6 Tips for Engaging Remote Learners
As a Learning and Development professional, you're asked to do more with less. In addition, you have to shift from in-person experiences to online and remote learning. You might be struggling with this new reality, wondering how you're going to deliver the same level of quality learning without access to the usual offline techniques. But all is not lost! There are many practical ways to design engaging and interactive virtual learning experiences for your learners—without breaking the bank. In this article, we'll share some tips on how to do this.
Table of contents:
#1. Connect to the big picture
If you want to engage your remote learners, you'll have to connect their learning to the big picture. That means you should help them understand:
How does the current learning fit into the overall program plan?
How the courses they're taking will lead them toward their personal goals and aspirations?
How will what they learn in this course affect them personally?
The best way to go about it is to set clear and meaningful learning objectives. It's not enough to say, "By the end of this course, you will improve your communication skills." The objectives need to truly embody your learner's reality: "By the end of this course, you will be able to create a dialogue with your key stakeholders and get their buy-in every time."
Moreover, when you want to engage remote learners, you need to help them see how what they are learning is relevant to their lives. Give them answers to these questions:
How will this course improve your job performance?
What kind of knowledge or skills do you need to achieve your personal goals?
How does this course relate to other classes you have taken in the past or are currently taking?
#2. Build a personal connection
Be sure to build a personal connection with your students. The easiest way to do this is by getting to know them. This will make all the difference in helping them feel connected and invest themselves in the learning initiative.
Some of the things you can try are to:
ask your learners about their work, challenges, interest, and hobbies before the learning experience
during the interaction, use their names, and ask them to share their challenges
prepare a photo challenge people can participate in before, during, or after the learning is taking place
Make your learners feel special, rather than just another student or a statistic in your dashboard. You can even ask about their personal life if it's relevant to your subject matter! Just make sure you respect any boundaries they set for themselves before doing so.
#3. Make it hands-on
The best way to engage remote learners is by making your content hands-on and interactive.
Use interactive activities: Interactive activities will help your students learn through their individual actions rather than just listening or watching others. These types of exercises also have the potential to break down communication barriers and allow for more participation from remote students who may be shy or nervous about speaking up in class.
Make it active: An activity that requires students to move around is a great way for them to get involved in the lesson. Especially if there's a physical component involved, like building something out of available objects around the house or using their bodies as instruments. If you want this kind of activity but don't want them moving too much, try adding some movement into your presentation through technology. For example, have some PowerPoint slides with built-in movement (or even better yet, with advanced animation. Just be careful not to overdo it!)
Use collaboration tools: Collaboration tools allow students who aren't in the same room to work together on projects remotely using computers, tablets, and smartphones. Collaborating via technology can often feel more personal than working with someone next to you. Online you don't have any distractions like eye contact or body language to account for. Instead, you can focus on what needs to be done. Check out our post on the 5 apps for virtual facilitation.
Use simulations: this gives learners a chance to practice hard skills, like coding, basic grammar, and working with software.
Use mobile learning apps: there are apps out there that offer gamification elements to motivate users while learning new things. Learn more about Gamifying your training on our blog.
#4. Use multimedia to guide the experience
The key to successful remote learning is the use of multimedia. Use multimedia to help learners understand the content, context, skills, concepts, and application of the material. The following are a few examples:
Content: Use video or audio recordings that introduce new concepts and provide instructions on carrying out procedures or completing tasks. This can be done by an instructor or pre-recorded by a subject matter expert. Any additional media you use will liven up your session and break the monotony of listening to only one person.
Context: If your course has a virtual room set up in which participants can interact with each other during lessons (such as KumoSpace), consider having the instructor hold periodic "office hours" where participants can ask questions and get their issues resolved. You could also establish an official hashtag for this purpose so that everyone knows where all questions should go!
Explanation and Demonstration: Use video tutorials for conceptual explanations and demonstrations of how a skill is done. This is especially helpful for visual learners who need to see things in action before they understand them. This helps them develop their own mental models of how something works without having to memorize step-by-step instructions from a book or manual.
Different perspectives: For complex topics or ideas with multiple layers of meaning or interpretation—for example, leadership—add audio recordings that offer different perspectives on those same concepts. This way, learners can actively interpret what they read rather than having it interpreted for them by an instructor or textbook author.
#5. Tie it to real-life
A great way to engage your remote learners is to tie the learning you provide with real-life examples. For example, if your company has a mission statement that includes being "A company that makes a difference in people's lives," then tie your course material into how each individual can make their own unique difference. If you are teaching a class on leadership skills, then show them how they can use those skills on their current projects or in their current roles at work.
It's essential to make the content you are presenting relevant to your learners' lives. This can be done in several ways: by tying what they're learning to their company strategy and mission, using real-life examples, or giving them some kind of work that they can do on their own (like a case study or a project).
#6. End with an opportunity for reflection and action planning
We've mentioned how important it is that your learners understand the learning goals and objectives. But you also need to ensure they know what they are supposed to do next and how they will be evaluated.
For this, you may want your learners to:
take a quiz or test,
reflect on their learning, or
come up with an action plan for the future.
Whatever the case, provide clear instructions at the end of the learning intervention so that everyone leaves with an understanding of what's expected.
Be sure to give your learners some opportunity for reflection and action planning by asking them questions like, "How does this relate to what we've done before? How does it help us reach our goals?" This way, even if they can't see how everything ties together at first glance, they'll start thinking about ways in which each piece fits into a bigger picture, as well as how each piece relates back to their own personal goals and/or interests.
How can you give your learners an opportunity to apply what they learn and make their learning experiences more engaging? Here are some ideas:
Teach your learners how to connect their learning with their work by sharing examples and stories from the business.
Teach your learners how to connect their learning with the team/group they work in so that they can share knowledge, experience, and perspectives across teams. Encourage them to book some time and talk to their team members about their key takeaways.
Help learners understand the big picture and show how everything connects together over time (e.g., future workplace). Involve their managers, encourage conversations on how things might change in the future, and follow up sometime after the end of the learning program.
I always tell my learners that we need to agree on a definition before we can have a conversation about an issue. So let's define engaging learning as when learners use their heads and their hands to do something meaningful. And that's what I'm asking you to do right now! Think about your own remote learning and development approach—what one strategy will make it more engaging? Pick one idea from this article or think of the best thing you saw someone else do in the past year and write it down. How can you apply it in your next remote course or learning program?