eRevolution: Take One

Setting the stage for a stellar eFacilitation.

One of the most dynamic and engaging facilitators I know relies greatly on his “stage presence” and ability to read the non-verbal communication cues of the learner. He can be fluid and align the content and his facilitation style to the individual needs of the group. I ran into him after his first foray into virtual facilitation. He had hesitantly agreed to do a Web-based version of a sales class for a group of new hires who were based in several locations. He had so many technical issues; participants had trouble logging in, there was a long delay in the slide presentation, the Webcam placement had viewers looking straight up his nose…but even worse than that, he had no engagement. He felt as if he had spoken into the black abyss and heard nothing back but his own echoes—literally his own echoes as one of the participants had not muted his speakerphone. Exasperated, he threw up his hands and said, “I am not ready for this eRevolution in learning!”

My colleague is not alone in his feelings about the move to virtual facilitation, or eFacilitation.

With the advancement of technology, streamlined costs, and global considerations, dynamic and engaging eFacilitation has become an essential element for the success of many training initiatives. During the last 20 years, there has been a 73 percent increase in online learning opportunities for U.S. based employees (Berger, Roland “Corporate Learning Goes Digital - How companies can benefit from online education,” 2014). In 2014 alone, 29 percent of overall training hours were delivered with blended learning methods, and 15 percent were delivered solely via virtual classroom. These numbers are expected to increase more than 13 percent over the next two years (Pappas, Christopher “Top eLearning Statistics and Facts for 2015,” 2015, http://elearningindustry.com/elearning-statistics-and-facts-for-2015). For facilitators, this can be a moment to shine, but making the transition to eFacilitation can be difficult when you do not have a technology background. In this case, think of the virtual event much like directing and starring in an improvisational play production. Succumb to stage fright—fail to develop and fine-tune eFacilitation skills—and you could miss the show.

Just as in the classroom or meeting room, the most important role of the eFacilitator is to model effective facilitation—to contribute knowledge and insights, weave together various course components, and maintain group harmony. As the director, keep in mind there are four main conditions in a virtual event that must be maintained:

  • Guide student learning with a focus on concepts, principles, and skills.
  • Create a welcoming online community in which learning is promoted.
  • Handle organizational, procedural, and administrative tasks.
  • Assist participants to become comfortable with the technologies used to deliver the course.

(Berge, Z.L” Facilitating Computer Conferencing: Recommendations From the Field,” 2005)

In order to battle any stage fright about eFacilitation, think of successfully meeting these conditions in terms developing the story, setting the scene, and rehearsing for opening night.

Develop the Story

How do your specific training goals and objectives fit into the big picture? Know the mission, vision, and values of the initiative and how they align with the diverse backgrounds of your cast, crew, and audience.

  • Ensure a virtual learning environment is appropriate for the content and audience context.Understand the motivation of the audience. What do they need to think, feel, or do, and why is it or will it be important for them? How familiar are they with online learning, the content, each other? Find unifying threads and develop relevant content, interactions, and activities.
  • Understand the motivation of the audience. What do they need to think, feel, or do, and why is it or will it be important for them? How familiar are they with online learning, the content, each other? Find unifying threads and develop relevant content, interactions, and activities.
  • Understand what type of managerial or administrative support you will need for a successful outcome. Ensure that learners know where to go, how to get there, and what they need to have with them. Use as many communication tools as possible.

Set the Scene

Storyboards are wonderful tools that help you create a visual representation of your class material. They force you to think through all of the logistics of your Web-based class. Not only can you determine the flow of the information, but you can determine what visual aids, engagements, and other enhancements you might need for a successful opening night.

Determine Your Supporting Cast

Will you need IT or administrative support? Are you co-facilitating or allowing for a moderator? Make sure to include essential cast in all communications, rehearsals, and pilots.

Select the Stage Set-Up

  • What technologies are available to you allow for engagements and interactions within the context of the learning objectives?
  • Make sure all technology you use is compatible with your virtual platform.
  • Vary the interactions to keep learners engaged in the class. Use a good mix of interactions, multimedia, chat, message board, and gamification.

Character Development

  • Consider how you can enhance the learning community:
  • Provide a rally, “Welcome Session,” or pre-work that makes sure you and the learners are all comfortable with the technology.
  • Engage learners by utilizing shared resources, such as message boards and social media.

Stage Design

Graphics and Text: Keep in mind that graphics should be relevant and support learning rather than distract the audience. There are tons of resources, including templates, on the Internet to help you design an effective and interactive virtual learning event.

  • Use simple backgrounds and avoid text-heavy slides.
  • Use shapes or other graphics to display ideas.
  • Text should be in easy-to-read fonts and sizes.
  • Limit fly-ins and other text animation options.

Video or linked elements: Use caution—technical difficulties in launching video, podcast recordings, or linked elements can derail your event. Check these elements before every event.

  • Consider using video elements at the beginning or end of the event as not to interrupt the flow should there be any technical issues—have a back-up plan
  • Web addresses can be listed in handouts or in supporting documentation online
  • Use screen captures of Websites and add them into the event rather than attempting live connections before an audience

Rehearsal

Attempt a full dress rehearsal. Schedule practice time and a pilot with your support partners. Elicit the help of a mock audience and practice with the technology you will be using in the live event. This type of rehearsal allows you to:

  • Locate difficulties with the flow that you did not notice when writing and editing.
  • Locate areas where you can increase or decrease your energy level to enhance the learning.
  • Take notes on areas where you can increase or decrease the amount of time spent on a subject to keep learners engaged.
  • Increase your confidence with the content, activities, and technology.

Practicing and piloting your event in the delivery platform will familiarize you with any limitations, tools, and positioning that might distract the learners.

Take notes and document timing: Don’t hesitate to stop yourself in the middle of your rehearsal to jot down ideas as they come to you. Capture internal feelings immediately.

Experiment: Try out different voices, camera angles, or staging. Vary the approach to interactions and enhancements. Give yourself confidence knowing that these sections build engagement with learners and the learning community.

Insert planned pauses: Insert planned pauses or delays when you expect the audience to respond or interact to provide an accurate timing estimate.

Record: A video recording of you speaking is a powerful tool. It can help you gauge many delivery qualities, including speaking tempo, pitch, and pauses. All of your habits—both good and bad—are captured.

On the day of the show, get there early and make sure all technology elements are properly working. Experiment with microphone and camera placement. Place your storyboards in front of you to stay on course but allow for the same flexibility and fluidity needed to reach learners. Most important, be your dynamic self. Successful and stellar eFacilitation relies on the level of personalization and connection you make with your audience. Break a leg!

Shelly Jones is a learning consultant for Signature Worldwide Business and Training Solutions, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.

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