Three Challenges of Facilitating Online, and their Solutions


This post is written primarily for the facilitator who is comfortable leading classroom-based training but is new to facilitating in virtual settings. Here, you will discover three very common pitfalls of online facilitation and easy ways to avoid these.

Distractedness

In classroom settings, facilitators have a wealth of information available, which they may use to gauge the stickiness of learning. A quick scan of the classroom may reveal chatterboxes at the back of the room engaging in side conversations, a new hire nodding off or a multi-tasking director responding to emails. Hopefully you won’t encounter these but the point is: classroom facilitation provides a wealth of cues which are generally absent from online forums.

To limit distractedness, use compelling visuals and infographics instead of text, whenever possible. Ensure the entire course is as clear and concise as possible, focusing on “need-to-knows” rather than “nice-to-knows”. Most online facilitation platforms, such as WebEx and Adobe Connect also provide visual alerts when a learner stops viewing your presentation.

Engagement

Keeping your course short and to the point will foster engagement. However, rather than presenting the standard standalone PowerPoint deck, be adventurous and try out the cool features of your online facilitation platform. Many platforms will allow you and your learners to write or draw on virtual whiteboards. These can be used for brainstorming or to support quick energizing activities. Use polls to solicit information from your learners and make full use of the internet by supplementing your presentation with short videos. Ask questions at random intervals to keep participants thinking and engaged. You may also encourage learners to share their screens as they demonstrate a procedure or walk the class through a document.

Body language

In classroom settings, it’s easy to interpret quizzical looks when a concept is explained, or to notice when a learner consistently avoids your gaze. The first example points to a lack of understanding and the second a possible lack of “safe space”. In online settings the facilitator may not be able to rely on these cues. Whenever possible, ask participants to turn on their webcams for the duration of the session. Additionally, use follow-up questions to determine if learning is sticking. Here too, polls can be used to get those who may be shy, communicating. You may also communicate one-on-one with learners and coach them using the breakout rooms feature offered by WebEx and other platforms.

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