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Today’s post is by Tracey Webb, a 25-year business veteran with a depth of experience in
high-tech, health care, software, and financial services segments. Having worked for global enterprises like Xerox, IBM, as well as some of
the largest international learning and development organizations,
Tracey has a long track record of producing success for her clients. Currently, she serves as the Director of Consulting Services for Cox
eLearning Consultants.

8916704_a189fe6a64_m.jpgFor those of us who have spent years pouring over training manuals, being master-trained, or serving as master trainers, the advent of the virtual classroom can present a horse of another color (to quote that wonderful line from The Wizard of Oz).  We spent countless hours making notes and creating visuals (flip charts and PowerPoints) to use with our students.  Our goal:  to keep our students engaged and to make certain that they learned the material.  

What are the parallels between teaching in the virtual classroom and delivering training in a brick and mortar setting?  There are an abundance of skills that transfer between both mediums.  First of all, instructors have to know the material “cold” as we use to say in the training medium.  There is nothing worse than listening to an instructor who is obviously reading from the training manual.  The same is true in the world of the virtual classroom:  it is obvious when a facilitator is reading from a script, even if there is no visual.

The key to avoiding the boring “talking head” syndrome is to become extremely familiar with the material by making the contextual connections that make sense to us as trainers.  We might not use this color commentary in the deliver, but it helps us make the material “our own” so that the delivery is more natural.  

The Post-it technique works wonders in the live classroom as well as in the virtual “room”.  As you are reviewing the instructor’s training manual, PowerPoints, or other medium, you use no more than three Post-its per page to summarize the three key points that you must convey from that section.  This forces the brain to synthesize the material.

The next skill that is equally useful in both the virtual and the non-virtual classroom is the art of building in points of interaction.  Where do you ask a question?  How can the question be phrased in a provocative manner to illicit interest, responses, and discussion.  No one wants to listen to a talking head without some variation in the delivery.  Involving the audience is one of the easiest means of breaking up the delivery modality.  

Modern virtual platforms allow for a great deal of interaction between the instructor and the student and among the students themselves, such as in separate chats or break out groups.  These are the same tools that instructors use in a live classroom when they ask the group to break up into smaller sub-segments and to report back to the group at large.   This skill is very useful in the virtual classroom as long as the instructor becomes very familiar with the technological attributes of the selected e-learning platform.

There are two major differences between facilitating an on-line session and teaching in a virtual classroom.  

1.    Voice pitch, tone, and diction become even more critical in an on-line delivery session.  We have to test our voices and delivery through recorded medium to ensure that we are varying our tone.  In fact, one very useful technique is to use Post-it notes of a different color than those used for summary points as described above.  This other note color is used sparingly to make notes about tone (indicated where to emphasize a point by raising or lowering our voice for example) and about verbal content (“tell a short story” here or “make an analogy here”).  This “coding” helps us remember that we have to be verbally interesting otherwise the delivery will fail.

2.    Pause a bit more to allow transmission of the data so that you are not verbally “running into yourself.”  There is nothing more distracting than an instructor who is moving too fast through on-line material–faster than the students can absorb it.  Remember, in the on-line world, when you put up a slide, people really do try and read it–or at least most of it because the visual distraction of the live presenter is absent.  They focus on the material.  

The key to successful on-line delivery and facilitation of training content is to be mindful of the benefits and the challenges with technology.  The successful instructor understands that presenting in cyber-space requires that their voice, word choice, and intonation carry the weight of the delivery.  In other words, their voice is a very important vehicle for influencing the outcome of the training.  They also have to spend considerable time melding the content with the technology to ensure that interaction, engagement, and interest are maximized.

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Mr Flip

  • Michael Cavitt

    Thanks Tracey. I was reminded of things to do and picked up a couple of new ideas.

  • http://avdi.org Avdi Grimm

    I’m going to refer to this next time I need to teach something to a distributed group. Thanks!