For the past 5 years, we have been experimenting with increasing and improving interactivity in virtual classrooms. Here’s a brief introduction to five of the LOLAs (Live Online Learning Activities) that form the core of our approach.
Structured Sharing activities encourage the participants to generate their own training content and to process it collaboratively. These activities ensure effective recall and application of relevant information.
Respond and Predict is an example of a structured sharing activity. Here's an example: You tell participants to set their text chat to send messages only to you. Then you ask them to respond to an open question: “Why are most training webinars so b-o-r-i-n-g?”. The participants send in their responses. After a suitable pause, you tell participants to set their chat to send to everyone. Then you ask them to send their prediction of what the most frequent response to the previous question was. After another suitable pause, you ask participants to type the reasoning behind their prediction. When this is done, you reveal the top five high-frequency responses from participants in this session and in earlier sessions where the same activity was used. Then you invite participants to score the accuracy of their own prediction.
The training rationale for Respond and Predict is to encourage the participants to think deeply about the topic in the open question. Initially, they think about their own reaction. In making the predictions, they put themselves in the place of their cohorts. In coming up with the explanation, they think more deeply not only about their response, but also about the reasoning behind their response.
Respond and Predict is a framegame. You can use it as a template for generating online learning activities simply by changing the opening question to relate to your training topic.
Thought experiments involve individual participants undertaking cognitive exercises that involve guided visualization, generating and comparing alternatives, and imagining what-if scenarios. The activity is followed by a suitable debriefing discussions and explanations of relevant principles by the facilitator.
Here’s an example of thought experiment called the Green Monkey with the training objective of reducing obsessive rumination. The participants are asked to spend the next 60 seconds thinking about anything they want, except about green monkeys. (Try this thought experiment right now, if you want to. I can wait.)
At the end of the minute, the facilitator starts a debriefing discussion. The participants discover the key point about thought control: The more you try to control your thoughts and action, the more you are tempted to indulge in them. The facilitator asks the participants to suggest strategies for overcoming obsessive thoughts and comments on participants’ responses. The facilitator steers the conversation toward evidence-based though controlled techniques of focused distraction (example: concentrating on solving several sudoku puzzles), postponement (example: “I will think about this thing nonstop for 30 minutes after 5 PM”), acceptance (example: “Let’s face it. I cannot think of anything other than green monkeys, and that’s okay.”) and paradoxical therapy (example: "Let me wallow in these thoughts right now and think without any attempt at control").
You can design your own thought experiment to support your training objective. The psychological literature is full of suitable experiments. Here’s a thought experiment for you: Think how your participants will feel when they complete your first thought experiment activity.
Unlike traditional storytelling, in which the facilitator tells a story and the participants passively listen to it, interactive storytelling involves active participation from the listeners. The participants create and share their own stories or they listen to the facilitator’s story and analyze it, deconstruct it, change it, condense it, expand it, discuss it, and interact with it in many other ways.
Here’s an example of an interactive storytelling activity called Debriefed Stories. The facilitator tells a story that incorporates principles related to the training topic. The participants listen attentively. At the end of the story, the facilitator asks a series of questions to encourage the participants to reflect on the story, gain useful insights from the story, and share these insights with each other. The participants conduct this debriefing discussion through the text chat area.
Coming up with a story that has the theme, setting, and characters reflecting the training topic is the key success factor for designing and using interactive storytelling.
Instructional puzzles provide engaging previews or reviews of the training content. You can use appropriate puzzles involving numbers, words, graphics, or lateral thinking as intriguing training tools.
Here’s an example of an instructional puzzle called Number Series. The participants are presented these numbers and asked to come up with the next one in the series:
1, 4, 7, 10, ?
They accomplish the task fairly easily. The facilitator comments on the power of pattern recognition and presents the next puzzle:
3, 5, 9, 17, ?
This puzzle takes some more time to solve. During the debriefing, the facilitator points out that a pattern can be explained in more than one correct way and presents the next series:
8, 5, 4, 9, 1, ?
After few minutes of frustration, the facilitator points out that these are single-digit numbers arranged in alphabetical order (if written out in English). The learning point that is brought out during the debriefing is the importance of trying out new approaches rather than complacently staying with the approach that successfully worked in the past.
With suitable exploration and experimentation, you should be able to come up with instructional puzzles that suit your training needs and participant preferences.
Interactive lectures involve the participants in the learning process by having them ask questions and make responses before, during, and after a lecture presentation.
Here’s an example of an interactive lecture called Mixed-Up Sentences. The participants listen to a lecture on the Zeigarnik Effect. At the end of the 10-minute presentation, the facilitator displays six sentences, purportedly summarizing the key points from the lecture. The participants review this list and perform these three tasks:
- Identify an incorrect sentence that contradicts something that was presented during the lecture.
- Identify a superfluous sentence that deals with a point not presented in the lecture.
- Supply a sentence that summarizes a key point presented in the lecture but left out of the list.
Mixed-Up Sentences is another template for the rapid design of a training activity. All you need to do is to come up with a list of summary sentences that contains an incorrect statement and a superfluous statement—and leaves out one or more key points.
Five Examples, Three Elements
These five examples of live online learning activities (LOLAs) are selected from a larger collection. These activities and the others in the collection share three important elements:
- They do not require technologically sophisticated webinar platform functions.
- They actively involve the participants in the learning process.
- They reinforce the activity with systematic debriefing discussions.