By Barbara Nuss, CPA, Profit Soup
Nothing surpasses the warm feeling business trainers and counselors get from witnessing the “lightbulb moments” new skills and knowledge can bring, followed by real positive changes in individuals’ lives and their businesses. With financial resources scarce, and funding for training in decline, how can you leverage your time and reach more clients in a scalable, efficient way? Enter online learning.
Many were forced into the online universe due to the restrictions on in-person interactions. Others had embraced it far earlier. Today many SBDC Centers use online platforms to deliver training and counseling. As a nation, we are not going back anytime soon: more than half of American adults who expect to need more education or training now say they would do it online. Still, we question whether we make the same impact when we lack face-to-face engagement.
As a professional trainer, business coach and lifelong learner, I continually ask myself how clients can enjoy the best of both worlds: the convenience of online, on-demand training for skill building with the personal impact of face-to-face engagement applying the learning to their own businesses. Here are some approaches I have learned along the way that led to more engaging and impactful online interactions.
1. Use a Hybrid Model
When your goal is to build knowledge and skills and to make positive changes in the business, consider the client’s needs and constraints. Online training allows clients to choose the time and place to learn skills and gain new knowledge. With a new business to manage, scheduling and attending regular meetings can be difficult. Give them the flexibility to do some of the work on their schedule, not yours. Then schedule face-to-face meetings (which can be live or virtual) to apply the learning. You’ll get further with your discussions when they come to the table with the training done.
Does Hybrid Learning Really Work?
Pima Community College SBDC and the City of Tucson recently teamed up to bring a hybrid learning experience combining Profit Soup Online financial training and live classroom discussions facilitated by Pima CC SBDC Director Sue Oliver. Hear what learners had to say about their experience here.
2. Embrace Video Conferencing. Chances are, Your Learners Do!
Video conferencing is a great way to create an impactful online experience. Not only does it allow for sharing of content AND face-to-face interaction, but current technologies include collaboration and engagement tools that strengthen your connections with learners and promote engagement – if you will only use them! Go beyond the chat box with your engagement and learn about the features of your platform. Then make a point to use them frequently. With repetition, your learners will master using them too and your online interactions will become more engaging, fun, and effective.
3. Start With an Icebreaker
Icebreakers are essential to kickstart engaging group interactions. This is as true for online sessions as it is for in-person interactions. They provide an opportunity for clients to get comfortable with the virtual environment and familiarize themselves with the platform’s interactive tools. This decreases anxiety and encourages active participation. Icebreakers also foster a sense of community, allowing people to feel more connected despite the physical distance. They promote a warm, inviting atmosphere where attendees can share their thoughts freely in discussions, enhancing the overall learning experience. Moreover, icebreakers can serve as a valuable tool to gauge the group’s dynamics and set an engaging tone for the rest of the session.
4. Incorporate Interactive Activities
Interactive activities like quizzes, polls, surveys, games, contests, or collaborative whiteboarding keep clients engaged with the content being explored. Additionally, these activities help the facilitator gauge knowledge, attitudes, and understanding so they can adjust the pace of delivery if more time is needed with a topic.
5. Know Your Audience and Create Relevant, Engaging Content
Creating engaging content is a must-have for impactful online experiences. Content should be tailored to the learners’ needs and should encourage them to engage. This could include playing short videos or podcasts to spark a relevant discussion, or using case studies and practice problems that align with the challenges they face. Use discussion questions that help them understand the material better and activities that apply what they have learned to their own businesses.
6. Use Small Group Discussions to Gain the Power of Networking
Networking opportunities are important when providing online training experiences because they allow participants to connect with their peers on a personal level and share ideas about what they have learned and how they are applying the learning. Encourage networking throughout each session by including time for small group discussions or other group activities where they can interact with one another on a meaningful level that relates to your training content.
Small groups that meet in person should have a minimum of 3 people, but 5 is better. For online groups, 5 could is too many, 3 is ideal.
7. Offer Personalized Support
Take time before each session to counsel clients individually so they can address any questions or concerns they may have about the material or how it applies to their business specifically. Your availability to support learners outside of training sessions solidifies your coaching relationship and improves their learning journey.
8. End with a Call to Action
A well-delivered training session is not complete without a clear call to action. It is the learner’s roadmap to the next steps in applying the knowledge they have gained. A call to action is particularly crucial in online sessions because it stimulates active learning beyond the virtual environment. It could be a challenge to implement an action idea, a suggestion to share insights with others, or an invitation to explore a topic further through additional resources. The key is to create a compelling call to action that resonates with clients and inspires them to take the initiative. This way, learning becomes a continuous journey, and the impact of your training session extends far beyond the screen or classroom.
9. Solicit Feedback
Soliciting feedback is an important part of any successful structured program because it allows you to assess how clients feel about their experience and the value of the lessons learned. It gives you insights into what worked well, and where further improvement may be necessary on your part. It also reveals where additional support and counseling may help clients gain traction.
10. Follow Up with Counseling
Group training creates opportunities for high-value one-on-one follow-up and counseling. Start your counseling with the action items assigned during the training. This makes training stick. It’s how you go beyond “light-bulb moments” to make long-lasting impact. Use open-ended questions to clarify the clients’ understanding and reveal areas where more counseling may be needed. Track progress on the action items in subsequent counseling sessions and help clients stay on track. For clients, this follow-up can make the difference between an interesting class and a game-changing professional development experience.
Want More? Join Me!
Want more ideas, examples and opportunities to practice engaging learners and driving traction? Join Barbara Nuss of Profit Soup Wednesday, September 6, at SBDC 2023 for Maximize Learner Engagement: Clever Techniques for Impactful Training, from 3:45-5 pm.