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Designing Virtual Training with Participant Engagement in Mind

In light of the recent surge in remote work, virtual training is happening like never before. Luckily, virtual classrooms are armed with effective tools and resources that make learning not only possible, but even more powerful than in-person training. When training facilitators tap into these resources to engage participants, the opportunities for learning are endless.

Often, training facilitators lead with these new tools, but in order to maximize the effectiveness of these tools, engagement and principles of pedagogy must drive the process. The tools are there to support. And these virtual tools, when used properly, support it all magnificently.

Employees want engaging opportunities to learn. In fact, a recent SHRM survey of workers who had quit their jobs within 6 months of starting found that 21% of those respondents left because they want a more effective training experience.

When designing virtual training, facilitators must see the experience from the point of view of the participant. Remember that the learning experience has changed now that training is virtual and the learners are not physically together.

Too often, a training – virtual or not - will not involve the participants until the very end with a mundane question like “Are there any questions?” Can you hear the crickets? An approach like this can damage not only that session, but the entire brand of virtual training.

Facilitators can avoid damaging the brand of virtual training by boosting participant engagement. Going a step further, engaging virtual training can:

  • Provide employees and clients with deeper knowledge and understanding of your products
  • Improve retention of those employees and clients in the long run

A recent study showed that companies who provide eLearning increase retention rates by 25% to 60%. And who doesn’t want that?

Get started with the following tips on how to make virtual training more engaging:

Conduct Only Purposeful Training

One of the most critical rules for virtual training is to ensure the training has purpose.

It’s understandable to seek opportunities for face-to-face communication in remote work environments.According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, remote workers want to feel part of a team and virtual training can certainly help with that. However, rather than setting up a training under false pretenses, The Christian Science Monitor suggests to build time to virtually socialize with a virtual meetup or a watercooler page on your intranet.

When training does makes sense, facilitators can ensure it has a meaningful purpose by:

  • Circulating a training agenda in advance. Virtual training can sometimes be difficult to manage. By drafting and sharing an agenda in advance you can manage expectations.
  • Sharing prerequisite materials in advance. If any material can be shared in advance, do so. Participants will come more prepared for a productive discussion. Virtual meetings enable participants to share materials before and after meetings. This helps to maintain momentum offline.
  • Preventing the “report out”. Speaking at participants from a bulleted list is not a good use of anyone’s time. Move that kind of information to the pre-reading material or maybe the information could be more effectively conveyed in an email.

RELATED ARTICLE: Maintaining Focus During Corporate Virtual Training & Meetings

Design Engaging Training Content

How you design and deliver content is important during any type of training, but particularly so for virtual training. When designing your slides, this is a time to operate with a “less is more” mentality.

An attention-getting metaphor or a simple graphic can do the trick. From there, the facilitator can unpack the concept or a story that conveys the message.

Be sure to mention that materials will be available after the training session so participants can focus on the content rather than trying to take notes or screenshots of information.

Prepare Virtual Ice Breakers

For those diligent participants who arrive early to the virtual training, some platforms provide ice breakers that test-your-knowledge or polls, and puzzles that run on a loop. Activities like these put participants in the right headspace for the training content.

Icebreakers help to maintain the attention of participants rather than giving them time to be distracted and begin checking email.

Involve Participants

As mentioned earlier, the “report out” is the silent killer of any training. Any learning experience must be a two-way street. Participants must not only be involved; they should drive the learning.

The best teachers in any environment are not a “sage on the stage” but a “guide from the side.”

The job of the facilitator is to present the information and then provide opportunities for participants to internalize it, connect with it and put it into practice.

Maintaining virtual classroom engagement is especially challenging when facilitators are competing for the participants’ attention without being able to gauge their engagement.

A good rule of thumb is to involve participants once every three or four minutes using tools like:

  • Show of “hands”
  • Shared whiteboards
  • Text chat
  • Stretch breaks
  • Online break out rooms
  • Polls and quizzes

Sort Out Technical Difficulties in Advance

Different types of training require different types of preparation. Determine which materials and technology make the most sense for each particular training. For example:

  • Consider the right type of virtual technology like a cloud-based virtual lab.
  • Test your audio and video prior to the meeting. This advice is not only for the facilitator. All attendees should be expected to do so in order to maintain the meeting’s momentum.
  • Ensure your platform can support the number of expected attendees.
  • When bandwidth might be a problem, a fun meme can be a good alternative for a long video clip. Lowering image resolution will also decrease lag time.
  • Find the tech support number and keep it close by in case you run into a problem. For those especially important, large, or externally-facing trainings, consider calling upon technical support in case you run into a problem.

Set Up Post-Training Success

To reinforce the training’s key concepts, consider items that should be shared afterwards with participants:

  • Slide deck
  • Copy of the recording
  • Any resources that were mentioned
  • Transcript of Q&A portion

Virtual training, when executed properly, is a proven tool for worker and client engagement and retention. The most successful virtual training programs incorporate the tools of a modern corporate learning environment with proven teaching strategies. When deployed in an effective way, virtual learning can be a powerful tool for your business.

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