Every new class you facilitate will have a different demographic. It is important to understand who is “in the room” so you can gauge your instruction to the participants’ needs. An excellent way to do this is to use polls and activities to find out where your participants are and what they want out of the session.
Expect that in any given session…
- Some participants will be novices who are just beginning to learn the topic.
- Some may have intermediate experience with the content.
- Some may even be on a path to becoming an expert.
I like to use a poll at the very beginning of the session to get a sense of the balance in the class. I may ask for their level of expertise, or even their job role so I have a better understanding of how they might want to use the content. Once I have a idea of who the audience is I can decide where I want to put more emphasis.
I can also determine if I have audience members who are not in the target audience. If this is the case I can quickly help them decide if this is the right place for them to be right now based on what they want to get out of the experience. Adult learners want to feel like their time is well spent and will often “vote with their feet” by opting out if they realize this is not the class for them. I never take this personally. In fact, I always give learners permission to leave if the session doesn’t seem like the right fit.
Activities can be used to gauge understanding or to allow participants to ask for more explanation. One way I like to do this is with “X” and “check mark” annotations. In this example I listed the topics in a module and asked participants to place the “check mark” on items they would like to discuss further. I asked them to put on “X” on topics they felt they understood well and did not need to spend time.
Giving this level of control over content and how time is spent gives your learners the ability to shape the session. If they have ownership over what happens, they will be more engaged.
I also feel that this gives the facilitator more credibility with the participants because it demonstrates concern about what the participants feel is important. The facilitator becomes a partner in the learning rather than being the sole driver of learning.
Don’t discount how participants feel about the topic. (Stick with me for a second, I promise I won’t make you learn how to develop a virtual hugging technique.)
How participants feel about the content and their ability to apply it will affect their ability to learn it. Ask them up front how they feel. Make it safe to say they are skeptical. Ask them what challenges they think they might have making this work back on the job.
If you are willing to “get real” with them and address these concerns up front, they will feel more comfortable asking authentic questions later. The alternative? If a participant is resistant in the beginning and has difficulty connecting to the content, he will be resistant to learning it.
What ways do you meet participant needs in the virtual classroom?
How do you do it in the physical classroom? Share in the comments if you’d like to brainstorm how to transform a technique you use face-to-face into something you can use virtually.