How to optimize online training

As an instructor that has provided classroom and online training, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the features and functionality built into modern Web-based platforms.

I started my career as a classroom teacher at an Alternative High School for at-risk youth. There is no greater challenge, as a teacher, than to face a classroom full of students on a daily basis with little-to-no interest in learning what you have to teach. Developing creative ways to engage my students while assessing their body language and non-verbal cues was no small feat. With this particular audience, instructor-student engagement in a classroom setting was essential.

So, a few years later when I had the opportunity to teach online courses at the University level, I was, understandably, anxious about the level of interaction I would have with my students and my ability to assess their engagement or learning via online training. I’m a “people person” by nature and like to make eye contact and evaluate posture when I’m speaking with someone. So, the thought of providing instruction to a cohort of 30 students over my laptop was perplexing. I learned quickly that there are a number of platforms and strategies for engaging students online, which I’ll share shortly. But, I also realized it is imperative to know your audience. Students who are driven to earn college credits and attend online courses that work best for their schedules, work/life commitments, or learning styles, are much more willing to be engaged in the content than my former high school students would have been.

Similarly, in my current role as a corporate trainer, I recognize similar patterns of behavior. When content is delivered as a webinar or one-way presentation, people tend to zone out, multi-task, or click through to the assessment to check a box and confirm they’ve attended their required trainings. However, if you are trying to convey a new concept, improve a skill, or train on a new program or practice, it is important that learners are fully engaged in the content. Knowing your audience and adjusting your content for their desired outcomes and key learning objectives is imperative for developing successful online training.

Here are a few tips to help you deliver engaging online training courses:

Start with a question

Open your online session with a question to engage your audience. Rather than diving straight into the lesson, encourage active participation so your audience will know there are opportunities to engage. If nobody speaks up, you can always call on attendees by reviewing the participant list. Nobody likes to be put on the spot, but if you establish ground rules up front and let your class know that you may be calling on them at random if the discussion wanes online, participants tend to remain engaged throughout the session.

Check for understanding

Unlike in-person instruction, you do not have the opportunity to check for visual cues. You can’t see learners nodding their heads as they comprehend the content, or looking at you quizzically if they are confused. So, it is important to pause often and confirm learner understanding. There are tools built into online training platforms today which allow you to conduct a quick poll or break participants into small chat rooms where you can listen in to their discussions. In addition to tools to check for understanding, you can also leverage online collaboration technologies to allow learners to work together on a document and edit each other’s work for peer-to-peer engagement to help learners understand core concepts.

Break down the session into sub-sections

It is difficult to maintain a learner’s attention online, because there are so many distractions when you cannot control the classroom environment. It is also challenging to present dynamic content for an entire hour. So, as you design your curriculum, it is helpful to break it into smaller sections. A good rule of thumb is to follow the “10:2 rule.” That is, build in two minutes of engagement (polls, discussion, peer break-outs) for every ten minutes of instruction. This helps break up a long lecture, ensures that learners are engaged multiple times throughout the session, and provides the opportunity for learners to raise flags if they are not understanding the content so you can adjust accordingly.

Of course, every audience and subject matter requires a delicate balance between content delivery, learner engagement, and assessment. If you would like help developing online training curriculum or recommendations for improving interactivity, visit The Odigo Group or contact us at contact@theodigogroup.com.


Eddie Mulcahy

As the co-founder of The Odigo Group, Eddie Mulcahy is an experienced and effective program management consultant with experience across multiple industries, including education, human services, technology, and the non-profit sector. With an advanced degree in education, a certified counseling credential, and an innovation training certification, he is able to effectively communicate with clients and colleagues to build unified, high-performing teams. Eddie is able to effectively drive multi-faceted projects with multiple stakeholders while balancing budget, timeline, and scope constraints by keeping lines of communication open with vendors, suppliers, and project owners. His ability to effectively relate to the people behind a project enables him to quickly identify client needs, develop solutions to address their requirements, and deliver effective solutions using streamlined communications, while increasing overall team productivity and ensuring client satisfaction.

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