Top tips for becoming a better virtual learner

Have you and your learners transitioned to the virtual world kicking and screaming or with joy in your hearts, asks trainer and coach Jackie Clifford? She shares her five top tips to help make online learning more effective and engaging.

As a trainer, facilitator and coach, I would never have imagined hearing myself saying ‘actually, I think there are massive benefits to a virtual way of learning’. But since transitioning my face-to-face workshops online, and being part of many sessions as a learner too, I’ve definitely changed my view.

The following tips for virtual learning are from my own experience as both a trainer and as a participant. I hope you find them useful and are inspired to add many of your own. 

1. Be fully present

When you’re attending a virtual session, do your best to remove distractions. This mode of learning is much more dependant on individuals getting themselves into the right headspace for learning. When we’re in a training room, the trainer can set the scene, create a climate which is about learning rather than the day job and, to some extent, control the environment in which the group is working. When every participant is in a different setting, this isn’t possible.

Things to consider:

  • Find a room where you can be away from others and put a notice on the door requesting not to be disturbed. If this isn’t possible, let your loved ones and space-sharers know that you’re going to be attending a learning event and ask that they try not to distract you
  • Turn off as many devices and applications/programmes as possible. You might be using a range of devices/platforms for the learning so try to only have these open and available
  • Take more notes. Whether this be electronically or on paper. I have definitely found taking notes on paper keeps me more engaged. I’ve been trying to take more visual notes as well – this seems to get a different part of my brain working
  • Participate in the group exercises and chat, whether these be typed or verbal

2. Set yourself some learning objectives

I’d recommend this in whatever space you’re learning. In the virtual world if you have your personal objectives at the forefront of your mind, you can actively seek to achieve them.

Think about any questions you might have about the topic that you’re focusing on. Ask yourself: what would make this event a success for me. 

I always use the starter phrase ‘by the end of this session, I will be able to…’ to help frame learning objectives. It definitely helps get some ideas flowing.

3. Be visible

It can be easy to hide away in a virtual workshop, even in a very small group, especially if you have your camera off. 

You don’t have to have your camera on. There are many good reasons for having video turned off, including to preserve bandwidth. You can be visible by:

  • Logging comments in the chat
  • Opening your microphone to ask a question
  • Using annotations when asked to do so
  • Using the reaction buttons which are available in many of the platforms

These methods, demonstrate your engagement – both to your facilitator and to yourself – which will in turn support your learning.

4. Network 

When you’re face-to-face you have the opportunity to chat with fellow participants, both in the session and during breaks.This isn’t so easy in the virtual world, so you’ll need to make the effort to talk to others.

Your facilitator will hopefully encourage networking using icebreaker activities, breakout rooms, collaboration tools and activities. 

You can also use some of the ‘be visible’ tips to help you engage with other participants. This is possible even in very large groups. I was in a workshop with 150 people last week and was able to ‘meet’ others simply by saying ‘hello, I’m Jackie and I’m from the UK’ in the chat. It was a way to make an initial connection. This was was then cemented when we were allocated to breakout rooms with a couple of other people. 

If you get a participant list in advance, you could look up some of your fellow learners on LinkedIn, introduce yourself and make a pre-workshop connection which could then be strengthened in the workshop itself.

5. Ask questions

In the virtual learning world there are usually a number of ways to ask questions: 

  • You might have been given access to an online whiteboard pre-session where you can ask a question or make a comment
  • You can raise your electronic hand and open your microphone
  • You can use the Q&A box if it’s available
  • And you can use the chat box

Asking questions is another sign that you’re present. It is a signal to yourself and to others in the group that you’re interested and open to learning. And as soon as you pose a question, your brain will start hunting for the answer.

So, there it is. Five tips for becoming a better virtual learner. I hope they’re useful and will help you get the most from your virtual live learning experiences.

About Jackie Clifford

Jackie Clifford is a trainer, coach, facilitator, author and business owner. She has been working in learning and development for 30 years and has experience in a range of sectors, including the voluntary sector where she has operated as an employee, a volunteer and an external L&D consultant. 

With her co-author, Sara Thorpe, she has written three books including Workplace Learning and Development and the Coaching Handbook (which has been published in Russian, Polish and Japanese).

Jackie loves nothing more than supporting others to learn. She believes in providing practical solutions that can be applied to real-life situations and is passionate about supporting the creation of workplaces where individuals and teams operate in sustainable ways to bring long-term success. 




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