Learning has a social side that cannot be ignored. For millennia, humans have learned new things from other members of the community and have shared their knowledge in return. Along the way, the task of sharing knowledge led to the creation of specialized professions, such as teachers, tutors, trainers, and other educators.
For centuries, learning was based on time and location constraints. Essentially, to learn something from somebody else, you needed to be in the same location at the same time with that person.
This was the traditional way of learning: you attended school in the morning from Monday to Friday because the teacher was there. This was the norm and only a few were the exception: for instance, wealthy families that could afford private tutoring had a teacher at home. But the idea is the same: both students and teachers are psychically in the same place at the same time.
Things started to change with the emergence of correspondence courses that first appeared in the 19th century when the University of London created its External Programme as early as 1858.
Over the last decades, with the invention of the internet, location is not an issue anymore, as technology allows us to attend classes all over the world from the comfort of our own home.
However, connectivity is not synonymous with connection.
How to boost engagement in virtual training classrooms
Offline learning environments have the advantage of offering a “human touch”. Since the need for social connection is hard-wired in our DNA, we tend to feel more engaged in learning programs in which our social needs are fulfilled.
Online training classrooms have their advantages too, the main one being accessibility and availability: you can learn from home at your own pace. However, since they don’t involve face-to-face interaction with trainers and colleagues, people tend to feel disengaged and eventually quit classes altogether.
Learning is not supposed to be a lonely pursuit.
Let us see what a trainer can do to bring back the “human touch” in the virtual classroom!
Log on half an hour ahead of the scheduled time and get to know the participants. Welcome them, show them the tools you will use during your classrooms. If you have time, ask questions about expectations, previous experiences with online learning programs and address any concerns that learners might express.
Create warm-up activities for the first part of the classroom and try to engage all participants. For instance, play a video related to the topic you are covering and ask learners to share their opinion in chat windows. In this way, you create an interactive environment that will make people more comfortable with the platform and more engaged.
Change of topic
Place a few ideas on the screen and allow participants to choose the next topic. This will empower them and will give them a sense of control. After all, trainers should meet students’ needs, isn’t it? Do not stick to your predefined plan and adapt according to learners’ preferences. Especially when you work with adult learners, keep in mind that they want to be involved in the process.
Instead of simply sending information carefully classified and organized in a file, try a different approach that will make finding the new information a social experience. Ask participants to work in teams and tell them to explore a site in search of answers. Then allow them to present the new information both to you and to the rest of the class. If you feel that they are up to it, add a little gamification and give points to the fastest teams.
Connect the dots
Place on the platform snippets of text, images, short videos that are parts of a bigger story and invite participants to work in teams or pairs and put the pieces together. Then allow them to share their version of the story with the rest of the class. In this way, you help them work together and connect more with their peers. Bring socialization in the virtual environment and students will be looking forward to the next class.
To conclude, make the virtual training classrooms more socially-oriented and you will have more engaged participants! After all, “humans are social beings, and we are happier and better when connected to others” (Paul Bloom).
Veronica is a multilingual trainer of trainers. She has years of experience working with adult learners, both in Higher Education and in the business sector.