Many of our clients tell us that they are interested in virtual learning and want to understand how to ensure the success of a virtual learning initiative. We discuss with them the various factors that affect the virtual learning environment—great design, the right technology, etc. But in recent conversations with some of our most successful facilitators, I was reminded of just how critical their role is in a virtual learning environment.
Imagine yourself as a learner sitting alone in front of your computer, unable to see the facilitator or others in the session and knowing that you will be distracted by e-mails and other work at your desk. It is quite apparent that the facilitator is the one who makes sure every individual is consistently responding, participating, and learning.
As our facilitators shared their experiences and recommended “do’s and don’ts,” it occurred to me that they have developed skills and perspectives that are unique to virtual learning.
As I tried to capture the core of this special set of capabilities, I came up with the following skills and abilities that seem to be required to join the A-Team of virtual learning facilitators. If you want to join the club, ask yourself if you have, or are willing to acquire, the following:
- Competence and confidence in using the various technologies and features of a virtual classroom. Bottom line, you need to know your technology. This means being fluent and comfortable with using virtual breakout rooms, interactive whiteboards, chat and “raise hand” functions, and other interactive techniques to keep people engaged and involved.
- Flexibility and a high level of comfort with handling potential technology glitches. You have to have a backup plan. While technical support should always be on hand, our facilitators emphasize the importance of managing technical problems when they occur, as they inevitably will. Have your Plan B ready and maintain a sense of humor when things don’t go as planned.
- Ability to keep up a fast pace of learning. In the virtual environment, there is less tolerance for lag time or lengthy presentations. The best facilitators know how to keep things moving, changing activities frequently and netting out key points to maintain attention and engagement.
- A strong sense of the audience and their responses. It’s difficult for the facilitator as well as the participants to do without the nonverbal feedback and visual cues that indicate what’s going on in an audience. Effective virtual learning facilitators are able to keep a strong focus on learners they can’t see and use every means possible to draw people in by asking questions, eliciting participatory comments, and using other means to check on individual and group involvement.
- An effective virtual presence. The most successful virtual facilitators seem to be gifted with the ability to use their voice, humor, stories, and stimulating questions to keep people interested and on their toes.
If you’ve facilitated virtual learning sessions, what are your favorite rules for success? Do you have a story to share about what can go right or what can go wrong in a virtual classroom? Let us hear from you.