More and more trainings are available online, but it is not always easy to keep the learners engaged in online trainings. So, how do you keep your learners engaged?  Active learning and active participation are essential  to ensure learning outcomes and the satisfaction of learners. Active participation starts with the trainer and his or her facilitation skills. Based on my experience I would like to share my thoughts and TIPS to encourage active participation in an online training.


1. Work with small groups

This is for me the number 1 and all the below TIPS require small groups. It needs no in-depth explanation, that the smaller the group the more active the participation. This is in a face-to-face setting as well is in the online environment. Personally, I prefer a maximum of 12 participants in an online learning environment. Small groups also allow me to follow every trainee individually.


2. Take time to explain the online system

Not everybody is used to online training, and if you want everybody to participate, ensure that it is clear for all how the system works. Therefore take time to explain the use of cameras,  microphone, raising hands, online white boards, sharing screens etc.  


3. Adjust the training to the learning needs of the participants

If you address the learning needs of participants, there is increased motivation, which will encourage active learning and participation. To identify the learning needs it is useful to do a learning needs assessment before the training. If not feasible  discuss at the start of the training the expectations and what participants want to learn.  During the training, ensure you address the learning needs. Therefore, the training should not be a standard, but be flexible, adjusted to the learning needs of the participants.


4. Discuss group norms and expectation

A safe learning environment is essential for active participation. This starts at the start of the training when discussing expectations and group rules as respect, giving everyone opportunity to share, listen to each other, confidentiality and more. Expectations and group rules also include practical rules related to the online training as being fully present during training without distraction, starting on time, the opening of cameras, having the correct name written, raising hands, the expected work and homework. 


5. Everybody opens the camera

When agreeing on group norms, agree that all have their camera open at all times throughout the training. Some participants are reluctant to open their cameras, which can be linked to shyness and not being used to it. In one of my online trainings, I had a trainee, who was initially reluctant to open the video.  I gave the trainee an assignment. She had to tell a story, about an experience she was very enthusiastic about to the other trainees, all others had to shut down the camera, and no one was allowed to interrupt. After the presentation, I asked her, how it was. Her  spontaneous answer: “I will never close my video again. I felt I was talking to a wall.”  


6. Use ice breakers and have breaks

It is difficult to stay focused and concentrated all the time in the classroom as well as behind the laptop, therefore ensure there are adequate breaks. This can be a break to stretch the legs, get a cup of coffee or tea, but also to do a small ice breaker to get everybody active again. Observe the group for their concentration and allow participants to ask for a break.


7. Limit lectures, and PowerPoint presentations

I myself have been in training sessions with three-hour PowerPoint presentations, where the trainers talked and talked. This was not an online training, and you may imagine I got bored and tended to fall asleep. So, imagine what will happen in online trainings when presenting a powerpoint, your participants will start other activities, on the computer. Specifically if all camara's are closed it is a perfect opportunity to catch up with e-mails. Therefore, to ensure your participants are engaged limit your talking time as a trainer, instead let the learners be active.  


8. Use active learning activities

Ensure a variety of training methods, where participants are active instead of the trainer. Also, in an online training you can give assignments, let people work in groups, let groups present results, give case studies, prepare quizzes, have discussions and debates, do role plays, and practice. In the online learning environment group work can be done in break out rooms and as a facilitator, you can easily hop from one break out room to another, to support and guide where needed.


9. Ask open questions

To facilitate interaction and discussions, ask open questions and avoid YES-NO questions. Not only at the beginning or the end of the training session, but at any relevant moment. Ensure the questions are clear, give participants time to think about the answer, include all participants so that all have the opportunity to share and participate, invite participants to respond to each other.


10. Provide feedback

The aim of feedback is learning and development, therefore feedback is an essential component in learning and should be an ongoing process. Positive feedback, as well as feedback on areas for further development should be given. This will help participants to know where they stand. Giving feedback can be done in a variety of ways, which include feedback as an ongoing process during assignments, inviting other participants to give each other feedback, let participants evaluate themselves with an eveluation/checklist where relevant, prepare quizzes and discuss the answers, as well as individual feedback on personal assignments.


Practically the described tips are not different from a face-to-face training. When training online the same principles apply as in a face-to-face training. If participants are not participating, as a trainer you need to think what you have to do different.


Imarah Consultancy offers a variety of online trainings for NGO staff and humanitarians, which include:

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