Put yourself back into your teenage era. How many times did you sit in your chair staring at the window while your teacher was talking in a monotonous tone? How many times did you have to bear sitting in the classroom listening without moving or interacting either with the teacher or with the others?

Well, if you want to use the same techniques to facilitate trainings or, worse than that, to facilitate remote trainings, then please don’t.

The most challenging thing about teaching adults today is that the latter come to the classroom (or to a fancy hotel room) and bring in mind their work problems, their worries about their kids or partners and, very often, their ringing phones. This means a lot of distraction that prevents them from being fully engaged in the learning process. And this becomes, without a doubt, even more challenging if the audience is remote: they usually turn off the camera leaving you, the facilitator, dazzled and not knowing whether there is someone at the other end or not.

In order to keep the audience fully committed to virtual trainings I tried a few things and what I find successful is to follow the 4C framework by Sharon L Bowman.

As described in her best-selling book ‘Training from the back of the room’ Shannon suggests these 4 steps that start with a C:

1-     Connection

2-     Concepts

3-     Concrete Practice

4-     Conclusion

Connection activities are the starters. During this phase you connect learners to the topic: do they already know about it?

Let’s say you facilitate an introduction to agile workshop. One connection activity could simply be to ask the audience what their understanding about the topic is and let them share. Another option could be to give them cut-off sentences that represent agile values and let them find the right combination. Remember, people learn best when they can relate new information to what they already know.

During the Concept phase, you teach the theory. Remember to ask yourself the question: what does the learner need to know about the topic? Do they need to know it all? I usually try to make it simple and use visuals as much as possible. The human brain catches pictures more than worlds. In a virtual environment, I believe the concept phase should not be longer than 10 to 15 minutes. Otherwise the learner gets disconnected. If we get back to the example of the agile workshop mentioned earlier, we can use this phase to remind people of the history of the agile movement, how it started with the software development and moved to all functions like HR, strategy and finance, etc.

Can the learners work it out by themselves or teach it to someone else? This should be the outcome of the Concrete Practice phase. This is when you make the knowledge stick. Your audience will learn best when they have hands-on exercises. During this phase, you can really be creative (and you have to): use quizzes, role-play activities and/or visual exercises, step back and let them learn. As a facilitator, your role is to create an environment where people are safe to make mistakes, collaborate equally and participate actively. Lots of collaborative tools allow to do that virtually. Also, some audio-conferencing tools allow breakout rooms. This means split the audience in smaller groups to make it easier to collaborate.

Conclusions are short, learner-focused closing activities in which learners can either summarize or evaluate what they have learned, make an action plan—a commitment to apply what they have learned and/or celebrate the learning experience. I usually ask learners explicitly what the one idea is they would like to apply starting from tomorrow. I am usually surprised how groups' ideas spark and people inspire each other to take action.

That is a quick overview of the 4Cs. I also strongly recommend reading the ‘Learning from the back of the room' book and surrounding yourself with people who also experience virtual facilitation. This allows you to share ideas and learn from each other.

Sounds overwhelming? Don’t panic. Facilitating great workshops requires practice and courage. You need to learn, fail, unlearn and succeed. And always remember to seek for feedback.

Having read this, what is one idea that you would like to start practicing starting from tomorrow?

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