aggregators; basically, the platform is a catchall for any content your team decides is valuable.

With LXPs, the content is less curated than an LMS. It’s more like an open frontier.

Since anyone in the system can add content, LXPs typically contain internal training, external resources, and loads of user-generated content. In that way, LXPs house much more diverse content and can foster more interaction between learners. For example, one learner may leave a comment on a training they found helpful or post a link to a URL that taught them something new. When another learner logs in, they see the comment or URL and are more willing to engage with it – that’s because it came from their peer in the same role, so it’s validated by someone else who does the same job and has the same needs.

Considering that roughly 70-90% of learning happens informally (peer-to-peer or on-the-job), it’s no real surprise that the social engagement that comes so naturally in an LXP is helping this type of platform gain traction.

 

Who Controls the Journey

As you can probably imagine, the content and the journey are closely related. In an LMS, just like the content, the learning journey is created by someone else – everything the learner experiences is carefully curated by someone else (the admin).

That means that, in an LMS, learners follow what is essentially a map of exactly what they’re expected to take and when. For example, in Q1 they have to take security training and in Q2 harassment training. Their path is laid out before them and they just need to complete each gated milestone to get to the finish line. The upside here is that learners know exactly what their next steps are and when they need to complete them. In terms of compliance, it’s easy to see if a learner has or has not completed the required training – that way if anyone isn’t compliant, it’s easy for you to see and address.

By contrast, the LXP lacks that clear delineation and focuses instead on the learning process itself – that’s because, in an LXP, discovering yourself, your skills, and your passions is what the journey is all about. LXPs allow for greater freedom for the learner to pursue their areas of interest. In this way, LXPs are much more focused on personalization (a growing trend in the industry).

For example, LXPs enable learners to navigate through all of the content that’s available and pick what they want to learn about. This self-directed learning is what personalization is all about! The benefit of this personalization is that learners will be more engaged with the content because it’s things they actually WANT to learn, not just things they have to.

Basically, LMSs are better suited for mandatory training, like compliance, because learners must complete specific, predetermined steps to be successful. In an LXP, the learner steers the ship and instead focuses on seeking out their own personal interests and professional development. That’s why LXPs are considered more experience-driven, whereas LMSs are more about compliance and checking those mandatory boxes.

In a nutshell, the LMS puts the power in the hands of the administrator while the LXP gives it to the learner.

So why’s it matter? Truth is, in today’s market, learners are used to having a wealth of information at their fingertips. In their personal lives, they seek out podcasts that align with their interests, influencers who share their hobbies, and news that gets to the heart of what they care about. While compliance training will never go away, the rise of personalized content is impossible to ignore.

 

So how do you decide what’s right for you?

Since learning platforms aren’t one-size-fits-all, it’s important for your individual organization to let your needs steer the type of learning platform you pursue. In general, most companies have to have mandatory trainings (i.e. compliance), but also want learners to have self-directed access to materials that align with their learners’ professional curiosity and development – if this sounds like you, you’ll want to consider having both platforms available to your learners.

If you’re still stuck trying to figure out what you need, contact us or attend one of our weekly webinars to see Spoke LMS in action.

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The Rise of Training Podcasts in a Blended Learning Program

Blended learning is not just a trend— technology is being integrated into learning in all sorts of innovative ways, and that includes training podcasts.

Podcasts – digital audio series that users can download or stream – are great at distilling complex topics into digestible pieces, because their informal nature relaxes listeners. People can tune in during their commute, lunch break, or even over the weekend.

Podcasts have proven to be a wildly successful medium to interview creative experts, listen to fictional stories, learn new skills, and more. Training podcasts can be leveraged as part of a larger blended learning program to increase retention and reflection.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to incorporate them.

1. Leadership Training/Soft Skills
Training podcasts are a great way to build leadership skills and emotional intelligence because they push learners to personal reflection more than most training modalities. For instance, leaders can discuss strategies they’ve used to develop skills by giving examples of areas where those skills play a key role. Once the podcast is over, an eLearning course can prompt learns to reflect on the discussions they’ve heard and continue to grow their personal leadership toolkit.

2. Sustainment
Podcasts can also be an excellent resource for sustainment training. After completing a training program, learners’ workbooks can include prompts at 30, 60, and 90 days (or different lengths of time), so they can deep dive on key aspects of the training. At each checkpoint, learners can listen to a podcast, answer prompts to reflect on what they’ve heard, and then have a 1:1 meeting with their manager to discuss what they learned. Training podcasts are a great way to bring back key topics and dig deeper into them, so learners are reminded to incorporate key themes into everyday work.

3. Increase engagement and understanding
When added as part of a blended pre-learning program before a live instructor-led course, podcasts help get early buy-in from participants. Before a course starts, learners gain insight into the topic at hand, and then apply it once the course begins. When facilitators and company leaders get involved within the podcast, as interviewers or interviewees, it can add weight to key topics and get learners to focus even more.

Podcasts are a popular creative tool, and it’s exciting to see their applications in learning and development, since they deliver such a dynamic experience. As trends change and companies innovate, you’ll see that the organizations that embrace new tools and methods of storytelling will start to implement training podcasts as a way to make learning more creative and objective.

Need help navigating these new trends? Let us help. Schedule a free training consultation with one of our training content experts to learn how!

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How To Combat The Forgetting Curve

How many times have you focused really hard in an effort to learn something once just to forget it later on? For most of us, it’s a regular occurrence. Over time, memories fade. Good memories, bad memories, important memories…all of them. That doesn’t mean we forget everything entirely – just that the details become fuzzy. If those details are important, that could be a serious problem.

The forgetting curve is a hypothesis that attempts to illustrate the loss of memory over time with no attempt to retain it. The idea began in the 1880s when Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a study on himself. He tried to memorize patterns of syllables and then tested his memory of those syllables repeatedly over time. What he found after graphing his results is now commonly known as the Forgetting Curve.

After his study, Ebbinghaus surmised that humans lose ~50% of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days without continuous review. You’re wasting your time training and learning just so you can forget half of it. Try remembering that information weeks or months later and you’d be lucky to remember 10-25% of it.

The best way to combat the forgetting curve is by spending time on retention and reinforcement. Remembering the knowledge learned from one-time trainings is difficult. But when it comes to business, forgetting is costly. One-time trainings cost a lot, and if your learners aren’t retaining what they learned, that money was for nothing. Reviewing material regularly greatly helps reduce forgetfulness and saves money for your organization.

 

Blended Learning and Sustainment

 

increasing employee training with reinforcement training 2

 

Refresher training adds to the concept of blended learning. Your learners retain information and knowledge better and for longer if they’re taught through a mixture of learning methods. That could be combining eLearning with face-to-face for instance.

Every learner has a unique learning style. By blending your training approach, you have a better chance of catering to the needs of each of your learners.

It’s not only about the learners, though. Blended learning benefits the teacher, too. New, different training modalities are often more affordable and require less time than older ones. Students are often more engaged, and you’ll be more able to provide accurate feedback. Blended learning also allows teachers to focus on motivating learners towards deeper learning.

With regards to memory, a learner is far more likely to pay attention to and remember information when they’re interested and focused. Varying training modalities increases the odds that your learners will find it interesting.

 

What Makes for Ideal Refresher Training?

There are certain traits that make for successful refresher training:

• Quick
Learners are busy. Sustainment training options need to be speedy, valuable, and allow learners to practice with minimal disruption. 

• Compelling and Clear
Training options should be fun and interactive while keeping language clear and concise to simplify complex concepts.

• Contextual
Refresher training has to fit with your learners’ experiences and be relevant to their day-to-day jobs. That can only be accomplished with an understanding of your learners and what they do and then catering to their real-world experiences.

 

The Case for Shorter Event-Based Trainings

 

increasing employee training with reinforcement training 3

 

Event-based trainings are still very popular among many companies and rightfully so. Instructor-led trainings have their place in unifying a team, sharing a consistent message, and sometimes forcing your employees not to be distracted when sharing vital information.

However, we’ve seen that if you reduce your two-day training down to one-day and use the saved expenses for pre-work and post-event refreshers, your message will be stickier and have more of an impact on learners.

Consider the following illustration we mocked up for one of our clients to visualize the potential savings gained from shortening, blending, and making your training virtual – all-the-while adding reinforcement and the ability to reuse and scale!

The results, in this case, were significant. This company saw a similar satisfaction score from transitioning their previous event-based training to virtual instructor-led training and better yet, they were able to prove ROI with knowledge checks and quizzes.

 

Refresher Training Options

Today, blended learning options that combat the conundrum of forgetfulness are as diverse as your learners. Here are a few sustainment options that should be considered in your training curriculum:

• Interactive Presentations
Interactive presentations act as two tools in one. Learners are able to reinforce knowledge and visualize complex products and services (ex. the difference between internet speeds) by using interactive modules. These presentations can also switch to a “Perform” mode to be used and shared with prospects or clients. Robust reporting measures all user activity so managers can provide guidance for their learners.

• Huddles
Huddles are in-person refresher training that drives retention by using fast-paced, hands-on activities. Facilitators lead Huddles to help employees review specific learning objectives, practice skills and behaviors, and get feedback on the spot. They’re also super easy to facilitate as each one comes with a playbook providing step-by-step instructions on how to prepare for and run a Huddle.

• Games
Studies show that games train the brain by engaging with social and competitive elements. These elements heighten attention, sustain focus, and drive action. And let’s be real, they’re fun. The results speak for themselves:

• 3x increase in training material interactions
• 64% improvement in knowledge from beginning to end of a game Plain and simple, training for one day a year does not work.

Don’t waste your money and time on training that won’t be remembered a week later. It’s time to give your learners valuable refreshers in the flow of their work and for you to stop hitting your head against a wall wondering why skills are not improving and behaviors are not changing.

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Storytelling in Training

Stories have a way of sticking with us. Whether it’s the book on your bedside table, an anecdote shared over coffee, or the latest drama on a favorite TV series, there’s something about a well-told story that captivates.

Entertainment is just a secondary perk, though. The art of storytelling is centuries old, used initially to pass on information from person to person. When we employ the technique in training, we’re looking to capitalize both benefits: spreading knowledge to learners while holding their attention and engaging their interest.

 

Why Use Storytelling

Storytelling is just one of the many tools in our training arsenal. It’s one of our favorites as it allows us to draw on our creativity, however, there are three other core reasons we gravitate toward the solution.

1. Storytelling creates an emotional connection between learners and lessons. As stories draw us in, we continually react, both emotionally and physically as they unfold. Scientists have seen this come alive in brain scans of learners. When presented with narratives and sensory-heavy language, larger portions of the brain are activated than just the language processing areas.

2. Storytelling allows us as content experts to injects creativity and levity into complex, dry topics. From systems to security, we tackle topics that are critical for organizations and learners but may skew a bit boring on the boring side. By transforming facts, processes, and procedures into a narrative, we’re able to hold learner attention longer and boost the likelihood that they’ll actually enjoy their training experience.

3. Storytelling makes content memorable. We want our training to stick. When a learner completes one of our training programs, our intention is that they can take what they’ve learned and immediately apply those skills. Beyond that, we want them to retain that information and be able to carry it through their work for a long period of time, sharing it with other team members as appropriate.

How to Use Storytelling

 Now that you know the value behind the technique, let’s pull the curtain back on some simple best practices for incorporating storytelling into your training:

• Follow the classic story arc. Start with a clear beginning to set the stage for what is to come, introducing concepts and characters on which to build the rest of the story. Create tension or conflict in the middle of the story, resolving it and reinforcing the lesson in the end.

• Be creative. Use relatable characters and probable scenarios to help illustrate the concepts and/or processes that a learner needs to understand. Imagine the learner’s on-the-job experience and look for ways to create an engaging, parallel experience with your content.

• Use descriptive language. Choose phrasing that connects with the senses, describing experiences in terms of the way they look, feel, smell, sound, or taste.

• Incorporate supporting images. Nothing makes stories come alive like compelling imagery. Whenever possible, incorporate graphics, animation, or live-action visuals to better illustrate concepts and provide some visual support for what is happening in your narrative.

Regardless of the modality your training employs, consider ways you might incorporate these concepts into its construction. That’s the approach we take, looking for opportunities to inject our signature creativity into our content to engage learners and drive results.

 

Storytelling in Practice

When it comes to using storytelling in training, we’ve found that simulations lend themselves particularly well to the approach. These choose-your-own-adventure style trainings allow learners to explore different pathways and their results with no actual risk.

We recently built a pair of simulation videos for a real estate leasing company as part of a multi-modality curriculum focused on their new sales method. The videos followed the actions of a leasing agent as she worked to fill a unit in her community.

Throughout each, we created opportunities for learners to choose how to approach various points of conflict within the process. A play off of ‘Million Dollar Listing,’ the project allowed us to pull cultural references and humor into the story, making it particularly relevant to the company’s audience of leasing agents.

Want to see how we can help you take your training to the next level with creative storytelling? Connect with us today.

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