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The way we work and teach has changed. Sticky notes have been replaced with collaborative digital tools and coffee chats with breakout rooms at Zoom. We're not interrupting, we're clicking the raise hand icon. We no longer exchange looks, we shift our focus from window to window.
There is a consensus among executives and educators: "It's not the same." The biggest complaint with remote workshops is the lack of engagement. Are our participants even paying attention? So many non-verbal cues are lost when we switch from a personal setting to an online environment. How can we make sure our learners are engaged and interested behind the screen?
To address this problem, I use Robert Gagne's 9 instructional events, which are adapted for a remote environment.
1. Get attention
Gagne identified the mental conditions for learning in his book Conditions of Learning, first published in 1965 and of great relevance to educational designers to this day. The first of the nine events is "getting attention," and it seems obvious when we think about it. If you can't get your attendees' attention, why should they want to hear what you have to say in the first place?
This principle can easily be applied to remote workshops. For example, introduce a topic with a thought-provoking question, or pique participants' curiosity about an interesting story or problem. At this stage, the key is to surprise them, involve them, and even add an icebreaker if necessary. This works best when your workshop is actually completely removed. With half of your team sitting together and the other half away, make sure each person logs in from their own computer. The best thing to do is to make sure that everyone is involved and that no one is left behind. Now that you have their attention, they are ready to listen to you.
Related: 5 Professional Icebreakers You Can Do Remotely
2. Let your audience know about the goals
If you managed to excite your audience, well done. The next step is to manage expectations. This is often overlooked, even under typical circumstances, which greatly affects how engaging and meaningful the experience is. What will your participants learn? What can you achieve by the end of the session? How will this training benefit you? What is their required performance if it directly affects their work? Make sure you provide this information, as well as examples, so that everyone clearly understands what is expected of them. This is especially important if you are conducting a remote workshop. As long as your learners understand the benefits and risks, they will be more motivated and receptive to the training.
3. Stimulate recall from previous learning
New information is not easy to understand, and it can easily demotivate your learners when the subject is completely unfamiliar. Learning something new can be especially overwhelming in a remote setting that many people may not feel comfortable in (not to mention the dreaded delays). An easy way to address this problem is to ask your learners about their previous experience. How do you understand related information? If you've covered the same topic in previous workshops, make sure they can relate to previous concepts. Ask them questions, take a pop quiz, and make it fun.
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4. Present the content
Now you can teach. Various learning strategies and approaches can be used in this phase. However, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind when doing remote workshops. Present the information in small chunks and implement frequent breaks. Zoom fatigue is real. No matter how attractive your topic is, you will lose your audience's attention if you present too long. Keep your materials varied with the help of videos, texts, images and practical examples. Make sure your learners are involved, not just you speaking. Ask them to discuss the topic, include activities, and encourage everyone to ask questions. Tools like zoom breakout rooms or digital whiteboards can help you make the workshop more interactive.
5. Provide learning guidance
This step is critical to all distance learning activities. When people interact face to face it is natural to ask for additional guidance. In a remote workshop, you need to put extra effort into being present and giving appropriate learning instructions. For example, if you are doing an icebreaking activity that requires a specific tool, make sure everyone understands how to use it. Give examples each time you can. When dividing your audience into groups and breakout rooms, do the same thing as you would in person: switch between groups and help them complete the activities they need. The last thing you want is for your learners to feel unsupported, especially if they are unfamiliar with the technical tools.
6. Request (practice) performance
Give your audience the opportunity to apply what they have learned. This often means doing homework for them in a remote setting and getting off the computer well deservedly. If the activity requires your learners to be in the same environment together, consider planning a separate session. While it is easy to host a one-day event in person, it cannot be done remotely. Don't force your attendees to sit in front of the computer for hours. You need to adapt your training to distant circumstances.
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7. Provide feedback
Once your learners have tried to apply what they have learned, they need feedback. Feedback is most effective when it is immediate, personalized, and detailed. If you are unable to provide feedback during the session, be sure to provide written feedback on assignments or tasks. Combine your contributions with peer evaluation and self-assessment. For example, you can provide a self-assessment form before going into the task at hand in the following session.
8. Evaluate the performance
How effective was your training? You can only answer this question by measuring the success of the learning outcomes. To do this, you need to evaluate the performance of your audience. Depending on the workshop objectives, there are different ways to measure the impact of the training. Written reviews can help us understand the progress and general understanding of a particular topic, but are often not enough. Especially in a remote environment where it is easy to search for information online, we often face the dilemma of memorizing or understanding something or applying for a job. Make sure you have the right goals so you can gauge the real performance and impact of your training on your audience.
9. Improve retention and transmission
The purpose of a workshop is so that your audience (team, company, client) can apply what they have learned to real-life situations and improve their performance or skills based on the newly acquired knowledge. An effective training program focuses on performance and facilitates retention and transfer in the workplace. At the end of your workshop, your participants should feel ready and empowered to apply what they have learned on their own. Present practical examples to your learners and let them practice in the safe space of your workshop. Repetition, recall, feedback, and practice are vital in this process. If there is reference material that will be helpful in your learners' day-to-day assignments, be sure to provide them.
By applying Gagne's nine-step model to a remote workshop, you can create an effective, engaging, and meaningful training program. The Gagne framework can also be used in combination with other methods and common training models. A training program is only successful when learning takes place. For learning to take place, we need to understand the science behind how people learn and apply those principles to each context. This is the heart of our new remote digital-first environment.