After 20-plus years of developing and delivering post-secondary facility management courses, a rapid transition to remote learning gave me the opportunity to move all related courses to a fully online platform. This new reality of virtual education brought various lessons learned—for students, instructors and guest speakers.
Looking ahead, virtual training is expected to figure predominantly into the next normal of professional education; it’s a convenient way to learn and brings greater access to quality professional development. To maximize the virtual training experience, both as a learner and educator, here are some best practices gleaned from my experience thus far.
- Expect the unexpected in classroom delivery. Use lecture format and/or a blend.
- Accept the uncertainty about who is present in the room.
- Be prepared to miss the “live” aspect during the class session.
- Know that there will be limited or no facial reaction to content.
- Many learners will be unfamiliar with the technology platform.
- Some will have Internet connectivity issues.
- Dedicate space and time for scheduled classes. Balance home, family and class time. Avoid home distractions; e.g. children, noise, pets, etc.
It was a tough transition for learners seeking professional development in the virtual world who prefer the ‘live’ or face-to-face learning environment. For many, it was a new experience. Interaction and engagement with the entire class was a critical success factor in keeping the learners engaged and attentive. Networking with peers, sharing experiences and support was also an important part of the learning journey.
Even for a seasoned educator, facilitating, presenting and teaching online was an adjustment. To assess the attention span and expectations of learners was a challenge without the visual body language and facial expressions, which normally help guide energy and enthusiasm and help determine if learners are grasping the information that is presented.
Teaching online takes a highly personalized approach to connect and interact with learners. In my experience, we gelled quickly and supported one another during the pandemic. FMs are an island of their own. Sharing their experiences was very important for the learners to feel comfortable to open up and realize they weren’t alone. Every individual’s experience was similar during the pandemic and we supported each other professionally.
If you have an opportunity to lead a virtual training session, here are some tips and methods:
- If you are teaching from home, find a dedicated space that minimizes any home disruptions.
- Turn off any excess internet connections to minimize connectivity issues.
- Use your hands, speak with some movement and be visual in how you engage and speak to the camera.
- Keep your camera on and smile. It is important for the learners to connect with you, see you easily and distinguish you from the others.
- Encourage student participation. Include comments and opinions in the chat room. Encourage the raising of hands or generate break-out rooms to give learners time to network with their peers.
- Vary your voice and look directly into the camera when you speak. Move closer and away from the camera at different points.
- Make the presentation visually enjoyable with large fonts, graphs and colour.
- Offer stretch or screen breaks.
Maximize the learning experience for all. Help your learners to boost their skills and knowledge and expand their virtual learning experience
Marcia O’Connor is president of AM FM Consulting Group. She is also lead consultant and instructor for the University of Toronto’s facilities management courses, including the FM Certification Program and many others.