Retaining people's attention during a live online learning session is an art. Barbara David Parnarouskis, director of education at NAIOP Corporate, the association for commercial real estate development, explains some of the fundamentals and best practices of good online engagement.
Associations Now: Why is engagement important when it comes to live online learning?
Parnarouskis: For one, retention. If a student is engaged, then they are more likely to pay attention until the end of the course. It keeps the student's eyes and ears on the screen, instead of checking email, working, or allowing for other distractions. And finally, it creates an emotional and mental connection to the instructor, classmates, and the material being presented.
How could associations be engaging online learners better?
It's easier than you think. There are several tools an instructor or staff member can use to engage the student, including icebreakers (such as introductions, games, polling, and the chat box), but the most effective engagement tool is the open-ended question. Ask students to provide examples from their own careers on how they've run into or handled a certain issue that is being discussed. Yes-no questions are the kiss of death. We're really trying to create a learning-based conversation.
How can associations best prepare their or instructors to better engage online learners?
I cannot overemphasize the importance of an online producer. The producer manages the technology and eases any fear or discomfort the instructor might have about presenting in an online environment. This allows the instructor to focus on the students and material being presented.
We also require our faculty attend a 30-minute, web-based training. It's split into two parts, one that focuses on the technology and a second part in which we review the course material pointing out where conversation prompts and anecdotes can be added.
When it comes down to it, content is great, but unless you can make it real and relevant for the students, it doesn't stick. You do that through engagement.
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Keep 'Em Hooked."]