From distracted to drawn in: 3 VILT strategies for optimal engagement

by Julie Winkle Giulioni | Posted | Learning

From distracted to drawn in: 3 VILT strategies for optimal engagement

We’ve all done it. Logged on to a virtual class with every intention of actively participating only to have our attention drawn to the arrival of a new email message, to that pile of expenses that need processing, or to a colleague’s pleading face at your office door or over your cubicle wall.

Remote workers face even more temptations.

The laundry, making lunch, or tidying up — all tasks mindless enough that they certainly could be done while participating in training… right?

Organizations invest heavily in virtual instructor-led training (VILT) as a strategy for providing more flexibility, expanding their reach, and building employee capacity while reducing the travel and related expenses associated with in-person training.

Unfortunately too many of these organizations are not realizing the return they should on this investment. And it all comes down to sub-optimal learner engagement.

In live face-to-face learning, trainers are accustomed to drawing on a full bag of highly effective tricks for gauging learner engagement, modifying classroom conditions, overcoming distractions, and actively drawing individuals into the experience. Unfortunately, the virtual world doesn’t lend itself to some of these tried-and-true strategies.

So trainers have come to rely on mechanical actions that simulate participation, slide decks with plenty of eye candy… and a wing and a prayer.

Genuine involvement in virtual instructor-led learning demands more than clicking icons to signify agreement or even chatting a few words. It demands something more fundamental: design strategies that are compelling and appropriate to this evolving medium. Consider adding these three enhancements to your next virtual class.

3 tips for enhancing learner engagement in VILT

1. BYOC (Bring Your Own Case): In real estate it’s ‘location, location, location.’ And in learning — especially the virtual variety — it’s ‘relevance, relevance, relevance.’ In an effort to create courses that have the broadest possible application and appeal, too many organizations have become very generic with their VILT classes. Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite of what’s required to engage virtual learners.

So personalize every class for every learner by assigning the following pre-work:

“After reviewing the description of this class and the learning outcomes we’ll be addressing, take 5-10 minutes to create your own case or real-life situation that demands the skills/information we’ll cover.

Consider these questions:

  • What challenge are you or others facing that might benefit from this skill/information?
  • What contributes to this challenge?
  • Why is it important to be able to address this challenge successfully?

I’ll ask several participants to share their cases and we’ll use them as examples throughout our session.”

Talk about relevance and accountability! Participants make a vital connection to what’s being learned and why it matters as they are gently put on notice that they may be put on the spot during the upcoming session.

2. Senior Management Drop In: A standard feature of the live learning landscape is the senior management message. It’s an effective way to telegraph support for the skills or information being imparted while forming a stronger bond between the employee and the organization. In the live setting, senior leaders fly to far-flung locations to make this happen; yet in the VILT world – where it’s as easy as a phone call – this strategy is rarely used.

What if you included a senior management drop-in as a standard element of all virtual classes? Imagine the attention-driving power of knowing that at any time, a senior leader would come on the line, share some business-critical information, and even ask a question or two.

For this to work well requires that:

  • Your leader/speaker be senior and compelling enough for learners to care.
  • Your leader/speaker be prepared to pose a provocative question and engage with the group (either by unmuting phone lines or via chat).
  • You vary the point in the session when the leader drops in… encouraging learners to stay on their virtual toes.

You’ll be surprised how this small enhancement (really just a re-tooling of a standard live-classroom strategy) can inspire greater levels of learner attention and engagement.

3. App for That: Behavior change (the goal of most corporate training) requires that learners extend their new skills and knowledge into the workplace. They need to identify meaningful, real-world applications. Too frequently VILT fails to help individuals make that connection.

Increase relevance, meaningful involvement in the training, accountability, and genuine engagement by encouraging learners to bring voice (literally or via a chat tool) to how they intend to use the training on the job.

Be warned. These three strategies will capture learner attention, build engagement and even move the needle around key training outcomes… but trying them out might mean that some email goes unanswered and that some laundry doesn’t get folded until after class.

Your turn: what advice do you have to increase learner engagement in a virtual training environment?

Related reading: For more on insights on improving learning through performance read Julie’s post Why experiential learning is so important in business.

Why experiential learning is so important in business


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Why experiential learning is so important in business


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