Executive Extra

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12 Ways to Engage Participants in Prerecorded Sessions

Tuesday, 14 April 2020 00:00

When facilitating prerecorded sessions, there are several strategies to keep participants engaged. Because facilitators are not in-person to keep participants on track, it's important to plan for and integrate engagement strategies in advance, in the session as you record it, and afterward.

1. Plan to use video. When recording, share video of yourself talking or have your video alongside slides on the screen. Seeing the face, expressions, and tone of the facilitator helps participants connect with you and the material. Use good lighting and check your audio in advance, to make sure you come across clearly. If you are uncomfortable being on camera for the whole session, at least do a welcome video of 30 seconds or a minute, to let participants know who you are.

2. Be engaging. Good facilitation is good facilitation, whether virtually or in person. No monotonous lectures, here! Maintain a conversational tone and make eye contact by looking at the camera. TIP: Set up a mirror on the wall behind your webcam. Practice talking to your reflection—yes, seriously—to help you feel more like you're talking to a person and, in turn, help the recording look and sound like you're talking to real people.

3. Create the environment. You create a learning environment through the design of your online session. You set expectations, tone, vibe and ways of engagement. All those aspects are important, to keep your participants engaged. Do your best to keep the learning within the space you've established. It's fine to ask participants to depart from your session to review an external link or two, but do that sparingly. You don't want them to get pulled into other online activities and forget to return to the learning space.

4. Set clear, tangible learning objectives. Be very clear about what participants will walk away with as a result of participating in the session. Less is more in this situation. If you were offering a money-back guarantee, what could you promise that each person would know or be able to do when the session is over? Introduce the one to two objectives at the beginning of the session description and stick to them.

5. Communicate expectations. Get participants ready by clearly explaining what they will learn, how they will learn it and what materials they need for the session. It's OK to preview the full session right at the beginning. For example: "First, we'll talk about your own connections to discipline. Then, we'll look at three key child behavior theories that have influenced how adults work with kids. And, finally, you'll develop your own behavior guidance theory and an action plan to support your work with kids moving forward." While you may include downloadable handouts within the session, participants may not be able to print them immediately. So, if you want them to take notes, ask them to get a notepad and pen ready.

6. Break the session into smaller chunks that directly relate to the session objectives. Provide concrete examples, models or reminders in each chunk. Be explicit on how each chunk relates to the objectives. If you're building background knowledge, say: "First you need to know X, so you can do Y." Participants want to know what you have to share, but they may have divided attention. Take every opportunity to show them how the session is delivering on the promised objectives.

7. Invite participants to pause and return to the session. After each learning chunk, have participants pause the recording to complete a related activity. Activities could include responding to a quiz question so they can assess how they are doing, responding to a different discussion thread that asks them to reflect on their own connection to the topic or share an experience they've had with the topic, or adding a response/photo/video to a Google doc or shared slide deck.

8. Ask participants to dig deeper. Adult participants are ready to solve problems; we do it all day long. Within the session, use examples, analogies and stories to reinforce your points. Then deepen participant engagement by presenting a problem, case study or simulation. Ask for their input via the discussion thread or personal reflection in their own notebook. For example: "During a STEM lesson, Jill asked a student to explain her thinking. The student angrily huffed, 'I have no idea what I was thinking. It was obviously wrong anyway!' How would you advise Jill to navigate this situation? What experiences have you had that are similar? How did you navigate them? Post your response in the discussion thread labeled The STEM Lesson."

9. Wrap up for real. Don't let your session end abruptly. Honor the learning experience and your participants by giving time and space to reflect. You may have a final quiz question, but then return to the session and ask participants to complete a personal reflection or a learning rubric to look back at their own learning. This is not necessarily for them to share with you, but for them to know how they engaged in the session and decide if they learned what the session promised they would. Encourage them to go back through the session and review parts they felt they didn't quite get.

10. Praise participants. At the end of the prerecorded session, take a moment to praise participants for their attention, their work and their learning. Acknowledge the environment and community you created together. Encourage them to participate in the discussion threads, to connect with others, and to reach out to you directly with thoughts or questions.

11. Have participants introduce themselves in a discussion thread. This is an opportunity to build community and help participants know there are other real people participating in the session. Start a discussion thread for introductions and ask participants to introduce themselves in relation to the topic. For example: "Introduce yourself, include your role, program name and where you are from. Then describe one adult who positively influenced you as a young person. What did that person do that supported you to become the adult you are today?" As the session facilitator, make sure you post the first reply to that question to help model expectations!

12. Engage in discussion threads. Get online and engage in dialogue with participants of your session and other participants. Share responses, add experiences and reflections, ask more questions. If participants see you online and participating, they are more likely to participate as well.

Written by Jennifer Brady, Chief Executive Officer, Development without Limits, and Heidi Ham, Vice President of Programs and Strategy, National AfterSchool Association.

Hagan, E. & Hewatt, C. (2017). Use of asynchronous video to engage students and create instructor presence.
Wlodkowski, R. & Ginsberg, M. (2017). Enhancing adult motivation to learn: a comprehensive guide for teaching all adults. 4th ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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