5 Facilitation Tips for More Engaging and Interactive Remote Learning

Man wearing a headset and smiling while looking at a laptop computer screen.
Even the best design can fall flat without expert facilitation. This week, I share five tips for facilitating remote learning that's more engaging and interactive.

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

Introduction

Rob is facilitating remote learning for the first time. He has taught the class in person dozens of times, so he’s confident the remote version will go smoothly. He signs in about five minutes early, just like he would if he were hosting a virtual meeting. He stays on mute until 8:00 on the dot, when he begins with a 10-minute introduction of his background before launching into the first lesson. Then he talks until 9:15, when he stops for a break before resuming his lecture 10 minutes later.

At 10:30, he breaks the class into breakout sessions for a group activity. When he drops in on the groups to see how they’re doing, he notices only one of the groups seems to be focused on the task. He hears them ask each other where to find the worksheet they’re supposed to use. Another group is completely silent, and the third is trying to figure out microphone issues.

How many problems have you spotted in this scenario? What do you think Rob could have done differently to avoid these problems? How do you think the participants in his session are feeling? Let’s dive into my five tips for facilitating remote learning and see how they could help.

Tip 1: Bring Your A-Game

Facilitating remote learning requires many of the same skills and behaviors as teaching face-to-face. Charisma matters! Virtual instruction may require even more energy to keep participants actively engaged and interested among the many distractions that compete with your class for their attention.

Follow these guidelines to make your remote learning feel more like face-to-face:

  • Dress professionally. At least from the waist up! (Seriously though, put on pants. You never know when you might have to jump up.) Make sure your clothing doesn’t strobe on camera. Avoid thin stripes, bright patterns, and white shirts.
  • Arrive early. Sign in 20 to 30 minutes early to test your equipment, get your materials prepared, and help participants with any technical issues.  
  • Reduce distractions. If possible, go into a separate room with the door closed. Sign out of email, and turn your phone on silent. Be mindful of your background. If you use a virtual background, test it before class, moving your hands to check for motion blur.
  • Greet participants as they arrive. Think of it as standing at your virtual classroom door. Greet each person individually. If you enable participants microphones at this point, this can also serve as an audio check for them.
  • Engage participants immediately. Consider displaying an interesting poll question as participants arrive to get them immediately interacting with you. This can be something related to the class content or just for fun.
  • Be enthusiastic and energetic in your delivery. Even though you can’t move around physically like you might in a classroom, you can use facial expressions and hand gestures to convey your passion for the topic you are teaching.
Sample Poll. Would you rather have... The job of your dreams but boss of your nightmares? Or the boss of your dreams but the job of your nightmares?

Tip 2: Ask Questions—Lots of Questions

With remote learning and the distractions that come with it, it’s more important than ever to provide many opportunities for participants to interact with you and each other. The longer they sit silently, the more likely they are to stay silent when you want them to speak up. 

Follow these guidelines for asking questions to keep everyone engaged:

  • Ask plenty of open-ended discussion questions. Open-ended questions require more than a one-word answer and require participants to think and engage with the subject matter. They are critical for deeper learning.
  • Be specific about how participants should answer. Specify whether they should enter a response in the chat panel, raise their hands, use emojis (such as a “thumbs up”), or unmute and answer aloud.
  • Wait. After asking a question, allow participants time to respond. They might need extra time to raise their hand, unmute, or type a response. When you’re faced with silence after asking a question, it may be tempting to fill that silence by answering the question yourself—but don’t. Wait at least 10 seconds. If you still don’t get a response, try rephrasing the question slightly. Then wait again! If necessary, call on a specific person to answer.
  • Repeat participants’ responses and questions posted in the chat. When reacting to answers posted in the chat, read the entire response aloud, rather than assuming participants saw it. When addressing questions from the chat or Q&A panel, read the question first before providing the answer.
  • Use emojis. When yes/no questions are appropriate, ask participants to use emojis (if available) to convey their answers, such as “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” or “happy” and “sad” reactions. Remind participants to use the reaction emojis frequently. It can be disconcerting to tell a joke in a virtual class when everyone is on mute and you don’t know if it falls flat.
  • Manage audio. Make sure participants are muted when they are not speaking. An assistant can unmute participants if needed for class discussions or asking questions.

Tip 3: Don't Overshare

When sharing a presentation or document, it is best to share the particular application you’re using, such as PowerPoint or Word (if possible), rather than your entire screen. This uses less bandwidth and reduces distractions, such as emails or other messages popping up on the screen.

If you have to share your entire desktop, declutter it, shut down email, and exit any messaging applications.

When sharing a document, zoom in to enlarge it, and ask participants to share a “thumbs up” or happy emoji if they can read it comfortably or a “thumbs down” or sad emoji if they cannot.

Tip 4: Give 'Em a Break

If your session is on the long side, give participants a break after an hour or so. Use these guidelines for managing breaks effectively:

When going on break, provide a visual cue of how much time participants have. For example:

  • Display a countdown timer such as this FREE five-minute PowerPoint timer.
  • Share a whiteboard screen with the time to return typed onto it.
  • Share a poll question that says something like “Break until 10:15. Respond ‘yes’ when you return.” 

Ask participants to stop sharing video and stay muted while they are on break. (You should do the same!)

When returning from a break, ask participants to share a “thumbs up” status or other emoji to indicate that they are back. Alternatively, display a fun poll question that they answer when they come back from break.  

Be sure to start back on time! This will the tone for the rest of the class and help hold participants accountable for returning on time.

A producer or assistant can help manage breaks.

Tip 5: Don't Hog the Mic

Remember, your learners bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the class. They will get more out of your session if they’re allowed to work together and learn from one another.

Use breakout rooms to allow participants to work together on structured activities or discussions. Be sure to provide clear and detailed instructions before beginning breakout sessions, so participants know exactly what is expected.

If the virtual platform you use does not have breakout room capabilities, consider setting up a learner group within your learning management system or a social media platform that’s approved for use by your organization.

If participants are working on independent activities in the main room, be sure to mute yourself unless you need to speak to them.

Summary

Let’s go back to the scenario we began with. If I were coaching Rob, here are some things I’d advise:

  • Arriving five minutes before class starts you off on the wrong foot. First, you’re not available to greet people as they arrive. Second, you can’t help participants troubleshoot any technical issues. And third, it doesn’t set a good tone for participants to show up and wonder where the instructor is—or if they’re in the right place.
  • Beginning on time is important. However, by not speaking until the session’s start time, you miss out on valuable opportunities for rapport building and informal conversations —the kind that happen naturally in face-to-face classes.
  • Unless you have a truly compelling story, spending 10 minutes to introduce yourself is not an effective way to begin a class. This is when you need to grab learners’ attention, help them see how the course will help them solve their real-life problems, and get them interacting with each other.
  • Rather than spending 2.5 hours lecturing, consider moving some content into asynchronous eLearning. (And consider whether it needs to be in a course at all.) When participants sit passively for this long without being asked to engage, they might be “checked out” by the time you ask them to participate.
  • Be very clear about instructions before breaking out for small group work. It’s a great idea to check in with the groups as they’re working, and if you find that they’re struggling, help them out!

Use the five tips I’ve presented in this post for facilitating remote learning, along with the five planning and design tips shared last week, to create and conduct virtual learning experiences that engage, inspire, and make a lasting impact.

5 Facilitation Tips for More Engaging and Interactive Remote Learning. Bring your A-game. Ask questions—lots of questions. Don't overshare. Give 'em a break. Don't hog the mic.

Weigh In!

What advice would you give Rob in our scenario? What tips for facilitating remote learning have worked best for you? Post a comment below.

Resources

We’ve made all 10 Tips for More Engaging & Interactive Remote Learning available as a FREE eBook. Download your copy here

Also check out these articles for more information:

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