4 Ways to Engage Virtual Learners

Considerable digital ink has been devoted to assisting classroom teachers and face-to-face trainers with the transition to virtual instruction. Often overlooked are the adjustments that learners also must make to their changed learning environment. Simply put, learners interact with both the learning material and the instructor differently in a virtual classroom than they would in an in-person learning opportunity. That means that learners — and instructors — will need to do things differently to encourage and facilitate engagement. Veteran facilitators and virtual instructors make these four suggestions.

1. Talking heads are dull

Woman looking at her laptop screen that is displaying a webinar or virtual call. Four people's heads are being displayed on the screen.

In person, instructors tend to move around, gesture, call on people — they rarely stand still and talk for minutes (or hours) on end. But when they move online, many instructors simply lecture. The learners see either a fairly static talking head or a slide deck.

This is dull, not engaging.

As Donald Taylor writes in How to Be a Webinar Master, “Our eyes follow motion.”

Learners will simply tune out much of the lecture if it’s not presented in a more engaging manner. This is not a suggestion to use all those built-in animation features to fly each line of text in using a different approach, though. “Making your text appear in a fancy way does not add value to your presentation; showing a flow of movement through a process diagram does,” Taylor advises.

In addition to using process or flow diagrams, think of ways that your content naturally suggests ways to add motion. For a discussion of how to do something, consider using a video; when asking for learners’ input, generate a mind map or word cloud on the fly.

Above all, when presenting virtually, change slides frequently, minimize the amount of time an instructor’s talking head appears on screen, and include frequent activities, such as poll questions or open-ended questions that learners answer using chat, to break up the presentation.

2. Q&A takes longer

Simply responding to a question becomes more complicated for learners in a virtual classroom. In person, an instructor can call on someone or choose from a flock of raised hands. While most virtual classrooms have an icon to approximate a raised hand, in many virtual classrooms, the learners’ mics are muted to reduce background noise and distractions or due to bandwidth issues. Calling on a learner requires the instructor to activate that learner’s mic. Alternatively, one or more learners can respond to a question using the chat function, which generally slows things down a bit, as the student types an answer.

This commonplace activity thus becomes a technical and logistical challenge when compared with the ease of asking questions in a physical classroom.

Rather than dispense with this essential engagement, instructors need to plan for it. Allow more time than usual for question-and-answer interactions, and consider using chat or a shared white board to enable learners to respond. Savvy instructors toss out an open-ended question, give the learners 1 minute to respond, and use that brief break to sip water and check for incoming questions from students.

3. Build a rapport by engaging learners

Wooden cubes with an icon representing a person on each. They rest on a teal blue background and all cubes are connected to each other with white lines, forming a network.

Building rapport via virtual classroom was challenging enough with students teachers already knew, as many classroom instructors discovered in the early days of virtual schooling in the spring of 2020. When faced with a screenful of strangers, creating a safe learning space and fostering open exchanges of ideas is even harder, as those teachers are discovering with new cohorts of learners in the fall.

Corporate trainers accustomed to meeting their learners in person are similarly adjusting to teaching virtually, with learners they may never meet face-to-face.

Added to the “roomful” of strangers is the problem of learners’ environment: In a physical classroom, the instructor can reduce or eliminate distractions. But instructors have no control over virtual learners’ environment. If learners are in a busy office or at home with a spouse, children, and pets, distractions are a given.

In How to Be a Webinar Master, Donald Taylor observes, “No matter how much they might want to, your audience won’t listen to you as closely online as they would in person.” Virtual learners will read everything on your screen, he contends, so “If you have any crucial instructions you need them to follow — then present it in writing. This is particularly important for questions: relying on your audience to catch a question you ask on the fly means a proportion of them will miss it.”

And allow sufficient time for them to respond using chat.

In addition, instructors may want to strongly encourage learners to reduce distractions, use a headset, and practice using interactive tools like chat and white boards. Opening a session with an icebreaker, even something as basic as asking learners to share where they are located or what they hope to get out of the class, can start building rapport and foster a sense of community among learners.

Keep the momentum going with frequent interactions. Some virtual training experts suggest doing something interactive every 4 minutes. That might mean asking a poll question or open-ended question, asking learners to write on a shared white board, or using more sophisticated virtual classroom tools like breakout rooms to have learners chat or collaborate on a small project.

4. Integrate multiple types of learning

Teaching in a virtual classroom is only one way to reach learners. Integrating these sessions with online training in other formats can also improve outcomes and encourage learners to be more engaged with the sessions.

One approach is to use microlearning or short eLearning courses to cover or review concepts and terms used during virtual classroom sessions. Another option is setting up discussion boards for learners to interact — and even respond to prompts the instructor provides — between virtual sessions.

This extends learning as well as deepening the sense of belonging to a learner community.

Your SmarterU LMS integrates all of your online training

The SmarterU LMS integrates with several virtual classroom platforms as well as facilitating use of social and collaboration platforms, OttoLearn Agile Microlearning, and SCORM- or xAPI-compliant eLearning. Find out more about how to use your SmarterU LMS to extend learning and engage virtual learners.

  • SU100 – Introduction to SmarterU
  • SU105 – Structuring Your SmarterU Account
  • SU110 – Course Development Options
  • SU115 – Introduction to Online Courses
  • SU120 – Online Courses: Instructional Tasks
  • SU125 – Online Courses: Quizzing and Exams
  • SU130 – Introduction to SCORM Courses
  • SU135 – Introduction to Instructor-led Courses
  • SU140 – User Management
  • SU145 – Progress Reporting
  • SU150 – Maximizing Recall & Retention

Finally, select the Columns you want to see displayed in the final report.

The Filters do the heavy lifting of parsing the data; Columns show you the results.

For example, franchisors could create a team of all “franchisees” across their network to easily report on their progress.Manufacturers could group all employees in a supervisory role, creating a “Leadership” team.A corporate office could create a team of all branch managers in different cities.

To create teams, Admins start by going to their account profile to specify team names.To add a learner to a team, go to the User Dashboard, edit that user, and add them to one or more teams. Learners can be added to to as many teams as is needed.

Control Fraction Quiz Marks
Three options – Precise, Rounded and Truncated

Set Quiz Availability Windows!
Specify the start and end dates and times when a Quiz can be taken.

Updated! Learner Dashboard

  • event & due date calendar
  • course catalogue for self enrollment

New! Instructor led Training Features

  • self-enroll and get placed on the “waiting list” if the session is full
  • ILT sessions visible on the calendar

New! Enrollment Dashboard

  • historical enrollments
  • recommended enrollments
  • mass enrollments
  • and more!

Course Prerequisites
One of our most frequently requested features is now available! Courses can now have one, or more prerequisites.

Home Groups
Just like high school, every learner now has a home room – a “home group.” This allows you to structure and set admin permissions to manage learners based on their home group assignment.

The Waiting List
Got popular instructor-led sessions? New in the Mercury release is the ability to use and manage waiting lists when your sessions are full.

Knowledge Base Templates
Got structured information such as spec sheets? Create templates with exactly the fields you want, including images, tags, etc.

Knowledge Base Permissions
Set and manage permissions – you can control who can view and edit your Knowledge Base – by group, team or individual user.

Knowledge Base Organization
Create folders to organize and group your files, and “drag & drop” files from one folder to another, using our tree view.

Roles & Certifications
Your learners all have a variety of roles in your workplace, and some of those roles may have specific recurring training requirements. Role Management makes scheduled or recurring training easy to manage.

You have the ability to define unlimited roles, each with their own requirements for certifications and ongoing training.

Role Management Dashboard
Use the Role Management Dashboard to easily manage roles and corresponding certifications.

Role Management Calculation
Track training requirements for your certifications, including recertification periods, expiries and automated notifications.

Role Management Automation
Each user can be given one or more role, and their training requirements are automatically determined!

Branded Emails
All SmarterU’s automatically generated email notices will now be branded with your logo and theme.

Google Apps Integration
SmarterU is now integrated with the Google Apps Marketplace for easy Single Sign On.

Team Management
Identify learners with a common theme and associate them as a “team” across groups! Easiest way to label users into teams such as Leadership, Production Worker, etc.

ATTN: IT FOLK

(non-IT Folk, ignore the following)

If you have firewall rules for any of these domains, contact us to get notified of the new IP addresses:

  • aps.smarteru.com
  • marketplace.smarteru.com
  • scorm.smarteru.com
  • api.smarteru.com

Do you have a login portal that uses an A Record instead of a CNAME? Best change it to a CNAME – instructions here.

ATTN: IT FOLK

(non-IT Folk, ignore the following)

If you have firewall rules for any of these domains, contact us to get notified of the new IP addresses:

  • aps.smarteru.com
  • marketplace.smarteru.com
  • scorm.smarteru.com
  • api.smarteru.com

Do you have a login portal that uses an A Record instead of a CNAME? Best change it to a CNAME – instructions here.

ATTN: IT FOLK

(non-IT Folk, ignore the following)

If you have firewall rules for any of these domains, contact us to get notified of the new IP addresses:

  • aps.smarteru.com
  • marketplace.smarteru.com
  • scorm.smarteru.com
  • api.smarteru.com

Do you have a login portal that uses an A Record instead of a CNAME? Best change it to a CNAME – instructions here.

Enrolled Courses

My Timeline

My Waiting Lists
Will appear if users on waiting lists for ILT courses.

My Learning Plans
Enterprise Accounts Only.

Course Catalog
All courses that are set for self-enroll within at least one of the users groups.

All Courses
All courses that the user is allowed to see and enroll in.

The Knowledge Base
If the user has been given permission to access that account’s Knowledge Base.

You have the ability to define unlimited roles, each with their own requirements for certifications and ongoing training.

Track training requirements for your certifications, including recertification periods, expiries and automated notifications.

Each user can be enrolled in one or more role, and their training requirements are automatically derived!

Create your report profile to give each report a unique name and description, and to set its status.

Create your report profile to give each report a unique name and description, and to set its status.

Export your results to a CSV file for easy data analysis!

Our new Knowledge Base

Knowledge Base Video

Learning Plans

Learning Plans – Detail

UPGRADED! Group & Account Level Reports
Several new features added to our already robust Reporting Suite including the ability to specify visibility levels, and adding email addresses as a custom filter.

UPGRADED! ILT Workscreens
Several new features added to our already robust Reporting Suite including the ability to specify visibility levels, and adding email addresses as a custom filter.

NEW! Quick “User-Add” Feature
Admins or users with the proper permissions can quickly add new users by specifying a minimum amount of information for that new user.

NEW! Automated Group Enrollments
You may now include group courses in SmarterU’s recommended enrollments calculation by enabling the course’s Auto-Enroll setting.

New! Time Zone Support
Specify a default account time zone, and a time zone for each of your users. All dates/times will then be automatically converted to the “viewer’s” time zone.

Store Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, PPTs, images, videos, audio files, zipped files, and more.

Got structured information such as spec sheets? Create templates with exactly the fields you want, including images, tags, etc.

Create folders to organize and group your files, and “drag & drop” files from one folder to another, using our tree view.

ILT Course Workscreen

ILT Session Workscreen

NEW! Quick “User-Add” Feature!
We’re introducing a new way to create users.

Quick User-Add will be available from the Users menu. Watch for it!

Automated Recommended Enrollments
Ever wish you could automatically enroll learners in one or more courses when they are added to a group?

Now you can, with our Automated Recommended Enrollments!

Anti-Harassment
Banking & Credit Union Operations
Business Essentials
Coaching & Counselling Employees
Communication
Competency Toolkits
Customer Service
Desktop Computer Skills
Diversity
Ethics
Finance
Health & Wellness
Healthcare
Human Resources
Information Technology

Leadership
Management & Supervision
Managing Change
Marketing
Motivation & Personal Development
Presentation & Facilitation Skills
Project Management
Safety & Regulatory Compliance
Sales
Social Media
Team Building
Telephone Skills
Time Management
Video Production
Workplace Violence

Anti-Harassment
Banking & Credit Union Operations
Business Essentials
Coaching & Counselling Employees
Communication
Competency Toolkits
Customer Service
Desktop Computer Skills
Diversity
Ethics
Finance
Health & Wellness
Healthcare
Human Resources
Information Technology

Leadership
Management & Supervision
Managing Change
Marketing
Motivation & Personal Development
Presentation & Facilitation Skills
Project Management
Safety & Regulatory Compliance
Sales
Social Media
Team Building
Telephone Skills
Time Management
Video Production
Workplace Violence

Domain

Old IP

New IP

*.smarteru.com  

206.45.45.3

216.55.210.3

elearning-academy.net

206.45.45.4

216.55.210.4

scorm.smarteru.com

206.45.45.5

216.55.210.5

integrations.smarteru.com

206.45.45.6

216.55.210.6

legacy.smarteru.com

206.45.45.15

216.55.210.15

google-apps.smarteru.com

206.45.45.6

216.55.210.6

Pamela S. Hogle portrait - woman with short hair, wearing glasses and smiling at the camera

Archive

Visit the full blog archive for more SmarterU news.