Moving to Online Facilitation
Has the time come to make the leap to eLearning facilitation?
Even the most seasoned classroom veteran feels qualms about connecting with learners without the benefit of face-to-face feedback. Here are 10 tips for making the most of what the on-line environment has to offer:
1. Start with a welcome package
Some learners are new to eLearning, others feel intimidated by it. And still others signed up a while ago and have lost the course sign-in information. You can put them all at ease by e-mailing a “welcome package” before the program begins. The package should contain, at minimum:
- Date and time of the course
- Sign-in instructions
- Short blurb about what the course will cover
- Pre-readings, if appropriate
- Short biography of instructor
2. Let them know you’re a person
Elearning can be dehumanizing. After all, no one really wants to interact with a computer. As an eLearning facilitator, it is up to you to put a human face on the proceedings. And your own face is the best place to start. At the start of the session, post a picture of yourself along with your bio and contact information. But remember, this is the mental image of you that learners will keep in the back of their minds throughout the session. Select a head-shot that looks professional. Make sure your eyes are open in the photo – this is as close to eye-contact as you will be able to get – and wear a friendly smile.
3. Put a smile in your voice
Another way to overcome the intimidation factor is to put a welcome in your voice. Take a tip from telemarketers: If you want to sound friendly, put a smile on your face while you speak. Telemarketers keep a mirror near their phone, to help themselves remember to smile!
4. Survey your learners
Just as in the old classroom days, it pays to get learners actively engaged in learning as early as possible in the program. One “ice-breaker exercise” that serves multiple purposes in an e-learning environment is a simple “Who are you?” exercise. If your technology allows it, ask each learner to introduce themselves, their job function, and what they hope to learn about in the class. Or, if you are limited to polling questions, use multiple-choice polling to gather a snapshot of the job functions and interest areas of your audience. Your learners will enjoy finding out who else is attending and what their concerns are. You break through the initial reluctance to “speak up” in an eLearning class. And, you give everyone a low-pressure opportunity to test out their technology.
5. Customize your presentation
One of the benefits of the “Who are you?” icebreaker (see item 4. above), is that it can serve as a mini-needs analysis. Use the information from this exercise to shape your class activities on the fly. There are a lot of ways to customize for your audience: you can shorten or expand the time you spend reviewing “the basics;” change the emphasis on certain topics, even select the most appropriate examples or scenarios to illustrate your key points. Be sure to tell your audience that you are fine-tuning the presentation for their benefit – they’ll appreciate the effort!
6. Use an advance organizer
How do you keep your learners from getting lost in the training? Give them a frame of reference, and refer back to it frequently. Start with an advance organizer that shows learners the big picture. The advance organizer can be a model, a process flow, even an agenda. As you cover each section of your material, refer back to the advance organizer, and make sure the learners see how their learning fits into the overall picture.
7. Slow it down
If you are doing things right, it should take you longer to cover a topic in an eLearning environment. Remember, your learners are sitting who knows where, subject to who knows what distractions. If you want them to stay with you, you will need to be a bit more repetitive, a bit more insistent about positioning each new slide, and a bit more compulsive about summing up the slide you are about to leave. Then there is the issue of feedback time. When you ask a question to your audience in a live classroom, you can expect an instantaneous response. In an eLearning classroom, you have to allow time for your question to transmit out, time for the learners to consider their answers, and time for them to fumble a bit with the technology as they attempt to answer. From the time you ask the question, it will take from 10-15 seconds for all of this to occur – a longish period of silence which may take some getting used to!
8. Use the bells and whistles
From the learner’s point of view, eLearning can get boring. In a live classroom, a good instructor can sense the mood of the class -- and knows a dozen different ways to keep it lively. In an eLearning classroom, there is much less unsolicited feedback available to the instructor. However, you can use the eLearning technology to keep things interesting:
- Is there realtime information available to you regarding drop-ins/drop-outs? Use it to assess the learners’ interest level.
- Are there realtime questions-from-the-audience available to you? Select one now and then to answer current concerns.
- Do you have highlighting capability? Use it to highlight key points or check off material on a list – anything to create some movement and interest on the screen.
- Do you have whiteboarding capability? Mark up your prepared slides, draw pictures, draw arrows, draw anything. Even the most verbal learners need a graphic now and then.
- Can you ask polling questions? Throw out a “what would you do?” scenario question at the start of a topic, and poll for results; as you work through the topic, refer back to the scenario so everyone is looking at the material from the same frame of reference.
- Can you allow side-conversations and collaboration? Create “break-out groups” of learners and ask them to work on a problem together.
Unsure of the technological capabilities available in your e-learning system? Stuck using just one or two features, and not sure how to use the rest? As a facilitator, you need to know what features you have, how to use them, and what they can do for you. As part of preparation for your next eLearning class, force yourself to check out the technology. Get out the manual and try out each feature. Then figure out some way to use each feature in your particular training program. (You may not want to use all of the features each time you train – but this exercise will force you to understand the purpose of each one of the features.)
9. Create an FAQ site
One of the beauties of the eLearning classroom is the ease with which you can provide additional resources to your learners. Many eLearning facilitators end their sessions with a list of related links – URLs with in-depth information for optional further study. Another way to provide additional resources is to set up a Frequently-Asked-Questions (FAQ) site. Base the site material on the actual concerns and questions from learners, and update it after each class session. Post links or downloadable reference files on the site, as well. Encourage learners to come back to the site frequently, in order to access updated information about your topic.
10. Follow up on promises
In a classroom environment, it’s easy to bond with your learners. You see them, you talk to them, you have side-conversations with them about their special circumstances. So when you make a promise to provide some additional information, you can visualize how they will use it – and that helps you to remember your promise. An eLearning environment tends to be less personal. Plus, there is a lot going on in the “virtual classroom,” making it easy for special requests to get lost in the shuffle. How to deal with the problem? Get systematic. Anticipate that you will have special requests, and create a system for capturing request information on the fly. Make sure you note the name of the requestor (and the contact information, if it is not captured automatically). Fulfill the request as soon as possible after the class, while it is still fresh in your mind. By the way, one easy way to deal with repeated requests for the same material is to post it on an FAQ site (see 9. Create an FAQ site.)