Our experience is showing that a really good instructor can usually overcome the deficiencies that may exist in a multi-platform training program's curriculum or its delivery mechanism. Moreover, unfortunately, even the strongest program can be undermined if the instruction is inadequate. The instructor is a critical make-or-break element in any connected classroom – and an element that can sometimes be undervalued when a training program becomes too narrowly focused on the program's technology.
What makes for instructor excellence in multi-platform training? Our observations of the ways leading organizations implement our 4,000-plus ILT courses reveals that excellent instructors – those who keep the learners engaged throughout the class's duration and capitalize fully on the program's technology features – have three essential skills.
They are must-have skills because it’s no easy task to manage the training of the learners in the classroom, as well as those connected remotely through one of the many conferencing technologies being deployed today. The instructor – let’s call her a facilitator – has to meet the needs of everyone in this diverse group.
The essential skills:
The facilitator in a connected classroom has to embody the versatility of a one-man band, the energy of a whirling dervish, and the agility of a circus juggler who keeps all the balls in the air. She has to be sure that all the learners, no matter where they are, can see what they need to see, hear what they need to hear, say what they need to say and do what they need to do.
To make all this possible, she sets up the classroom so she can roam the room freely to communicate with and monitor the progress of every learner. Whether physically present or virtually, she has a whiteboard in front of the room and her workstation is in the back. Her presentation computer has several monitors attached to it. One of them displays student video feeds. Another is an interactive display in front of the room whose monitor the facilitator can highlight and mark up so all the learners -- in the room and at remote locations -- can see what’s happening.
The facilitator, who wears a wireless mic, can use the interactive display through a wireless tablet and pen as she moves around the room. There’s also a monitor at her workstation that she uses for private chats to answer students’ questions. This monitor also lets her view and retrieve her teaching notes, open files, display slides that enliven and provide further clarity on the content she delivers, and launch presentations and external resources that she’s incorporating in the course.
Some of the students are using print manuals, while others are viewing their manuals on e-book readers and tablets. The remote students have webcams mounted on their computers to give them a visual presence in the class. Those in the classroom are logged into those same conference tools even though they’re onsite. Both groups of learners interact with each other through collaboration tools such as online messaging and polling devices. There can be additional cameras to provide the remote students with a wide view of activities in the classroom.
Managing this octopus-like mix of technologies requires a high level of multitasking ability. Not every instructor has it.
2. Managing Glitches
The more sophisticated the technology being used, the greater the possibility that there will be a glitch during the program. The facilitator shouldn't be expected to be ready to manage every possible problem. She should, however, be ready to deal with the most common possible mishaps.
Among the most common ones are:
- The learners are unable to connect to the classroom session. We advise facilitators to ask that the learners test their ability to connect before the day of the class. Facilitators or staff working for them should follow up with the remote students before class to remind them to do this.
- The remote learners are finding it hard to arrange windows and navigate the Web conferencing software. It’s helpful to provide students with a step-by-step guide on setting up and configuring. The exact procedure will depend on the Web conferencing software and collaboration tools being used to host the class.
- Losing communication or the session connection partway through the class. There can be different reasons for this, including a power outage, break in communication lines, router failure, etc. The facilitator has to act quickly to determine what the problem is and get the class back on track. It’s a good idea to establish at least one form of alternate connection with each student in advance so they can all be informed if something untoward happens.
Even with the best of preparation, some glitches are unavoidable. A good facilitator is able to recover quickly from such common problems, has thought through and documented various “scripts” for resolving the more common problems quickly, and can quickly think on her feet to communicate a solution to students when something unanticipated occurs.
Experienced facilitators understand that they need a dry run of the technology before the actual class begins so they can identify possible glitches in advance. Facilitators who are able to think on their feet are the ones best able to deal with glitches.
3. The “Sixth Sense”
Within the classroom and at remote sites, even the most highly motivated learners can become distracted. What's more, even though they may look like they understand the instruction, some of the students might not be keeping up. The best facilitators anticipate these problems. They have a sixth sense that helps them identify these learners -- including those at remote sites.
A practiced facilitator can spot problems at remote sites by carefully noting who isn’t participating or has a bored-looking facial expression or a dispirited voice. Webcam is invaluable for helping her do this. Even a flat webcam image is more revealing than audio, which itself tells her more than texting does.
It’s best if all the participants have a webcam and headset so they can interact with each other. Indeed, using Web conferencing technologies in the local classroom improves the learning experience of even the onsite students because the instructor can broadcast her computer displays to every learner's screen. This can provide the students with a better view than a projected image in front of the room does.
Moreover, in-class polling, messaging and questioning tools can give the quieter learners a chance to be heard even though they might hesitate to call out a response audibly in a room full of learners. Without intruding, the facilitator can learn from students’ screens how well they are following the instruction. Once she senses that a significant number of people aren’t getting it, she stops and changes course – possibly going to the whiteboard to use a new way to get the content across.
Expert facilitators improve the learners’ attention level by establishing a sense of community for them. She asks them to introduce themselves at the start of the class and share their experience and their goals for the session. She encourages the learners to interact and ask questions of the entire group during individual practice exercises. She doesn’t let more than two minutes go by without involving the learners in an exercise – and does it immediately when she sees attention flagging.
She employs breakout sessions where the teams complete learning activities and report on their conclusions when the full class reconvenes. She makes active use of the technology’s "raise hand" button for surveys. She maintains liveliness by segueing from the surveys into discussions, using text messaging, telephone conferencing or integrated IP telephone services provided by the Web conferencing tool.
She also asks the learners to use the raise hand button to indicate when they’ve finished a learning activity so she knows who’s ahead in the learning and who’s behind. She encourages the students who finish early to help those who are behind.
The expert facilitator maintains continual display of each learner's video feed in the room and on the shared screen. When individual learners speak for an extended period, such as in the introductions activity, she zooms their video feed to full size, if only simply to create a change that helps keep things lively. She encourages the learners to use the chat system to convey private messages to her and the other learners – and especially to send her a private chat message if they’re having trouble keeping up.
Throughout the session, the instructor keeps the class engaged by telling stories that present the curriculum in a more engaging way. Everyone loves a story. It does more than help maintain everyone’s involvement. A well-delivered story can demonstrate the facilitator’s humanity and commonality with the students in a highly effective way.
Facilitation for Everyone?
Every organization has to do more with less. Classroom-only training can't begin to provide the learning that businesses need to remain competitive because the cost of travel, meals and accommodations take too large a chunk from the training budget. Self-paced e-learning and other forms of self-study have begun to look attractive -- but too many have not fulfilled their promise. Multi-platform training is now generally recognized as the far more effective solution.
Multi-platform training requires a high level of skills, however. Many classroom trainers have learned these additional skills and are providing highly effective facilitation. Others aren't able to bridge the gap. It’s sometimes said that the trainers who have these skills should become facilitators in the connected classroom and those who don’t should become course designers. This sounds like an ideal approach.
Bill Rosenthal is chief executive officer of Logical Operations, Inc., www.logicaloperations.com, a 30-year-old business that provides next-generation expert-facilitated multi-platform learning systems. Its 4,000-plus courses, offered in 23 languages, cover six major skills areas: user productivity, networking and security, Web development and mobile programming, design and media, and project management/other IT/workplace skills. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written for TrainingIndustry.com