Because of COVID-19, lots of companies are rushing to get at least some of their instructor-led training materials into an online format.
Our friend Michelle Ockers has called in an impressive team of learning experts to discuss issues like this in her Learning Uncut Disruption series of podcasts. We enjoyed the series so much, we’ve asked Michelle and the contributors if they’d mind if we include highlights and transcripts here to broaden the reach of the podcast series. And they all said yes, which we are grateful for. Thanks for that!
In this article, we’re focusing on a discussion Michelle had with Shannon Tipton, owner of Learning Rebels, and Jo Cook, owner of Lightbulb Moment, on live online training, which includes both webinars and virtual classrooms.
Here’s how Michelle introduces this conversation at her podcast webpage:
This episode is part of the Learning Uncut Disruption series. This pop-up daily series aims to equip learning professionals with practical guidance and tips to get started or scale up with practices needed as part of their organisational response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Shannon Tipton and Jo Cook provide guidance on designing and facilitating live online sessions in lieu of face to face instruction led training. Discussion covers:
We’ve included a link to the full podcast immediately below. Below that, we’ve summarized some of the high points and included the full transcript.
Listen to this episode of the podcast series here,
Read on to learn more about live online learning.
Here’s a quick summary of the high points that grabbed my attention. Remember we’ve got the full transcript for you below this and a link to the recording above.
What is live online learning?
It’s online of course, but it also includes a person in the role of facilitator/teacher/trainer delivering something to people in a live, synchronous learning event.
How is live online learning different than online learning?
The difference is the presence of a live instructor delivering materials to live people in a synchronous learning event.
How do virtual classrooms and webinars factor in as types of live online learning and how are they different than one another?
You can break down “live online learning” into (1) webinars and (2) virtual classrooms.
A webinar typically has more people–30 and possibly hundreds or thousands. And it’s typically about broadcasting information.
A virtual classroom is a smaller group, perhaps 10 or less, and the instructor is facilitating instruction just as would be done in instructor-led training (ILT) in a classroom.
When is a webinar the right approach?
When you want to broadcast knowledge or information to a lot of people.
When is a virtual classroom the right approach?
When you want to facilitate learning and, in particular, the development of skills. The virtual classroom is intended as a technology-assisted options to mimic effective, evidence-based training that occurs in a classroom.
How is a virtual classroom similar to an instructor-led training classroom session?
Ignoring the fact that one is in a classroom and the other occurs online, they are similar in many ways. Online learning tools typically include an equivalent form for doing most of what you do in a classroom setting: flip charts, breakout rooms, interpersonal conversations, etc.
What are the biggest differences between face-to-face ILT training and live online training?
Not being able to see the learners and silence from the learners. To solve this, have learners turn on their webcams so you can see them; allow for longer pauses before people answer questions; and build in time for breaks and discussions
What is a producer?
It’s an important live online learning assistant. Jo Cook discussed this in more detail in a separate podcast with Michelle; we’ll summarize that for you as well soon. But basically, it is someone who helps the facilitator run the live online learning session smoothly (think of a golf caddy or a mountain climber’s sherpa here).
What are important considerations for planning?
Planning is the process of converting your ILT to work effectively in the virtual classroom format. You’ll examine your original learning experience and determine how to break it apart and simulate it, including creating effective learning activities, in the virtual classroom to support your lessons and modules.
What about pre-session communication?
Consider pre-session communications in two parts.
In the first, make sure everyone knows the login time for your event, and make the login time earlier than the actual event start time so people can arrive late.
In the second part, consider sending a communication that creates excitement in advance, give them any necessary materials in advance, and make sure they understand expectations in advance.
How to select an online learning platform?
During a time of crisis, don’t overthink this. If your company has one now, and it probably does, use that one.
If you’re getting a new one, now or in the future, consider features, cost, and the number of licenses.
Finally, in considering features, ask yourself what you’ll use this online learning platform for. Just webinars, or virtual classrooms? Will you use producers or panels or co-hosts? Do you need to record the sessions?
Jo and Shannon suggests that you “definitely” need chats and emoticons and icons like the red X (for no) and green smiley face or similar (for yes).
What to know about special hardware?
For learners, whatever they have will probably work: desktop computer, laptop, or tablet. A headset might help, too.
For the presenter, try to have a wired internet connection if possible. Also, consider a USB headset with an attached microphone that travels as your head and mouth do.
Video quality is less important than audio quality. If you have to sacrifice one, sacrifice video quality and make sure audio quality is good.
How to create engaging live online learning sessions?
Always build in opportunities for and allow conversations. This will mean waiting longer for replies than you would in a classroom.
Also, be fun. It’s OK to start off with a fun welcome activity, such as asking people to use their webcams to show their cats or something.
And include many engaging activities throughout the live online learning session that allow people to be active participants.
As for what not to do, don’t spend too much time talking to the learners. Consider breaking it up every 3-5 minutes, and maybe even every 2-3. And don’t do the exact same activity every single time, which gets boring in a hurry. Mix it up.
Should you use webcams?
Use at webcam at the beginning to say hello and to introduce yourself; put it on again for Q&A. Use it more based on circumstances and if you have good internet bandwidth.
How to handle microphones and muting?
You will have the ability to mute and unmute the audience and will do so under different circumstances.
If it’s a large group, you may be more likely to mute, and for a smaller group, less likely. You’ll also want to mute people or a person if there’s a lot of distracting background noise.
If using mute, remember to turn it off before asking a question.
And remember, people DO like to talk and giving them that chance does create a more active learning environment.
What about warmup activities?
Consider a quick warm-up activity, such as asking learners to place a mark on a map to show where they live, partly to warm up the audience but also partly to begin acquainting them with the webinars tools they can use.
What about wrap-ups and follow-ups?
Provide contact information and do a Q&A. Also, consider stopping the recording and asking if people have any questions they’d like to discuss off the record.
Then close down your session, save your recording, and store it wherever you need to.
Final words of advice?
Practice, prepare, play and have fun, and don’t forgot your wrap-up and follow-up conversations.
Welcome to this special episode in the Learning Uncut disruption series. Guests today are Shannon Tipton and Jo Cook. Shannon, would you like to introduce yourself?
Sure. My name is Shannon Tipton and I am the owner of Learning Rebels and I work with organizations to help them think differently about their training delivery. Very apropos of where we are at right now.
Very true. And Jo, your introduction please.
Well, hello everybody. And I’m the owner of Lightbulb Moment and what we focus on is webinars, virtual classrooms, design delivery, and just making sure you get live online and you do it well. Which as you say, just about the right timing for what we’ve got going on at the moment.
So a lot of people are having to go live online for the first time at the moment or to scale up in a way and use it at a volume they haven’t before. So let’s get clear, first up, on what live online learning is. Jo, would you like to kick us off with your definition of that term?
Absolutely. So online learning, a lot of people use, and that’s absolutely great for things like MOOCs, for videos, for courses, self-service, all of that stuff. The live part of this is really important because what you have is a facilitator, a teacher, a trainer, delivering something to people live, synchronous, in the moment.
And people use the terms webinar, also virtual classroom. Jo, what’s the difference between the two?
In some ways, right now it might not matter. To me, a webinar usually is with lots of people. Lots could be 30 or it could be 3000. And a virtual classroom is much more, in my world, about 10-ish people and you are really facilitating something just like you would face to face. Whereas a webinar is a bit more in the broadcast sense.
Okay. And Shannon, that distinction between the two, when would you use each because both may be applicable to different scenarios in the current situation?
Right, absolutely. And I would agree with Jo. Where I would use a webinar is if I’m looking to broadcast knowledge. So if you are looking to disseminate a message amongst many people, then a webinar is the way to go. If you are looking to mimic a classroom environment or your instructor-led environment and you’re looking for specific learning outcomes, then that’s where your virtual learning comes in.
And I think what we’ll do today is, generally, we’ll talk more about that face to face virtual classroom. And then if there’s something different for a webinar we can mention that because it’s more about scaling back rather than scaling up, right?
So Jo, in what ways are online learning sessions like face to face instructor-led sessions? Let’s build a bridge.
Whenever I’m talking to people about, how do you design this, how do you deliver it, what can we do? I always say, “Start with whatever you would do face to face.” Because live online, generally, there’s an equivalent. If you want to do flip charts, there’s a whiteboard. If you want to do syndicate rooms, there are breakout rooms. If you want to get people to turn to the person next to them and chat, you can use private chat. So don’t worry too much because there’s an online equivalent and you can go and find that in whatever your system might be.
So you can still have all of those great discussion, you can still have all of those great activities, it’s just a little bit different because of the technology.
Apart from being a little bit different because of the technology, are there any fundamental differences between face to face and virtual online sessions?
The biggest one that people have to get over is usually, “I can’t see my attendees.” So you can have webcams on, and I recommend it, it’s a really good way to go. It’s not always appropriate. That’s the biggest issue is that, and silence. We’re used to being able to look around a room physically, see people nodding, smiling, frowning, whatever. So it’s the lack of the visual and the lack of the body language that people are really worried about. But you can overcome all of that with good design and delivery and just getting comfortable and experienced.
So Shannon, given those similarities and differences, what are some of the traps for beginners? Some of the things often done poorly by people who are new to designing and delivering in virtual online environment?
Well, I think first, to build onto what Jo just said is, when you’re not… when you’re thinking that you can just take your traditional instructor-led training, what you’ve done for two days and now just plop it online, it doesn’t work the same. So part of that is really working on designing your curriculum appropriately for this virtual space. The second part is a build on that. So when you think about planning, you really do have to plan your virtual experiences differently than your instructor-led experiences. And that goes back to what Jo just said. It’s planning for those conversations, it’s planning for the acceptance of the pause, the pause is a good thing.
And so, understanding those and then building in times for breaks and conversations. We don’t do enough of that in the virtual space too, which we’ll talk about when we start really digging in a little bit deeper about some of the engagements that you can do in the virtual space. So all of those we will discuss in detail, I’m sure.
We will. Jo, are there any other rookie errors that you would add to that list?
I think it’s not planning, like Shannon says, but also not allowing time to play and practice in the software. We’re all under time pressure, we’re all under stress at the moment, completely get that. But the time you can practice in your platform, the better.
That’s practice for you as a facilitator, ahead of the session, rather than practice for participants in the session.
And also it’s just things like, “How do I get my slides up? What button do I click? How do I unmute? How do I switch between these as seamlessly as possible?” Rather than being flustered in the moment and going, “It’s not what I thought it was going to be.”
Well and Jo, I don’t know what your opinion is on this but I think, built on what you just said, a common rookie mistake is not planning for a producer.
Yeah. Somebody to help you. And whether that’s an actual producer or whether that’s just Bob down the hallway, or one of my students to help me pick out the questions so that the chat window doesn’t run past me so quickly. Getting some kind of support.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Or to handle the technical issues.
And we’re going to dig more into the role of the producer in a separate disruption series episode with Jo, so stay tuned for that one. Let’s stick with planning and communication. Shannon, what should be considered when planning a live online session?
I think the… when you think about planning… First off, it really is about deconstructing your instructor-led content, which is something that I’ve worked with many businesses to do. It’s pulling apart all of your ILT and thinking about the appropriate spaces for the virtual learning. So if you think about, you have your instructor led training, you have the first part, which is the setup, we’re setting the stage for your instructor-led. And then you start getting into your modules and your lessons. So now, pull each of those apart and think about the activities that you might do in a virtual sense that supports those lessons and those modules.
So you’re thinking, exercises and engagement first, then the lecture part second. So you want to really plan for that up front. So that’s the first part. And then the next part about what should be considered is the communication plan. So what’s the communication plan behind that? And I think we’re talking about that in a bit as well. So I’m sorry if I’m off track there, Michelle.
No you’re not, keep going Shannon. Communication, tell us more.
Okay. All right. So with the communication, again in two parts. So in your first round of communication, that is setting the login time for the participants. Now notice that I say login time, not start time. Okay. So there’s a big difference, if you tell people to show up at eight o’clock in the morning, they’re going to show up at 8:00, 8:01, 8:02, 8:03. But you really need them to be logged in and ready to go at 7:45. So it’s like having a significant other that is perpetually late all the time. You tell them to be there early and so then they’re early and you can catch all of the technical issues that you want to get. And that’s part of your communication plan, that first round.
The second round is the sizzle reel, as I would say. So the second round of communication that goes to your participants, it’s all about building the excitement. Because a lot of people see virtual learning, or webinars, and everybody does a collective groan. “Ugh, I can’t believe I’ve got to be online.” And you want to avoid that so you’re going to create the, why they’re there. You want to build the excitement. You want to give them their participant guides at this point, or any handouts or any downloads that they can have to be prepared. So this way they feel as though they are part of that bigger educational picture. That it’s going to be like the instructor-led process. So planning for those engagements ahead of time, practicing, set the expectations and the outcomes, create your sizzle reel. So if I had to say, this is what you probably need to do and have it organized before you actually turn on the button to go live, those are the things that I would recommend.
Okay. And of course, Jo, you mentioned technology before and practicing with all the features and functionalities of your platform, working with your producer. How do you select or find a platform quickly? Some of our listeners may not have previously used an online platform. What are your options? How do you go about finding one? What are you looking for? Talk us through all of that.
So whatever platform you already have is a really good platform. And whether that’s Skype, Skype for business, Teams, WebEx, whatever it might be, go with what you have. Because IT systems, whatever, they’re all already implemented. Is it going to be the best one in the world and what you want? Maybe not, but you’ve got it and that’s really important. If you are at the point of going, “Right, we’re starting from scratch, we need to select a platform. It could well be that you’ve already got something like Office 365 or you’ve got the Saba LMS and there’s something that naturally fits really nicely with that.
The other thing then you need to look at, obviously there’s a cost element, how much can we spend on this? There’s how quickly it can be set up and there’s also what we need to be thinking about in terms of what we choose is, how many people are likely to be attending? Because most of these systems will have a license of up to a hundred people, up to 500 people, et cetera, and those prices are different. So really think about, what’s the maximum we’re going to need, including our subject matter experts, our presenters, our producers, whoever else is going to be there and helping to deliver?
The other element to think about is, how are we delivering this? Is it just individuals delivering their own webinar or virtual classroom session? Are they working with the producer? Is it more like a panel or are you going to have lots of subject matter experts coming into your sessions? Because those can make a difference. If you’ve got whatever platform, great, you’ll make it work. If you’ve got a choice, if you know you’re coworking with people, lots of time, I would use something like Adobe Connect. It’s got a great back end area, you’ve got private chat, it’s really easy, you can set things up brilliant for that. But other systems work really well as well. You’ve got private chat, which you can communicate between you and so on.
You can have co-hosts, in Zoom as an example, where you’ve all got controls over things. So it’s finding out that element. In terms of features that you might need, this depends a little bit on what you’re delivering. If you’re at the webinar end, it might just be, people can see my slides and hear me. That’s maybe not my utmost tip but it could just be that that’s all you need. I recommend a chat window. So I would avoid something like GoToWebinar because there’s no chat window on GoToWebinar and you really need the interaction. If you’re not having interaction between people, between yourself and the people attending, I don’t see any reason for it to be live online, you might just as well record a video.
So I would say you definitely, 100% need chats. You 100% need emoticons, even just a hand up would be beneficial. But if you can have a green tick or green check mark and a red “X” for yes and no and other similar things as well, it really adds to the equipment that you’ve got, your tools for designing and delivering and getting interaction.
And what about hardware? Is there any special hardware needed for either the presenter and producer or for participants?
So for the participants, I’d say, whatever they’ve got, whether it’s an iPad or a laptop, they’re probably going to be okay. If they can get a headset that will help them, especially if you’re working from home, if there’s a few of you, if it’s going to be busy and noisy. For the presenter, I would say, if they can, they need to be on a wired connection. Wifi can work but it really affects audio. Video eats up bandwidth. If you can get an RJ45 or an RJ11 connector, whatever it is, plugged into your computer, go for it.
The other thing I would recommend is a headset, so having something that gets rid of all the other noise that’s around helps you focus on the participants that may be quiet if they don’t have a headset themselves. And you have a good microphone on that headset that travels with you if you move your head around. That, I think, is really good. And just a USB headset is really good. I really like the Logitech H540, I’ve used them for about eight or nine years. I’ve still got the same one I bought originally and I find that’s a really good one. But any USB headset with a microphone will be great and that will really improve the sound for your attendees.
And Shannon, I know you have some equipment on your website, do you have any headsets or anything like that? We’ll just point people in the show notes to your website.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes. So I agree, the Logitech headsets are always great, regardless of which one you buy. Even their low cost headsets are really good. So I think it’s important to note that you do not have to invest a huge amount of money, as long as you have something. The Rhode microphone… So even if you use a lapel mic, it’s better than no microphone.
Because even if your video quality is a little shaky, your audio quality needs to be really good. So if you’re going to sacrifice one over the other, then be sure that your audio is spot on. So any Rhode mic lavaliere microphone, they come in larger or smaller ones. My… The one that sits on my desk is a good old fashioned Snowball. And I love my little Snowball and it works perfectly. And it’s a low cost item that anyone can use.
Great. Let’s move on to the actual session itself and interaction and engagement during the session. We’ll start with you, Shannon. What tips and techniques do you recommend people try, to make it engaging? Particularly given people may be doing this for the first time.
Right. And Jo touched on this at the very beginning, and I would like to build on that, which is allowing for conversation. And this is hard because my biggest tip for this is to allow almost a third longer for people to respond. Because let’s think about the process. When you are in a classroom, you ask a question, you scan the audience to see who has that look on their face, who, they seem to be ready to pounce and answer a question, they raise their hand or shout it out. In the virtual space, what happens here is that you ask a question, people have to think about the question, they have to ponder their response, and then depending on the forum that you’re in they may have to type out an answer in the chat. So that alone is going to take you twice as long to get an answer than you would have before.
And so a lot of times when organizations come to me and they say, “We don’t use virtual learning because there’s no conversation.” My biggest tip is, because you’re not allowing time for people to engage. So allow for time. So when it comes to creating engagement, that’s number one. Number two, for goodness sake, be fun. Be fun, be personable, start off with a fun welcome activity. So if you’ve got people who have their video cameras on, maybe they can show the most interesting thing on their desk right at that moment. Or lift up their cat and show a face of their cat or their dog if your dog will allow to be picked up. So start off with something fun because that’s going to set the tone for the rest of your time together.
So if you kick off boring, that’s as good as it’s going to get. So then it’s like, well you’re going to continue to be boring. And then I think another way that you can go here is to be sure to incorporate many activities as you move along. So that means then, your slides, less is more. So if you thought in a instructor-led situation, you should have less text on a slide, it’s even more so in a virtual space. So in the virtual space it’s just almost a place holder, if nothing else. And this is where you can slide in your mini activities. So your mini activity could be an open ended question on the slide that’s going to allow for people to annotate directly on the slide or use the chat or use the draw feature. I’ve played Pictionary on virtual learning courses. So people can do that and it becomes another fun thing for people to do but still get the learning outcomes where you need them to be. So think about those mini activities.
And then, if I were going to give you one more, so Jo talked about raising your hands and using the whiteboards. I think that the continued use of polls and surveys. So you can incorporate tools like Poll Everywhere or Kahoot into your virtual learning activities. Where you can create games, you can create challenge activities or you can promote problem solving techniques, creative thinking. So using all of those techniques, which are standard in your webinar tool, or rather your WebEx for education tools, then that’s what you want to do. So I agree with Jo when she said earlier that an ILT can be converted. I do many live workshops, I do many virtual workshops and the differences between the two are negligible. Because if you think like a whiteboard being a flip chart, you can upload pictures, you can do round robin activities. So those are the things that you can incorporate to make your virtual learning spaces so much more interesting and engaging.
Jo, are there any other specific types of engagement you’d like to suggest people consider using?
I think Shannon had an absolutely amazing list there and completely agree with everything that she said. I think I would look at planning something every few minutes is a really important thing. So if you read any of the books or stuff out there, it will say every three to five minutes. I think if you’ve been talking for five minutes in your virtual classroom, that’s about three minutes too long, quite frankly. And it might seem really weird but I really like what you said earlier on, Shannon, about deconstructing what you do, and that’s what I talk about as well. Because what you’re doing, as you say, you normally would look around the room for the person who wants to pounce with the answer or who’s frowning with a question. We can’t do that live online if you don’t have the webcams on.
So what you have to do instead is use your tools, the ticks, the whiteboards, the chat, all of that stuff, and you have to design in the questions and those mini activities so that you can actually get that information back from people. Because that’s how you’ll know how your session’s going. You can’t do that without any feedback. And so the way to get over not seeing people, the way to get over that remoteness, is to have those activities. So yeah, completely agree with everything that Shannon just said.
Can you overdo it with activities, particularly if you are a new facilitator?