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ALX Training / News / Effective Ways to Engage Online Learners

Effective Ways to Engage Online Learners

by Mark Jones on Feb 10 2024


Having been a virtual IT training instructor for more than 15 years, I’ve observed its popularity and growth, even more so since the global pandemic of 2020.  When the pandemic hit while I was working at the NHS, my face-to-face training strategy to educate 8,000 clinical staff had to go through a massive change quite literally overnight.  During this strategy shift from in-person to online, I made a significant number of observations.

Since the pandemic, virtual training instruction has become an increasingly popular method of delivering training in today’s ever-shifting digital landscape, and more and more is being expected of the learner.  As the rate of change continues to gain pace and businesses need to deploy more advanced technologies and software, learner engagement and knowledge retention continue to remain vital points of focus in the virtual learning experience.

What’s great about virtual training is that it allows learners to participate in live, interactive sessions from the comfort of their own homes, offices, or potentially while on the move, yet achieve the same level of knowledge retention as classroom-based training if delivered correctly.

However, one of the biggest non-technical challenges we as instructors face is ensuring that our learners remain engaged throughout the session in order to stand any chance of acquiring a reasonable retention rate.  Engagement therefore becomes critical for the success of any session.  Engagement not only helps to keep learners interested and motivated but also aids in the conveying of knowledge and the overall effectiveness of the learning experience.

So why is engagement so important, and what can we do to improve it?

As instructors, there are a number of things that we can do to enhance engagement and the overall learning experience.  What follows are some of the methods we use at ALX training to obtain higher levels of retention and engagement throughout the learning journey.

Enhancing retention:
When participants in a virtual training session actively engage, they tend to pay closer attention and better retain the information being conveyed.  Throughout my career, I’ve discovered that engagement activities, such as exercises, group discussions, and guided learning through discovery questions, not only encourage learner interaction but also enable learners to process and apply the materials more effectively, which results in a significant hike in knowledge retention post-session.  The experience is further enhanced by requesting learners to visualise a process and also use their imagination to solve problems and challenges that the subject knowledge will help to resolve when applied.

Improving participation:
When learners are engaged, it is also likely that they will participate more freely in the virtual training setting.  This can often lead to a more interactive and collaborative experience, which again can enhance the overall effectiveness of the session being delivered.

Enhancing motivation:
Enhancing engagement can boost learner motivation by rendering training materials more captivating and personally relevant. Consequently, learners become more driven to successfully complete the training and apply their newfound knowledge to their work.

Using positive language:
When using positive language during a virtual training session, it is my experience that it fosters a supportive and encouraging environment, boosts learner engagement, promotes open communication, and supports the enhancement of comprehension.  Positive language can also empower learners, increase their confidence, and lead to a more productive and enjoyable virtual training session.

Identifying areas for improvement:
Interactive activities like polls, quizzes, and course feedback offer valuable insights into learners’ comprehension of the material.
By pinpointing areas where learners might be facing challenges, instructors can address those specific points more effectively at the time, whether voiced or post-session, via a number of different mediums of communication.

Defining key measures to success:
It’s important to remember that engagement is multifaceted, and what works for one learner might not work for another.  Therefore, a combination of these methods to get a comprehensive understanding of learner engagement is a better approach.  When learners exhibit high levels of engagement, it signals their genuine interest in the material, thus providing an indicator of the training’s impact.

Standard methods of measurement that can be used include tracking the frequency and quality of learner participation in online discussions, forums, and collaborative activities (the number of posts they make, the relevance of their contributions, and their interaction with other learners), feedback surveys, LMS’s, and self-reporting (asking learners to reflect on their own engagement through journals, blogs, and personal reflections), which may also prove insightful.

Fostering active participation and interaction

Is crucial during the virtual training session, as it not only maintains learners’ engagement, motivation, and focus but also empowers learners to play an active role in the training process while enhancing their connection to the materials.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. When learners feel that their contributions are valued and that their participation is important, it increases their motivation to stay engaged and focused during the training.
  2. Encouraging participation and interaction allows learners to actively engage with the material and process information more effectively, which leads to better retention and understanding of the subject matter.
  3. Desiring interactions as part of the learning experience allows learners to acquire knowledge from fellow colleagues. Where possible, post-sessions provide opportunities for learners to collaborate on projects and exercises; this can deepen their understanding of the materials and promote teamwork.

In addition, pose questions to learners to get them to share their thoughts and ideas and actively participate in group discussions through the virtual technology tools available to them during the session.  These include, but are not limited to, breakout rooms, polls and surveys, specifically designed slides that promote interaction, or using the chat function.

Use interactive elements

Incorporating interactive elements into vILT is a powerful way to engage online learners. Interactive elements such as quizzes, polls, and games are a great way to make the virtual learning experience more interesting and enjoyable, and they can also help learners retain information more efficiently.

When learners are actively engaged in the training, they are more likely to pay attention, ask questions, and participate in discussions. Interactive elements can also help learners identify areas where they need additional support or clarification, which can help improve the overall effectiveness of the training.

Instructors should be partnered in the class with virtual producers for even more engagement with the students. Action mapping will support the content development process while ensuring that the materials being delivered enhance the learners performance as a result.

Additionally, incorporating interactive elements can help to build a sense of community among learners as they work together to complete tasks and solve problems. Overall, using interactive elements in virtual training is an effective way to create a more engaging and interactive learning experience for learners, which can have a positive impact on both learner satisfaction and workplace performance.

Flipped Classroom

In the flipped classroom approach, students typically acquire knowledge outside the classroom, often via online lectures and readings. Classroom time is then dedicated to discussions and interactive activities. This approach is especially beneficial in online learning scenarios, offering learners the flexibility to complete their virtual learning exercises at their convenience.

The flipped classroom model fosters the development of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities and encourages deeper discussions and interactions among peers. In addition, if the learners take on the challenge to review and teach the materials to a fellow colleague post-session, it enhances their connection to the materials, their recall, and their ability to articulate subject matter content. The longer the delay between learning and teaching to others, the greater the loss of knowledge retention (Ref: Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve).

Create a sense of community.

Creating a sense of community among learners by encouraging them to share their knowledge and experience with one another can be done through online forums, discussion boards, or by encouraging learners to work on projects together. Therefore, learning leaders should, at every opportunity:

  • Encourage collaboration
  • Promote the Building of relationships
  • Provide social support
  • Promote accountability
  • Offer a sense of belonging
  • Share best practices

Where possible, use real-world scenarios.

Incorporating real-world scenarios into vILT is an effective way to engage online learners. Real-world scenarios help learners connect the training material with practical, everyday situations that they may encounter in their work. This can help make the training more relevant and engaging and also help learners retain the information better.

Using real-world scenarios can also help learners develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for success in the workplace. In addition, real-world scenarios can help make the training more interesting and enjoyable, which can boost learner motivation and engagement.

Overall, incorporating real-world scenarios into virtual training is a powerful way to make the training more meaningful and effective for learners, and it can have a positive impact on both learner engagement and workplace performance.

Provide personalised feedback

Learners who are provided with personalized feedback on their performance and progress and who use this feedback to tailor future trainings to their own needs often acquire the following improvements:

Tailoring the training:
Personalized feedback allows trainers to tailor the training to the specific needs of the learners, making it more relevant and effective.

Improving performance:
Personalised feedback allows learners to identify areas where they need to improve and to track their progress over time, which can lead to better (OTJ) on-the-job performance.

Fostering accountability:
When learners receive personalised feedback, they are more likely to feel a sense of accountability for their own learning, which can increase engagement.

Building trust:
Providing personalised feedback can help to build trust between the trainer and the learners, which can make the training more engaging and productive.

Identifying misconceptions:
Personalised feedback can help identify misconceptions, misunderstandings, or areas of confusion so that the trainer can give extra attention to them and make sure the learners are on the right track.

Promoting self-reflection:
Personalised feedback can encourage learners to reflect on their own performance and learning, which can lead to greater engagement and self-awareness.

In Summary

Engaging online learners is a key factor for successful online education. Only by applying the strategies and tips discussed in this article, can  educators create interactive and meaningful learning experiences for their students.   Online learning does not have to be boring or passive; it can be fun, dynamic, and collaborative but it requires knowing the tools and technologies at your disposal, how to use and how to apply them in the right way to create that highly engaging and interactive online learning experience.

To enhance your online learning capabilities or acquire support managing and delivering your next technology project, contact a member of the ALX Training Team today via email at admin@alxtraining.com or by phone at +44 (0) 1534 873785.  Here’s to your growth, success, and contribution.

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