Training in a Virtual World – How to get that F2F vibe in a remote classroom

It would be great if training in the virtual world were as simple as training in person, but it’s not. As workplaces transitioned to working remotely, we had to rapidly pivot and work out how to deliver virtual training but also keep the vibe of interaction and discussion that makes face to face (F2F) sessions so valuable.

While the content and topics of our  virtual training may remain the same, we are constrained by the technology. Listening to group chats can be exhausting because we have lost the ways we use “back-channel” sounds to give turn-taking feedback. This nuanced “meta-communication” involves using verbal and non-verbal sounds, such as “yeah” or “uh-huh”, that show attention, understanding, or agreement, distracts and interrupts the flow in a video group conversation.

Network delays can confuse things even more when the participant’s speech and the back-channel response arrives out of synch or with long delays and can completely stall the conversation flow.

Keep the conversation enagaging and flowing

We have found that using breakout rooms for small groups and then feeding back to the main group works well. This allows everyone to have a chance to all participate and talk. Encourage ‘equal voice” and as much as possible by getting the participants to do “playbacks” and ensure all particpants are given the opportunity to present the summary of their group’s discussion during the course of the training.

Presenting slide after slide on screen is boring and not interactive. Mix it up between theory and activities and use interactive boards such as Mural. Adjust classroom training activities for a virual environment. For example we replaced thw “Scrum Ball Game” with a Postit note Dot game and Mural and we were able to have a fun interactive learning expereince that reinforced the key learnings about scrum.

When you come back from the breaks, get some feedback, playbacks on what they have learnt so far…. try to get the participants comfortable to engage and speak freely in these playback sessions.

Technology tips

Get the technology sorted and everyone up to speed quickly. We have been using Zoom and Mural and here is some of our tips to set up and have a successful session:

  • We suggest having a tools check-in session for trainees to remove any potential issues on the day
  • Use a simple link to Zoom as a way to join. Don’t use a passcode. It’s just not necessary and it’s one more thing that can go wrong.
  • Enable “Waiting Room” and  “Join Before Host” so people can join and you don’t need to constantly monitor and admit peopel into the session. 
  • Enable “Turn Host video on” and enable “Turn participant video on”. Video always on was our mantra to ensure people could be catviely engaged
  • Enable “Mute participants upon entry”. Some people use external mics and if you don’t mute straight away and they forget, you will get very annoying feedback.
  • Consider enabling an alternative host for larger groups.
  • Use the Zoom breakout room functionality to promote discussion in small groups
  • Prepare Mural board with the exercises and workbook items for the particpants breakout room exercises. make it visual and fun.
  • Zoom has a tendency to be very slow with at least one participant. get thsi sorted early. Its usually a browser or a refresh issue
  • Make sure participants aren’t logging in through VPN. For some it’s fine, for most is causes multiple problems.
  • Some participants won’t see the call to join their breakout room, just ask them to move their windows around or click the Breakout Room icon at the bottom of the screen.
  • Keep the number of tools to a minimum. The more you have to go back and forth the more time you waste and the more distracted the participants get.

What about Zoom Fatigue?

Most attendees will find sitting in front of a screen for training very draining. It’s because virtual sessions force us to focus more intently on conversations in order to absorb information.

The issue isn’t helped by the fact that video calls make it easier than ever to lose focus. We’ve all done it: we’ve tried to listen intently, check our email and text at the same time. Of course, we don’t end up doing much listening at all when we’re distracted. Adding to this is our work-from-home situations. For those who don’t have a private space to work, it is especially challenging.

“Zoom fatigue” stems from how we process information over video. On a video call the only way to show we’re paying attention is to look at the camera. But, in real life, having to engage in a “constant gaze” makes us uncomfortable — and tired. Not to mention, most of us are also staring at a small window of ourselves, making us hyper-aware of every wrinkle, expression, and how it might be interpreted. Without the visual breaks we need to refocus, our brains grow fatigued.

How to combat Zoom fatigue?

  • Deliver shorter sessions – Instead of doing a two day training course F2F, we have started to do shorter sessions over multiple days. for example. Our two day course became four sessions of 4 hours.
  • Avoid multitasking – trying to do multiple things at once cuts into performance and switching between tasks can make you as much as 40 per unproductive.
  • Build in regular mini breaks – We like to encourage breaks every 45-50 mins during our training sessions. The breaks are short (about 10 mins0 to give participants time to get up and move aorund.
  • Don’t tap – In a video meeting, your voice is transformed by the microphone. Subtle sounds such as key tapping sounds will be captured and amplified through the system. Switching from a laptop’s built-in microphone to a headphone microphone can mask a lot of environmental noises such as keyboard clicking or room echo. 

Summary

Virtual training is different to F2F but using simple facilitation techniques in virtual forums will help to keep participants engaged in the learning. Get the technology sorted quickly and ahead of the session and have mini breaks to combat zoom fatigue. I’m finding that more and more, people are getting comfortable with the virtual classroom concept and are really enjoying the interactive nature of the virtual whiteboards such as Mural. 

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