Back in the days of classroom training, whenever the subject of difficult participants came up, it was mostly about people who didn't want to be in the room and disrupted the learning process.
There were several factors why this was happening. First, with high logistics costs and strict time and location limits, people were often asked to participate in sessions just to meet the attendance quota. Second, in-person sessions left little room for personalization, and people often felt like the subject was irrelevant to them. Third, participants often had issues with the organization or their manager and often found an outlet for their disgruntlement in the training room.
However, in synchronous online training, non-participation looks a little different.
What does non-participation in online training look like?
There's more of a gallery than a single portrait of difficult attendees in the digital learning landscape. Management or whole organization issues rarely find their place online since it's more difficult to generate momentum for them, but there are other hurdles that online facilitators need to overcome.
Some people are disengaged and keep their camera and microphone off. Some refuse to participate in any activities and respond to queries, while others try hard to reconstruct the classroom atmosphere and over engage. Instructors have had their fair share of all of these types over the past two years.
Read more: 5 Ways a business LMS supports learner engagement
Tips and tricks for dealing with non-participation in online training
What might have been solved with a break or a teamwork exercise in a classroom requires different online tactics. Facilitators still have to cater to various learning preferences and abide by adult learning principles.
On top of that, they have to be aware of the entirely different environment and how attendees react to it. Training times have significantly shrunk, there's pressure to perform better immediately after a learning intervention. Content is often offered when something goes wrong instead of a natural means of growing and developing skills.
So, here are some tips and tricks for dealing with non-participation in online training:
- Chunk up the content so that people can pick the relevant units; make sure it's easy for learners to browse and find exactly what they need.
- Be upfront with the timeframe and the overall expectations – tell participants how long the session will last and if there will be a final evaluation and a follow-up.
- Run a thorough audience analysis so that you have a good idea about who they are, what they need, and what their expectations are. Demographics are essential, but so are communication preferences and comfort levels with technology.
- Set the right expectations – tell learners about the ratio of presentation and practice, describe the exercises they will need to participate in, how many intermediary quizzes (if any) there will be, and anything else that they should know from the start.
- Customize the delivery to individual groups that show the same learning preferences. For example, some groups might prefer team exercises while others want to take quizzes and then discuss results with other trainees.
- Have additional content on hand to help clarify any learning gaps that might appear or give further information to participants who are more invested in the subject.
- Allow participants to choose their level of involvement. Try to engage them but don't push too hard. People can learn a lot simply by listening and watching others.
- Avoid putting people on the spot by asking them their opinion or the answer to a question when they clearly prefer to be silent. If you need to make sure they are still with the group, find gentler options such as exercises done in breakout rooms where team members share the results. That way, you'll be asking everybody to participate without singling anyone out.
- Accept overall silence as a cue to move on to the next item or subject. Don't waste time investigating why there's no opinion or comment. You can do that using the after-training survey.
- Avoid cognitive overload. Apart from keeping modules or topics short, aim for easy-to-understand explanations and double those with relevant examples and case studies.
- Use storytelling – it is engaging, universally liked, and can help significantly information retention.
- Find the right delivery tools but don't go overboard – having too many means that you allocate a lot of time teaching learners how to use them. A web conferencing tool and a learning platform with which they’re already familiar can do the trick.
- Provide resources at the end of the session so that participants can learn more at their own pace.
Read more: The spectrum between synchronous and asynchronous training
With so much emphasis on interactivity and engagement, synchronous online training can be somewhat daunting. Participants are very different, and it is challenging to create a learning journey that is perfect for each and every one of them. Following the tips above will make it easier to deal with the disengaged attendees and ensure a positive and engaging learning experience.