A year ago the world turned upside down and we had less than a week to transition our entrepreneurship courses and workshops to a virtual environment. Like most educators, our questions focused on: “how can we keep connection with participants without being in person together? How do we shift our physical design thinking exercises to a virtual world? How can we best serve our students?”
While we have found answers to these questions, we haven’t stopped looking for new ideas. We continue to try methods and reiterate to ensure we get them right. There are three main categories that are crucial to turn high-collaboration, in-person events into virtual successes. These include: participant engagement, community building, and accountability.
Engagement is critical for fun and learning. When participants can be physically present, engagement is more simple as they can easily shout out responses and have a natural conversation. In the virtual world, with frozen screens and sound delays baked in, instructors have to be more intentional with ensuring participants actively stay engaged.
One way to maximize engagement is to minimize lecture blocks so that they are under 45 minutes. Screens are draining and human attention spans looking at our computers instead of at a classroom are much shorter. Therefore, it is important to balance asynchronous lectures to allow people to watch on their own time and synchronous lectures, which should include more interaction and breakout rooms to add value to the time together.
For the synchronous lectures, we’ve learned to include shorter breaks for participants to stretch—you can even do a group stretch—and break out rooms for participants to interact with small groups. This helps provide even shy participants with an opportunity to engage with smaller groups.
One of our favorite parts of entrepreneurship workshops is the people we get to meet—and we don’t want to lose that connection just because we’ve moved online. We’ve found that to get to know your participants—and for them to get to know each other—it’s important to build in time for organic chatter and networking. We do that at the beginning of a program by having a “soft” introduction where we can all chat casually. Typically we have fun questions too, like, “where is the next place you want to travel when it’s safe?”
It’s also important to mix the participants during activities in the breakout room so that they get to engage with different people in each breakout session. We encourage them to engage in chat and have even set up Slack workspaces for our programs so participants can stay in touch in real time. They use Slack to share introduction videos before programs and resources during programs.
Let’s be real, who hasn’t done a load of laundry or been eating a meal while on a call or webinar? We all do it and sometimes we need that push of accountability to stay present. As an instructor, it’s up to you to set and example and hold participants accountable. Keep your video on and encourage participants to do the same.
Set the expectations ahead of time by letting participants know that you’ll be calling on them randomly and expect answers. Participants are more likely to engage if they know they might be put in the spotlight.
Engagement, community building, and accountability are all important to creating a valuable learning experience in a virtual setting. Most of all, don’t forget to have fun! Plan your lectures with time for Q&A and activities, and allow time for jokes, smiles, and digressions in the conversation.