How To Get Engagement in Your Online Education

social fish
social fish

Rich Finstein interviews Kathi Edwards, a consultant on our CommPartners team, about her take on social learning and online education – and how important these are for getting the engagement everyone is looking for.

1. What trends are you seeing in live online education?

It’s becoming essential that online learning opportunities, like face-to-face opportunities, include audience interaction. Yet I still see mostly lecture-driven presentations in which the only interaction is scheduled question-and-answer breaks. What’s important is what participants take from the program and how well they are able to apply it later; engagement enables that application. Mel Silberman, an educator and active learning “guru,” once said “It’s not what you give them; it’s what they take away that counts.” Speakers need to realize it’s not about them or their content; it’s about their serving as a “guide on the side” to enable participant learning regardless of the setting.

2. What are effective ways to build engagement through live, online educational experiences?

Participants in online programs are increasingly less willing to passively listen. Session leaders need to engage their audiences by understanding and using the selected platform’s collaboration tools. Engagement strategies include:

  • At the beginning, set the tone for engagement by encouraging people to share their ideas and experiences; give them opportunities to do so throughout the program.
  • Put a map onscreen, and ask participants to indicate where they are located.
  • Use the chat component for two-way dialogue so participants can discuss the content and share effective practices. Skilled facilitators structure their sessions to include thought-provoking questions; chat enables sharing of responses. Afterward, the chat dialogue can be provided to all participants as a dynamic post-event record of the conversation.
  • Use the whiteboard; pose questions and invite participants to respond by typing key words on the whiteboard. If longer responses are warranted and time allows, add the phone line or chat space to the discussion.
  • Present a pre-recorded video or case study and then facilitate a related discussion. Consider having a panel of two or three people with different views to enhance the conversation.
  • Consider a role-playing activity; in the right environment, role-play can give participants opportunity to practice what they’re learning.
  • Consider how social media might be incorporated, particularly when offering a hybrid event with both onsite and online audiences.
  • Create opportunities for engagement before and after an event. For example, give participants a thought-provoking question to consider ahead of time, or an article to read that provides background information or a point of view. Afterwards, offer participants a virtual space for additional exploration of the topic.

3. How do you apply instructional design principles to a live online learning session?

First, identify clear learning objectives that articulate what participants will know or be able to do as a result of the session. Then, consider what content and engagement activities will support their achievement. The online platform may dictate what’s possible; however, active engagement with the content is critical for learner success. Some of today’s online platforms are ideally suited to encouraging and supporting that engagement.

4. How about the case where the content is more structured such as scientific, legal or medical information?

Any content can be made more dynamic by planning ahead to incorporate learner engagement. For example, a concept or case could be presented, and the audience given the opportunity to comment about how it might apply in their work.

5. How do you deal with subject matter experts who don’t make time or are not willing to work with you to make their presentations more engaging?

Establish the expectation that part of leading learning – onsite or online – is actively engaging the audience. Consider asking speakers to sign a letter of agreement outlining what they will do, and what the host organization will do, to ensure that learning objectives are achieved and audience needs are met.

6. Can you provide some final quick tips for webinar presenters?

  • Learn how to use the technology and use it to create engagement strategies.
  • Plan ahead: a strong opening; engagement opportunities; examples or stories that illustrate the content; thoughtful questions to ask participants; a strong closing that helps ensure participants take value from the session.
  • Keep slides simple. Include movement – e.g. simple text animations and annotation tools – to help maintain interest.
  • “Shift gears” every four to five minutes to help keep participants focused on the content. For example, after a brief content piece, ask a question, refer to your handout, or conduct a brief activity.
  • Help learners discover their shared responsibility for achieving the learning objectives.
  • Always keep learners top-of-mind; what will make the session most effective for them?
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