Ensuring successful virtual learning outcomes through engagement (Part 2)

What kind of virtual learning environment drives the most engagement?

The answer is as plain as the nose on your face – literally.

It’s obvious that eye contact and presence are key factors in engagement. If you think your level of participation is being monitored and you might be called out if your head drops and you start doodling sketches of that Harley Davidson motorcycle you’re dreaming about, then you’re more likely to remain tuned into the instructor.


That’s why passive video learning achieves the lowest level of successful outcomes. Sure, it may fulfil regulatory requirements but it’s little more than someone sitting in front of a screen doing who-knows-what for the duration of the module. Interactive virtual learning – true virtual learning – allows for the see-me-see-you interaction. The instructor has the faces of all attendees on their screen and can see at a glance who is paying attention and who isn’t. That experience is further enhanced when each attendee can see their colleagues, see them participate by answering or asking questions and gauge their engagement by the expressions on their faces and their body language.


The latter is part of our DNA. As humans, ‘seeing is believing’ and so disembodied experiences, such as passive video modules, remove that mission-critical factor entirely. For those immersed in an interactive world, however, there’s no hiding. You may put on a ‘poker face’ during the session but if your eyes are saying something different and your body language doesn’t synch up, it’s not going to fool anyone. Every one of those students in virtual classroom session is being inundated with information from several sources, their laptop screen, their mobile screen, the music streaming in the background, people walking by their location and the traffic noise and sirens outside.


This is the distracted reality of the modern world. So, another critical factor in engagement is two-fold, one, the design of the lesson plan itself and two, then how well the instructor can deliver it. The module has to ‘tastes as good as it looks’ in that no matter what essential nuggets of knowledge the designers have packed into the module, engagement won’t truly happen without an instructor who can make it all come alive. And the technology has to seamlessly deliver that experience. One of the most powerful ways to impart knowledge and to ensure it’s retained is to create a narrative around it.


It’s like that spoonful of sugar which helps the medicine go down. As humans, we crave stories from the moment we’re born. As such, storytelling engages us. Look around. Stories surround us, not just on television, in movies or books, but in almost everything we see and do. Every brand has a story, even that sleek sports car’s design tells a story about who made it and who buys it. And nowhere is storytelling more prominent than in video gaming. Every one of those blockbuster games is based on a narrative, whether it’s sci-fi like Halo, crime thrillers like Grand Theft Auto or conflict, like Medal of Honour.

Those narratives resonate because the designers pulled together all the elements, the sound, the narration, the visuals, the plot twists and challenges to engage players. As this article on engagement notes, instructors similarly need to use all the skills at their disposal to engage the group, from the inflection in their voice, offering stories as anecdotes, using bright and animated graphics and strong visuals to reinforce the information being imparted. The last factor in engagement leading to more successful outcomes are the participants themselves. 


So how do we get them to engage themselves? To be proactive learners rather than passive learners? Good questions and one we’ll tackle in the third and final posting on this theme.


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