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Virtual Facilitator Training Part 4: Using Polls and Activities To Meet Participant Needs

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.

pollI 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.

Please Discuss

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.

QR Codes to the Rescue

I think a lot about performance support tools and how to integrate them into the environment so that they are available at the time of need. Lately I’ve been thinking about how strategically placed QR codes could serve as a vehicle for performance support.

I discovered the perfect opportunity to test this out.

My favorite pizzeria stocks games for patrons to play. My son was attracted to the Candy Land game so we got all the pieces out to get started, but there were no instructions. This is the case with many of the games there. The instructions get lost. After searching for a while on my phone I was able to locate official rules for Candy Land so we could set up.

It occurred to me then that QR codes could be a handy performance support tool. Patrons could use their phones to scan the code and be directed to the official rules. I went home to test out my idea. I used the Kaywa QR Code generator to create this QR code:

Scan the code for official Candy Land Rules

This was the first right answer. Next I needed to challenge my idea to make sure I wasn’t just finding a use for my new toy. What were some of the other possibilities?

  1. Could we just print the instructions and tape them to the inside of the box? This could work for a while, but eventually they would tear or come out and get lost again. Printing and reprinting costs could be an issue because they have about 50 games in stock  and most instruction sheets are at least 2 pages.
  2. Could we “ruggedize” the instructions? What if we printed and laminated the instructions so they wouldn’t be accidentally thrown away or damaged? They could still get separated and would require maintenance to reunite lost instructions with the game. Lamination costs would be an issue.
Advantages of the QR Code:
  • It is relatively small and can be securely fixed to the game box with packing tape, making it low maintenance and sustainable.
  • You can fit about 6-8 QR codes to each printed page, reducing printing costs by about 93%.
  • The code can take the user to a page with rules in English and Spanish.
  • The pizzeria uses a QR code-based loyalty program called Punchd, so most patrons will already have experience scanning QR codes.
Disadvantages of the QR Code:
  • The urls for the web-based instructions could change unexpectedly.
  • Not everyone has a smart phone.
  • Some patrons might not have experience scanning QR codes.

My feeling at this point was that the QR codes were the way to go. The next step was to approach the owner of the shop and volunteer to code a few of the most popular games as a pilot to see if patrons used them and appreciated them.

The owners loved the idea! We now have codes in place for Candy Land, Monopoly, and Connect Four. We’ll be adding a few at a time until all of the games are coded. I’ll post updates as the feedback comes in.

Has anyone else found a way to use QR codes to support performance? I’d love to hear how you used them.

Please Use Both Hands

When I look at this photo two things come to mind:

  1. How nice to have a job aid when and where you need it to help you figure out what you are doing wrong so you can do it right.
  2. How lame to use a job aid to compensate for the fact that you have a crappy design. The designer thinks the real problem is that people only use one hand. Let’s use a job aid to change everyone’s behavior instead of adapting the design to real human behavior.

More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve witnessed this kind of behavior in the learning profession. We try to force behavior patterns that aren’t natural so that the great learning activity we designed will work properly. When we try to do this we are wasting everyone’s time, and unnecessarily stressing out the poor facilitator who is trying to make it work.

So what does this have to do with virtual learning? Everything.

I teach a virtual class at work called Interactive Virtual Facilitation. In the class we discuss the challenges of transitioning from the physical classroom to virtual. Overwhelmingly, participants are highly concerned about participants multitasking during the session. They want to know how to stop them. You can’t really.

There are elements you can incorporate into your design to make it “must-see-TV” so they don’t want to multitask:

  1. Make sure that your visuals are dynamic from the beginning. If the visual flow is quick and interesting they will be reluctant to switch screens because they might miss something. Don’t spend five minutes on your first visual. (Or any visual.) It’s boring. It sets the expectation of a visually static experience for the next 60-90 minutes.
  2. Use and vary the channels of participation early and often. Find a way to involve the audience immediately by having them physically manipulate the tools. Do this as people are logging into the platform. Ask everyone to answer a poll question, or draw a picture. This is a great way to capture information about the audience before the session begins. (Place an X on your location on the map. Put a check mark on the topic you are most excited about today. Place an X on the scale to show how you would rate you expertise in this area.) This also sets an expectation of participation from the very beginning.
  3. Harness their need to wander by asking them to do a quick Google search to find resources to share and paste the URLs in the chat channel.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the chat channel, and for goodness sake, don’t turn it off. If they are chatting about the content, they aren’t checking email or finishing a Sudoku. Sure, it’s the digital equivalent of passing notes in class, but it is also a great way for them to spontaneously share resources with each other and network. You can also ask them to answer a question in chat, take a pulse to see if the pacing is good, or anything else you can imagine.
  5. Create activities that allow audience members to share expertise and compare different ways of thinking or doing things.
  6. Don’t show bulleted lists for a topic. They will read the bullets and not listen to you. Or worse, they will think “This is ridiculous, I’ll just read the slides later when they are posted. What’s in my inbox?” Show the topic and ask the audience to write what they think should be on the list. You can guide the conversation to include items that were not added.

What other ways can you think of to harness the learner’s natural behavior and make it work for you in the Virtual Learning Space?