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.
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.