Planning and Conducting Virtual Workshops Part II: Facilitating Online Learning by Jan Noga

Hello again! Jan Noga here, owner of Pathfinder Evaluation and Consulting, in Cincinnati, Ohio with more tips and lessons learned about conducting online workshops. Today’s post will focus on key points for supporting your online learners.

Lesson Learned: Online workshops are not online meetings. Attendees have committed time (and often money) to your event. Running a virtual workshop is as much performance art as transmission of knowledge and skills.

Hot Tip: Don’t just sit in front of your webcam alternating between talking and screen sharing of a PowerPoint presentation. Mix it up! Try using digital stories or videos, video of you demonstrating a skill, breakout rooms for quick activities or small group processing, games, polls, and presenter-led active practice.

Hot Tip: Make it lively! You’ve got to overcome the tremendous inertia that goes with sitting alone in a room watching one’s computer. Icebreakers are just as important online as face to face. Skip the round-robin introductions – that’s what chat is for. Instead, use breakout rooms for small groups to engage in an icebreaker.

Cool Trick: Try doing an animated presentation instead of a static PowerPoint. You can’t draw and don’t have a big budget to hire an artist? No problem! Try drag and drop animation software. They have stock images and scripts that let you put together an illustrated video. If you have the budget and need lots of customization, it can be worth bypassing the learning curve and hiring a digital artist.

Lesson Learned: Using Zoom for meetings does not prepare participants for using Zoom (or other online platform) for learning. Only one workshop that I’ve attended in the past few months dedicated time to navigating Zoom, and I learned more during that 10 minutes than I’ve learned in years of Zoom meetings.

Hot Tip: You may have spent serious time learning your platform in order to teach, but you also need to make sure your participants can use the platform to learn. Build 10-15 minutes into the start of your workshop to demonstrate the tricks and tools participants will want to use.

Hot Tip: Dendrites are the branches in our brains that develop with learning. Sit and get does not grow dendrites*. Resist the urge to run your cursor all over the screen as you quickly touch on each tool. Structure some early activities that will utilize the tools, so everyone gets a chance to do it as well as see it.

Lesson Learned: Participants in online workshops need information just like face to face workshop participants. The key here is they need them in advance.

Hot Tip: The day before your event is the time to reconfirm but not to send workshop materials. Send materials at least two days ahead so those who want hard copy have time to print, read, and make notes as desired.

Hot Tip: Always email a schedule. Avoid a timed agenda as that locks participant expectations and makes it difficult for you to take advantage of teachable moments that may crop up during the workshop.

Cool Trick: Try developing a participant guide instead of relying on a handout from your PowerPoint slides. A guide is a set of notes that provide essential information supporting your slides, videos, or other elements to be demonstrated. The guide should also include important graphics that are important for learning – especially if they illustrate skills you are teaching.

I’ll be back tomorrow with some Rad Resources for instructional design, facilitation, and creating animated presentations.

*Nod to Marcia Tate, educator and author of a series of books, “Sit and Get Won’t Grow Dendrites!”

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4 thoughts on “Planning and Conducting Virtual Workshops Part II: Facilitating Online Learning by Jan Noga”

  1. Hi there,
    My name is Rebecca and I am a teacher and a graduate student in a Masters of Education programme. For the current course that I am taking, I was directed to this website as we are learning about evaluation of programmes.

    I really enjoyed reading your article. Like many teachers around the world, when the world got sick with COVID19, I suddenly found myself teaching online. Talk about evaluating things on the fly…I was constantly reflecting on what worked, who I was reaching and how I could best serve my students through a screen.

    Now that we are back in class, I am still using computers and screen more as we distance in class and do not share manipulatives the same way. Your suggestions confirmed that I have been doing some things right, such as varying the type of media I put up on the screen (videos, PowerPoints, online stories) and have also given me real insight how I can support my students who are currently learning online with us.

    As we have been studying the role of evaluators in class, we have learned about how people skills and making connections are important. I feel that in your article, this idea shines through as the importance of reaching as many people through a more impersonal medium (online) is emphasized by stressing the need for a variety of activities.

    Thanks so much for your practical and thoughtful article. It has given me something to think about as screens and technology become increasingly used in the world of teaching.


  2. Excellent series – I’m checking in on all of these, thanks!
    I’m curious if you have a resource for online icebreakers? I’m having some trouble figuring out good ones when we aren’t in person.

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