Creating an Effective Learning Atmosphere in the Virtual Realm
As trainers we often spend so much time focusing on the content of a training that we forget about the importance of setting up a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. Creating an atmosphere where participants feel safe allows them to focus on the content and engage in their learning. This is especially hard to achieve online. Here are a few tips to help create an effective learning atmosphere for your class:
Introductions are a crucial part of any training because we set our expectations for the rest of the class based off these short moments. During introductions it is important to make a connection with each participant. For example, when a participant introduces themselves to the class and says they have a dog – ask them what kind of dog it is. This is a great way to show the participants that you are listening to them and interested in what they have to say. Sometimes introductions can be rigid and structured, try inviting the other participants to make connections too, say something like “if someone says something in their introductions that appeals to you, feel free to speak up so you can make a connection, or if you prefer you can also talk with them during the break or in the chat.” This keeps participants engaged in listening to each other’s introductions.
Music and Movement
This one sounds a little funny, but it works surprisingly well to get participants more comfortable during the training. If you are able to play music in the waiting room of the online class or the beginning of class, you can start setting the atmosphere before the class even starts. Once participants are used the music, invite them to share their music with the class. Radio.garden is a fun website to listen to local radio stations from around the world. Sometimes I ask participants to show me where they are from and we listen to the radio station from there. Sitting at a computer is more difficult than it sounds, take a dance break to help liven things up.
During some Bridging the Gap classes participants would have a potluck when trainings were in person, but how can we transfer this to the online realm? One idea is to invite participants to wear traditional dress one day. It may also be fun to do spirit days, such as costumes for Halloween or everyone’s favorite sports teams. This is a great way for the participants to learn a bit more about each other and each other’s individual and cultural backgrounds. If appropriate you could also do a warmup activity like a show and tell of objects that are important to them or relevant to their cultures. Spending time on activities like this is what makes a class better than just reading a textbook or mindlessly clicking through a self-paced online training.
Family and Pets
Our first reaction as facilitators may be to ask participants to stay in a quiet place and avoid having pets or children around as they may become a distraction, but for many people this is not possible. Instead of seeing it as a distraction, we can see it as an opportunity to have the class create deeper connections with each other. Have participants introduce their pets, especially active pets who may join the class multiple times. This will cut down on the distraction in the long run. Also have participants introduce their children, especially younger ones who may join the class from time to time. This will cut down on the distraction in the long run as well.
I know it’s hard to find time for all of these tips in one class, after all, there is still the content of the course to be delivered, but taking just a little bit of time at the beginning of class to set up the expectations and to help participants connect will take your training from another online training to “the best online training”.
These tips and many more are covered during the Bridging the Gap Training of Trainers. Join us!
Language Access Programs Director
The Cross Cultural Health Care Program