How to Facilitate Conversation and Discussion in Online Training

Discussions are an important component of any effective training, whether delivered in a traditional classroom setting.

How to Facilitate Conversation and Discussion in Online Training

Why are discussions so vital? Some of the reasons include:

  • Discussions help trainees more deeply understand of training topics. If training just grazes the surface it’s not going to be as effective as it could be. Not only will you not get the best possible results from employee training, but you likely won’t be able to maximize your ROI.
  • When discussing a component of the training process, it leads not only to a deeper level of understanding of those processes, but also creates opportunities for critical thinking. Critical thinking helps employees prepare to tackle not only the direct situations they’re being trained on but also gives them a broader and more versatile framework to deal with other problems and challenges they may face in the workplace.
  • With discussions, trainees have the opportunity to ask questions and make sure they’re clear on the concepts being presented.
  • When trainees are discussing topics they’re being trained on, it tends to improve comprehension and retention. One of the biggest problems employers often face in the training process is getting trainees to not just initially understand concepts, but to retain them over time.

One of the challenges faced when creating online training is how to facilitate deep-level discussions in other to amplify the effectiveness of said training.

In a classroom it can be simpler to engage trainees in various conversations, but how do you recreate these same effects when you’re using a learning management system?

We put together a guide with some tips and best practices to ensure you get the best of both worlds: robust, thought-provoking discussion paired with the many advantages and benefits of delivering training through a learning management system.

Create Discussion Parameters

Sometimes in the world of virtual discussions, people feel as if they can say things that would be inappropriate or unacceptable in other settings. The first thing you can do to make sure training discussions are beneficial to everyone and don’t become offensive or intimidating to participants.  Make sure to set predetermined guidelines and ground rules.

You want any employee training discussion to feel like a safe environment to share opinions, and while you want to encourage healthy debate, the goal should never be to belittle or demean others through the discussion.

In addition to ensuring trainees are clear on topics like respect and debate boundaries, this can also be a good place to highlight expectations. Employees may not realize they’re expected to participate in online discussions, so it’s always a good idea to make this clear and demonstrate to them that it’s a pivotal part of the training experience.

Determine Discussion Structure

There are quite a few different ways you can approach discussions within the framework of online training. It may be that you simply ask participants to share their thoughts through message boards or forums. There can also be discussions that happen in webinars and live group events, and you may have moderated chat sessions.

You can choose one format, or perhaps employ a combination of several different channels to encourage maximum participation.

If you are choosing something like webinar discussion you’ll likely have a moderator, although a moderator can really be a component of any type of training-based online discussion if that works for your company.

Choose facilitators that are going to introduce topics that will garner the most discussion, and also, make sure facilitators understand how to guide the conversation in the best way to maximize the training experience.

Regardless of the delivery format, any online discussions should be prompted by open-ended questions and should have objectives that are directly related to the training objectives. If you’re asking questions or prompting discussions that have very little to do with employees’ real day-to-day job duties, you’re going to derive little value from the process.

Discussion questions should also integrate trainees’ own experiences with what they’ve just learned for maximized results.

Ask Trainees to Introduce Themselves

If you’re training employees who all work together in one location every day, this isn’t as important. If you’re training employees who don’t regularly interact or who are geographically dispersed, it’s extremely important to give them the opportunity to get to know one another before truly beneficial online conversations can start happening.

A good way to do this is by asking trainees to create brief two-minute videos that describe themselves and then upload them in the learning management system.

When people feel like they have at least a bit of an idea of who someone is, they’re more likely to feel comfortable sharing with them.

This can go a long way in improving online discussions within the realm of employee training.

Foster Discussion in the Right Places

If you’re training employees in areas like technical skills or compliance, online discussions might not necessarily play a strong role however you can still take full advantage of this medium for expanding the general conversation around training and development. Since technical and certain skills building trainings have definitely right or wrong ways for employees to do things, so there’s not going to be a lot of value that comes from having them discuss these topics.

Use discussions in the areas where they’ll be most valuable – for example to explore the gray or more unclear areas of sexual harassment, or in soft skills and leadership development.

Invite Outside Resources into the Discussion

One of the really compelling things about online training, as it relates to discussions, is the ability to easily have participants include outside links, videos and other things they feel are relevant to the topics at hand.

Trainees can go back and forth from being in the discussion via the LMS to sourcing things they feel would bring value to the discussion on the Internet or from social media sources.

Let trainees take full advantage of these opportunities, which can lead discussions down different and engaging paths, and also create a context for training, which will help it resonate more.

These are just a few of our ideas for fostering discussion in an online training format. What are your thoughts for achieving this? Do you strive for discussion as part of your online or in-person training?

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