When I first started teaching online participants a decade ago, I discovered something I had not experienced as a participant: some people prefer to communicate via text and some prefer to communicate via voice. In the past when I had taken online courses there was either voice or text chat, but seldom both. Having both created both a challenge and an opportunity.
Some instructors are frustrated by having both options for communication. It requires not only pausing to allow oral questions and comments but also checking a chatbox for input. Ideally, every participant would use the "raise hand" option if there is one, but those used to other environments may just speak up.
Create a safe learning environment
Here's the thing: Maslow's hierarchy of needs puts safety as the second item on the list. That means we need to create a safe learning environment for our learners. Many of us have experience doing that in a physical classroom, but that is often overlooked in a virtual environment. One way we can help participants feel safe is to allow participants to use their preferred communication mode.
I ask participants to briefly introduce themselves at the start of a class. Some say they prefer chat because they lack confidence in their spoken English; others have background noise issues. Some like voice because they type poorly or just prefer speaking. Instructors need to be comfortable with both modes to help participants feel safe. Since some learners focus more on content and less on the chat (which I think is almost all of them), when I see a comment in the classroom-wide chat I read it aloud before commenting, much as I might repeat a question in a physical classroom.
One reason I like the Learning Tree Anyware(r) platform is that it provides not only the options of voice or text chat but also a convenient "Chime In" feature for alerting the instructor with a "doorbell" sound. It can be especially valuable for participants who have typed in a question or comment to ensure the instructor notices it.
Rules of instructional design still apply
The changes an instructor needs to make when transitioning from live to virtual delivery can be subtle. The fundamentals of Maslow's hierarchy and Gagne's events of instruction still hold - we just need to apply them a little differently. Instructors new to online delivery may need coaching in implementing the change. I've taught Live, Instructor-Led (LILT) for over forty years and I've taught virtually for over a decade. I thoroughly enjoy both environments. As a Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD; formerly CPLP), I am positioned to help coach those along the path. I can be reached through Learning Tree.
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With over a million participant-hours of participant experience, the AnyWare platform is well-tested and it has shown itself to be a valuable solution. Learning Tree has a myriad of testimonials from participants who find the experience to be very parallel to a live classroom.
As an instructor, my primary goal is to help guide the learning of course participants. Regardless of delivery mode, the needs of the learner are paramount. By subtly adjusting their techniques, instructors can move from LILT to VILT.