People like to hear themselves talk. I don’t mean that in a bad way. What I mean is that people like to express themselves and feel heard. Feeling heard helps us feel connected to the others we encounter, the people we interact with, and—here’s my point—the people we learn with. Connecting with the instructor/facilitator and the other students/participants plays a huge role in online class engagement. When you are the virtual instructor, make sure you are fostering this connection in your classes.
Your learners are not empty containers for you to fill with information. In adult learning, the learners are also teachers. Ask them to help you teach the class! Well, okay, maybe not literally like,
“Fonzarelli! Would you like to get up here and teach the class?”
But more like this:
“Amy, can you think of a way you might use [what we just learned] in your work?”
Often in my online software classes, I stop and ask this:
“Have any of you used [this concept or technique] in your projects? Raise your hand or give me a green check.”
Then I call on one of the participants who signaled yes, and I ask them to come off mute and say hello. Once their mic is working, I repeat the question and invite them to tell how they have used the [concept] in their projects. They typically share one or more really good examples, express some degree of enthusiasm for it, and/or have additional comments or suggestions.
After that—and this part is really important—I invite the class to respond to what they shared.
“Does anyone else do something similar?”
“What do you think, Eliana, could you use this in your projects?”
The result? The class members are engaged with one another as well as with me. Those who share their experiences feel heard and appreciated. (Did I mention thanking them for the concepts they shared?) The class benefits from hearing a broader range of examples than I might think of alone. And voices other than mine are heard over the audio connection, adding variety and interest to that dimension of the class.
Bonus points: If you are discussing a later topic in the class, and it relates to what a class member shared earlier, make sure to recall what the participant shared, mention it again, and tie it to the new topic. Doing this makes the class feel more dynamic and alive and less like a canned presentation. Once more, the participant feels heard and appreciated, and everyone gets a little more out of the class experience.
Jennie Ruby, CTT, COTP, is a veteran eLearning developer, trainer, and author. Jennie has an M.A. from George Washington University and is a Certified Technical Trainer and Certified Online Training Professional. She teaches both classroom and online courses, and has authored courseware, published training books, and developed content for countless eLearning projects. She is also a publishing professional with more than 30 years of experience in writing, editing, print publishing, and eLearning.