Delivering great training online is more about engagement than IT skills 

Delivering FE and skills provision to learners remotely is not easy.

And it’s not necessarily because you haven’t got the latest video software or superfast broadband, but more likely because that rapport you have with your learners face-to-face, is missing now that you’re delivering through online channels.

Don’t worry though, you’re not alone – this is a common problem.

Even the tech gurus among us that can produce wonderful online content, are still grappling with how to successfully engage young people who are home based.

So, what are the underlying problems of delivering in lockdown and what can we do about it?

1. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself as a teacher or trainer

These are unprecedented times. We’ve all been thrown in the deep-end and asked to deliver remotely, without the time and space to plan how best to do this. This lack of planning, understandably, creates stress and anxiety for many teachers and trainers who are determined to carry on delivering the perfect lessons, when in reality it’s just not possible.

You might not have experience of delivering remotely, aren’t sure about which software to use, how to put slides on the screen in video calls or what to do when you have technical issues. It’s ok not to know all this. Recognising this is new to you - you are learning too - and it will take time to get right, will start to relieve some of the pressure you put on yourself and help you focus more on learner engagement.

2. Many of the ‘digitally native generation’ may need technological support

Young people are often referred to as the digitally native generation because they have grown up in the internet age. As a general rule, many have a good understanding of how to use social media channels and mobile apps. However, this doesn’t mean they will be able to get to grips with Zoom or Microsoft Teams from the word go.

To compound matters, they may think that you, and their peers, expect them to know how to operate the technology you are using with ease. When they have problems or can’t work out what to do, rather than ask for help at fear of being ridiculed, it can be easier to stop engaging completely.

Because of this, it is important to check in with your learners individually and check how they are finding the tech, what their broadband or hardware situation is like and if there is anything that could be done to make their learning easier.

3. Make changes for self-conscious learners distracted in video sessions

Many teachers and trainers are reporting that learners are distracted during video calls because they are looking at the image of themselves, and thinking about how they appear, rather than engaging in the content that is being delivered.

Being in lockdown means video calls shine a light on our personal lives to an extent. As well as our faces being on display, so is our home, the photos on the walls and even family members walking around in the background.

To help learners concentrate on the subject matter, it can be a good idea to set a consistent format and expectations for video calls that everyone must follow. For example, there is often an option to blur or add backgrounds on video conferencing software that all participants could use. (If you use backgrounds, it is important to agree what is and isn’t appropriate for a background image with learners before using the technology.)

Alternatively, you could put slides on the screen for the duration of the session, so people’s images only appear as thumbnails around the main screen and don’t provide as much of a distraction.

This doesn’t mean turning off images as a blanket rule – seeing people’s faces helps with learning – however it is important to consider ways to reduce this problem and perhaps trial different approaches to identify which system creates the best engagement.

4. Be sympathetic to learners lacking motivation

It can be frustrating if learners do not seem as motivated to learn remotely as face-to-face, but it is worth bearing in mind that this lack of motivation could be hiding a number of other emotions we can’t get learners to express at this time.

Learners may be struggling with being in lockdown, are worried about family members getting ill or just simply find it hard to transition from a WhatsApp call with their best mates to a WhatsApp call with their tutor and not switching ‘modes’.

Essentially, the lockdown is creating a lot of change, which in turn affects mood and behaviour. It’s important to recognise this and make time to strengthen your relationships with your learners. Taking a genuine interest in how they are doing and what they are doing at the moment, can really help them to open up and allow you to understand how better to deliver content they can engage with.

5. There is such a thing as video fatigue

As great as video platforms are for allowing us to continue to deliver to learners in lockdown, you may be finding that you are more tired than usual or that you lose your train of thought more easily than during face-to-face sessions. This is because you are processing more audio and visual cues online.

The same is true for our learners. It is more difficult to read body language online, process background noise or decipher what two people are saying when they talk at the same time. All of these subconscious actions are making our brains work in overdrive, which means we can become distracted or lose interest in the content more easily online.

To allow for this change, it is a good idea to shorten your online delivery into blocks about 2/3rd as long. You can also stop regularly for breaks if you see people trailing off or allow for group activities that break up the session and give you learners a time to engage in a different way.

Louise Willis-Keeler, Safeguarding and Behavioural Specialist at Psych-Logical, Louise Doyle, Quality and Technology Expert and Director at Mesma and Tim Chewter, SDN 


All three organisations recently came together to deliver a webinar for FE and skills practitioners giving useful insights and more. 

To watch the recording of this free webinar on Effectively Engaging Young People Using Online Technology, follow this link.


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