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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If You Don’t Use the Oxford Comma, Your Words Have No Meaning

Disclaimer!

We at Unboxed personally believe – nay, we KNOW – that the Oxford comma is imperative to good writing. However, many of our clients have style guides that don’t use it. Since we love all our clients, we always follow their style guides before our own.

The debate over whether the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, should be included in lists of three (“I ran, showered, and went to the restaurant”) has been raging for decades and shows no signs of slowing down. This blog post makes the case that it should ALWAYS be used. In short, writers, you need to be using the Oxford comma!

Why is the Oxford comma so important?

People often ask grammar geeks why they enjoy grammar. The most common response? Because there is always a right answer. Unlike the majority of our day-to-day lives, where nuance thrives and nothing is black and white, grammar is a welcome respite from this ambivalence. Its strict nature is precisely what allows us to communicate and connect with one another. Without that structure, everyone would always be confused.

With this in mind, rules like the Oxford comma need to be enforced so readers will never be left to wonder about the exact meaning of a sentence. If I write that “I’m going to the beach with Jenny, Rob and Emily,” you probably know what I mean. But if I say, as in the famous (and slightly obnoxious) example, “We invited two strippers, JFK and Stalin,” you cannot LOGICALLY know whether I’m referring to four people or two people.

The Oxford comma has to exist when you don’t need it, so it will always exist when you do need it.

Addressing common (lazy) anti-Oxford justifications

If you have a logical brain, my introduction was probably all you need to read. You can leave this page now. If you’re still on the fence, you may be thinking of one of the following common anti-Oxford arguments:

“But AP Style says…”

It’s true, AP Style does not use the Oxford Comma. Why not, you ask? Well…

“It saves space”

…It’s a space issue. The amount of space that one measly comma took up on a physical newspaper actually used to matter. Did it matter more than making sure the words themselves had meaning? Not in my opinion. But regardless, guess what doesn’t exist anymore? Newsprint. Words are now read in books (which don’t have space restrictions) or on electronic devices, which really don’t have space restrictions. Case closed.

Quick tangent: Newspapers also hated the antiquated “two spaces after a period” rule, again because it saved them space. Unwittingly, they made paragraphs look sleeker and more modern by using only one space. While their reasoning for these two stances was the same, the results were different, because one negatively affected the meaning of sentences, while the other was a positive stylistic upgrade.

“Context”

Someone told me, “Oh, come on. People are smart enough to understand what you mean based on contextual clues.” This is untrue. Context may make a sentence clear most of the time, but:

  • Even though most people can be fairly certain of my meaning, you can’t be 100% sure. You just can’t. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just be sure?
  • The world is a big place with thousands of cultures, and English (for right or wrong) has become the closest thing we’ve ever had to a universal language. Your context in Cleveland is irrelevant to someone in Senegal. Good thing the Oxford comma is there to be a unifying force in our modern world.
  • Context is constantly shifting over time – what’s clear to a millennial is not always clear to a Baby Boomer. And that’s okay, because we can just use the Oxford comma.
“It looks too complicated”

I mean, no it doesn’t. It looks almost exactly the same, with one key difference: we know what it means. What could be more beautiful than clarity?

 

A Closing Challenge

A quick thought experiment: Find me one sentence that is objectively better without an Oxford comma. What does “better” mean? Before anything else, a sentence must be understood by its reader. If it doesn’t achieve that, all the prose chops in the world won’t matter. With that in mind, please find me a sentence missing an Oxford comma that makes more sense than its correct counterpart.

It’s okay, I’ll wait…forever.

About the Author:
Jared Booth is a Content Strategy Manager who partners with clients to strategize and build cutting-edge learning programs. He’d love to chat with you, especially if you disagree with his point of view in this blog post.

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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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How to Avoid Immersive Learning Pitfalls

Immersive training (augmented and virtual reality) is changing fast. It wasn’t long ago that most people thought of these mediums as sparsely- and strictly-used by gamers and tech geeks. Times have changed. Video games, marketing, training, movies, TV shows… you name it and you can probably access some form of it in AR/VR.

It may be the flashy new thing, but we’re starting to see real benefits from immersive learning. According to a recent study that compared mobile VR learning to reading a text document, when tested on learning objectives, learners who used VR scored an average of 94.5, while those who learned using the text document scored an 87.

Still, as with all fairly new technologies, AR/VR are not without pitfalls. We’ve seen that plenty want to use this tech primarily because it’s trendy – and they move to incorporate it without proper planning.

Let’s look at some of the most common immersive training pitfalls to ensure your use of this tech adds value from a learning perspective.

 

Lack of Measurement

Pitfall:

AR/VR by itself doesn’t typically contain a way to measure success or learning outcomes. Unless the software is built by a training company with analytics in mind, success and learning outcomes are probably an afterthought.

The measurement of learning outcomes is critical for any training technology. Without that measurability, it’s extremely difficult to calculate ROI, determine where learners are struggling and succeeding, or provide constructive feedback.

How to Avoid:

Before opting-in to immersive learning, put a measurement strategy in place. Start with the end in mind. Before you can begin building an immersive training experience, how will you know if it’s successful? One way is by having a training technology company build the software from the ground up with the end-goal of outcome collection and measurement as a requirement.

For example, we can measure if learners’ behavior changed and see if training had a measurable impact on performance by looking at qualitative data (like interviews) and quantitative data (customer satisfaction, sales metrics, etc.) With immersive learning, scenarios and environments can be built requiring specific behaviors to satisfy virtual customers, make virtual sales, or accomplish any other goal.

Then, to measure ROI, simply compare upfront development cost to the training’s impact on behavior change and performance.

 

It’s All the Rage!

Pitfall:

Make no mistake about it, AR/VR is cool and trendy. That’s reason enough for many to want to include it in their training repertoire. The fact that it just happens to be awesome technology isn’t the pitfall – the urge to use it solely because it’s cool.

How to Avoid:

If you want to build an AR/VR experience, ensure you have learning objectives that are best accomplished via immersive learning. Could you do the same thing in a video or eLearning? If you could, maybe immersive training isn’t your best option.

How can you determine if your learning objectives are well-suited to AR/VR?

Do you have something that needs to be seen or demonstrated without your learner being there?

Maybe you’re training pilots while they’re spread across multiple cities without access to the same type of aircraft. Or perhaps you need to show workers in different parts of the country a process that’s used in a single factory so they can replicate it.

These examples lend themselves well to immersive learning because your learners are spread out and it’s incredibly costly to bring them all together. Save time and money by having them learn together virtually instead.

Need to learn something dangerous, risky, or particularly stressful?

Performing surgery or mixing chemicals in the making of medicines are two examples that could be taught and practiced through AR/VR with all of the learning benefit and none of the physical risk.

Immersive training allows for safe practice and exposure to situations that would be too dangerous otherwise.

Perhaps your workforce is spread far and wide, yet they need to collaborate to learn best.

How about a team that needs to work together to solve a problem? Maybe a team that needs to disassemble a jet engine and each have certain parts to dissect and fix.

In the factory, a team has to work on an assembly line to improve efficiency. With immersive training, learners could experience the same environment, while physically in different places, and practice virtually.

This is also applicable for a disperse sales team . Immersive learning can help these teams collaborate and learn from their counterparts in a real-world scenario, no matter where they are.

The ability to learn and work collaboratively without having to be physically together or even having all of the requisite physical equipment is a training dream brought to life by AR/VR.

 

Hardware?

Pitfall:

Though the cool software is what really makes immersive learning, this training modality requires some pretty particular hardware. Getting too excited and investing in software is all for nothing if you don’t figure out the hardware first.

How to Avoid:

Make sure you have a plan for equipment in place prior to launch. Much of that equipment is rapidly changing, so what do you need – and how much? In general, the price of AR/VR hardware is coming down, but did you factor that into the money you’ll have to spend? Where can you get it? Will it work right for what you want to accomplish? There is an ever-growing number of options in the industry.

It’s okay if you don’t know where to begin. When designing an immersive experience partnering with an expert can help you consider which, and how much, hardware you’ll support. Plan first – buy second.

Immersive learning can enhance your training by making it more efficient… if you can avoid the pitfalls. At the rate this technology is emerging, now’s the time to start exploring its potential. Depending on your needs, it could change the way your learners learn for the better.

 

As with other newly emerging technologies, AR/VR may seem overwhelming at its face. Work with a trusted partner who can help you maximize the benefits of this modality and ease your mind.

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3 Things to Consider for Voice Over in eLearning

There’s a lot to consider when creating an effective eLearning course. Which platform do you want to use to build it? Does it need to be mobile responsive? What type of interactivity do you need? Do you need eLearning voice over? The list goes on and on.

When it comes to deciding if you should use eLearning voice over, consider what are the goals you want to achieve and if audio will enhance the learning experience. Voice over is an important element that can help your training feel inclusive and boost engagement and retention.

When you’re ready to think over whether or not you need voice over in your eLearning, consider the following.

 

1. Think About Accessibility

Arguably the most important piece of the puzzle is whether or not your training needs to be accessible.  If accessibility is a consideration, eLearning voice over is a must. Consider this, roughly 19 percent of the U.S. population has a disability according to the U.S. Census Bureau – that’s nearly 1 in 5 people.

That means, when you consider your workforce, you’ll want to take special care when developing your training to make sure it’s as effective and inclusive of different learning styles and needs as possible. Having narration or eLearning voice-over for learners who have vision loss or dyslexia can help ensure everyone has access to the training in a way that’s best for them. For this audience, the audio is exceptionally important because it could be the primary way they’ll consume the information.

Not just that, it’s also required by law in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Even though this law only applies to U.S. Federal Agencies, it is becoming a standard consideration across the L&D industry. So while creating accessible content entails a lot more than just adding audio, it is an important part of the process and one you can’t ignore.

 

2. Consider Modern Learning Trends

Today’s average learner consumes more information than ever before, using all sorts of technologies and platforms. (think curated news feeds,  AirPods, Google Assistants, etc.). But what does that mean for training?

Your training needs to cater to how the modern learner prefers to consume information.

Consider how many of your friends and colleagues listen to podcasts. How does that compare to the number who read newspapers or watch the news regularly? Chances are, podcasts are way more popular. Why is that?

The landscape is changing. The modern learner is tired of old school methods of consuming information. Instead, they prefer to multi-task and consume information on-the-go. By incorporating eLearning voice-over or narration, you’re catering to those who prefer to consume information by listening.

If you can, weave short podcasts or other engaging voice over into your eLearning to help it feel sleek, contemporary, and engaging. Your learners will be able to listen to the training during the morning commute or when they’re driving from site to site. It’ll be more efficient for their schedules, more effective, and much more memorable—and being memorable is how you boost retention.

 

3. Using eLearning Voice Over to Simplify the Complex

The last thing to consider is the complexity of the information you’re teaching. If you’re covering complicated topics or providing detailed directions, using audio can help to simplify and humanize your content.

Think about it. Would you rather read a long drawn-out paragraph about a complicated topic or would you prefer to hear it explained while looking at a visual? Reading long chunks of content is exhausting and the modern learner just isn’t going to do it.

Instead, consider creating a visual to convey part of the information and using voice over as an added layer of detail. It will seem a lot less daunting to your learners than a big paragraph and we guarantee, if the voice over is written well, it will boost retention.

The more ways you use to convey information, the more likely it is to stick.

Don’t believe us? Read this article about a study where learners were divided into groups: those who watched a silent animation, then heard the narration, those who heard the narration, then watched the animation and those who watched both at the same time. As you can imagine,  the group who did both simultaneously did best.

Is accessibility important in your training? Do you need your training to be easy to access on-the-go? Do you need to convey complex information? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, eLearning voice over is a must.

Need help strategizing or building the training itself? We can help. With over a decade of experience, we can help identify the perfect blend of modalities for your training needs. We even have relationships with professional voice over artists who can bring your content to life. Give us a call!

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How the Rise of AI Changes Sales Training

According to Forbes, 62% of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2030 due to digitization. Most employees won’t join your company with the skills to lead your team into the future of automation, which is why it’s critical that you’re ready to train your employees on emergent technologies.

There are plenty of upsides to automation: many companies have begun to leverage AI to better understand their customer’s behaviors and preferences so they can sell more personalized products, more accurately predict revenue, and even optimize pricing options for customers. Some companies have started to utilize AI assistants in the sales process to free up their salespeople from having to deal with mundane or repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on increasing revenue through building relationships.

On the other side of the artificial intelligence coin is the notion that robots are taking over the world (and taking our jobs). Not everyone is excited to welcome AI into the workplace; There is a real fear about AI taking over jobs that humans can do and making certain skillsets obsolete. AI is capable of carrying out tasks within carefully delineated boundaries like recognizing certain email as spam, offering you Netflix movie recommendations, or identifying which books you might like to read according to your recent purchases – but there are things it can’t do that you can, like create human connections.

As certain sales activities have been handed over to machines, skills like empathy, decision-making, and collaboration are more important than ever. Where AI can construe predictable customer questions through an assistive chat feature, it cannot make quick judgments on gray-area situations or understand the nuances of emotions – and these are key skills when it comes to selling.

Saleshacker says that, “the more a salesperson understands the emotions invested in a sales interaction, the better her chances of successfully making the sale.”

Unboxed-blog-AI-sales-desk

 

If you’re a salesperson, you can’t succeed without the ability to talk to new people, overcome objections, build strong relationships, and make personal connections. At the end of the day, buying something is an emotional experience for both the seller and the customer and these skills are the things that separate salespeople from sales machines.

As technology continues to advance and improve, it’s important to focus on upskilling your workforce with the emotional intelligence skills they need to succeed while capitalizing on emerging technologies. Here are a couple of ways you can upskill your team:

• Offer personalized training programs that build sales and people skills to bridge the gap between automation and the emotional connection needed to make a sale.

Implement the usage of intelligent apps, AI programs, and other emerging technologies to improve efficiency and empower team members to spend more time on revenue-generating tasks than on busy work.

• Use time-tracking programs to measure each employee output. This way, your employees will be getting trained on a new program, while you pick up on their patterns, strengths, and weakness. This data can determine where an employee needs to be retrained or paired with a mentor who can help.

The future is here! Your employees should know that artificial intelligence isn’t out to hurt them, it’s here to help them work more efficiently and creatively.  Are you ready to see how personalized sales training programs can help your team build better customer relationships and generate more revenue?
Reach out today.

 

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