Businesses have recently had to forcefully disrupt work cultures and adopt working from home with little or no change management. With training plans and competency gaps yet unclosed, corporate learning and development teams have been forced to adopt digital means to support businesses with the required know-how to stay afloat. While technology has been called to save the day, wrong execution with the right intention would often yield to poor results and no benefits to the business.


Engagement is critical and very important in learning.

Research has proven that learner engagement helps increase critical thinking skills; it improves learners attention and thereby provides meaningful learning experiences required for knowledge retention. With physical instructor-led sessions, people who have attended specialised classes can often testify of the level of engagement they experience. For many of them, it was not just about the stories, but the way the facilitator’s eyes connected with the audience, the mannerisms and gesticulations that saved the day.


With physical interactions out of the box, there is a need for an instructional and experience design approach tailored for virtual engagement.

Now with some organisations still working from home, the learning experience often can be daunting. A fire-brigade approach might leave a distasteful taste in your audience and may switch them off for future sessions, precluding them from emotionally connecting and eventually retaining knowledge.


If you lose your participants too early in the session, other distractions in the home might keep them for the entire learning intervention. Until now, facilitators could get away with average instruction and experience design, but with no physical interaction with participants, engagement is now an arduous task. Not much an arduous task if you remember that the brain doesn’t do so well with boring things.


Here are some of our well-proven strategies for engaging virtual training:
  • Begin your sessions with a hook: sometimes it’s a story, a quote – something keeping the participant wanting more and setting the pace for what the participant can gain by staying through to the end. Begin with interest and meaning, then delve into critical details.


  • Leverage andragogy principles in design and execution – access people’s experiences, interest, awareness and aspiration to connect through to them for engagement. These double as psychological interior firewalls to prevent left side stimulus distractions due to environmental visuals within your participant environment.


  • Appeal visually: Given that the brain can identify images seen for as little as 13milliseconds visually processed by 30% of the cortex neurons. Use imagery and videos to engage your audience. However, ensure your images align with best-practice user interface (UI) principles, and all visuals are relevant to the topic.


  • Take 10minute bursts: It’s been researched that the average human can only focus on an average of 10minutes; with shrinking attention span, probably lesser. Break your slides and interactions into bursts of 10minutes with story breaks, recaps, illustrations, case studies to grab the attention again for the next run.


  • Harness Technology: Based on the features your web conferencing tool provides, make the very best to engage your audience. Infuse polls to gather thoughts and drive shared moments, use chat functions to elicit questions and feedback, and even let someone present their assignments or experience for inclusive facilitation. Be careful to ensure that this has been carefully planned as part of your virtual experience design to prevent surprises.


  • Protect your virtual room: Prevent the distractions within your virtual classroom. Have an admin on standby ready to mute distracting participants (they might have unknowingly let in their crying baby into the session), turn off participant videos where necessary; and also have your backup internet service should anything get glitchy.


  • End with a strong close: Even though it’s virtual, it’s still learning. Let your participants share action items while you recap with the most salient points. They are most likely to remember the last thing you said.


Written By:

Olayemi Olatunji

Senior consultant