Five More LOLAs

In an earlier article, we presented five different Live Online Learning Activities (LOLAs). Here are brief descriptions of five more LOLAs: instructional magic, textra games, case method, ABLA, and optical illusions.

Instructional Magic

The Internet displays an increasing number of magic tricks that can be used in virtual classrooms. We frequently use these tricks, not to bemuse or amuse the participants, but to help them explore a variety of training topics, including process mapping, critical thinking, systematic observation, and performance coaching.

In a piece of magic called the Psychic Card Trick, we display six random playing cards on the screen and ask each participant to mentally select one of them. We then claim to pick up these cards, shuffle them and deal them again, five cards face up and one, face down. We invite the participants to scan the new display. Every one of the participants claims that the card he or she mentally selected is the only card turned face down!

After a suitable pause, we reveal how this magical effect is achieved. We explain that we did not fool them but their own brains fooled them: Once they mentally selected a card from the original display of six cards, that card becomes the figure while the five others become the ground. The brain focuses on the selected card with an obsessive intensity and ignores the other five cards. The brain also makes certain incorrect assumptions to fool itself.

We use the Psychic Card Trick to demonstrate key principles from perceptual psychology and to emphasize the potential limitations of observation as a data-gathering strategy.

You may use this and several other magic tricks to spice up your virtual classroom sessions and to make them more interactive.

Textra Games

Textra games add extra instructional value to text materials. This type of activity primarily requires the participants to read a text passage and strengthen their understanding by participating in an activity. For example, they may respond to questions and share these responses. In general, we use short reading assignments in a single slide in our live online sessions.

Here’s an example of textra game (called Headlines) that we recently used in a virtual training session on change leadership. We began by presented a short piece of practical advice on the screen:

Avoid initiating your change campaign with a big kick-off.  Instead, sponsor pilot projects that create a buzz.

We asked the participants to focus on the core idea in this piece of advice and type a suitable heading. We encouraged the participants to make this heading both memorable and meaningful. We also asked the participants to type the reasons why their  heading is superior to the others.

Headlines is only one of several  textra games. You should have no difficulty coming up with other activities to entice the participants read text materials and process the information in different ways.

Case Method

A popular teaching technique in business schools, the case method can be used as an effective training tool in virtual classrooms. The basic procedure involves the participants processing the case material that is presented in an audio, video, or text format.

In a recent live online learning session on rapid instructional design, we used an activity called Principles to Practice that began by our by presenting these four principles of rapid instructional design:

  1. Let the inmates run the asylum. Empower the participants to locate, generate, and process the content through collaborative activities.
  2. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Re-purpose the content that is already available. Use activity templates that have been field-tested.
  3. Build the airplane while flying it. Design training while delivering it.
  4. Mix it all up. Combine, omit, and re-sequence the steps in the instructional design process.

We asked the participants to keep these four principles in mind as they listened to a case study about the design of a leadership-training course.  At the end of this narration, we recalled one of the four principles and conducted a poll in which the participants chose among these alternatives:

  • This principle was not used in the instructional design case study.
  • This principle was slightly used in the instructional design case study.
  • This principle was moderately used in the instructional design case study.
  • This principle was heavily used in the instructional design case study.

Before displaying the results of the poll, we invited the participants to type in an explanation of why they chose what they chose. We repeated same polling procedure with each of the other three principles.

In a live online session, you can use the case method in different media and reinforced by different activities.

Assessment Based Learning Activity (ABLA)

Assessment-Based Learning Activities (ABLA) require the participants to respond to a test, a rating scale, a survey, or a questionnaire and receive feedback about their personal competencies, attitudes, or personality traits. The facilitator conducts discussion among the participants and provides additional just-in-time training.

We conducted a recent live online training session on building trust in the workplace. The main point we wanted to get across is that trust is not a unitary concept that can be measured quantitatively. Instead, trust differs qualitatively among different factors. For example, you may trust your dentist’s competency but not her predictability in terms of the schedule.

In the online session, we presented five different items from a trust questionnaire, one item at a time. Here’s the first item:

I genuinely care about the other person’s well being.

We asked each participant to think of a colleague in the workplace and respond to the item using the following 5-point scale

1 = Never

2 = Rarely

3 = Sometimes

4 = Often

5 = Always

We asked the participants to write down the appropriate number on a piece of paper, reassuring that they do not have share their responses with anyone else. We then pointed out that this item refers to the concept of selflessness as a trust factor. We gave them a couple of high-trust and low-trust behaviors related to selflessness and invited the participants to type-chat other behaviors related to the same factor. We then asked the participants to reflect their current level of trustworthiness on this factor and come up with personal strategies for increasing the frequency of selfless behaviors.

We repeated the procedure of presenting an item (related to the factors of predictability, authenticity, relatedness, and competency), asking personal ratings of the frequency of this behavior, generating examples, and brainstorming strategies for improving their trustworthiness.

We have used several ABLAs in our online sessions. For example, we ask the participants to take a lengthy online questionnaire  and help them interpret their scores during the virtual classroom session. We have also used a series of true-false items to diagnose the participants’ understanding of cultural variables and provided remedial explanations to reduce serious misconceptions.

Optical Illusions

Optical illusions provide attention-getting visual metaphors for key concepts and principles.

We use the Kanizsa Triangles illusion in our virtual training session on skepticism. The concept we want to explore is patternicity, a word coined by Michael Shermer: The brain has an amazing pattern recognition ability. It processes a few bits and pieces of information and makes total sense out of them. Working intuitively and rapidly, the brain connects the dots to create the big picture. This instinctive pattern recognition ability provided an evolutionary advantage to our ancestors by making them proactively run away from saber-toothed tigers when they heard rustling in the forest. Unfortunately, pattern-recognition also leads to self-deception, superstitious behavior, and conspiracy theories.

During the online learning session, we present this graphic:

We ask the participants to type what they see. Most participants see two triangles, a white one on top and another triangle with black sides. We point out that these triangles don’t actually exist. All we see are three black circles with missing segments (like the Pac-Man character in the video games) and three v-shaped lines arranged in different angles. Patternicity help our mind make up the triangles.

We debrief this illusion by asking the participants to come up with examples of patternicity in the real world, especially in the workplace. The participants have no problem generating several examples of hasty generalizations. We then ask them to type potential negative outcomes of this cognitive ability. Finally, we ask the participants to type different ideas for removing or reducing the negative consequences of patternicity.

Three Principles

Here are three underlying principles about the 10 LOLAs that we frequently use:

  1. There are many different types of LOLAs. In the previous toolkit article we explored structured sharing, thought experiment, interactive lectures, interactive stories, and instructional puzzles. In this article, we discussed instructional magic, textra games, the case method, assessment-based learning activities, and optical illusions.
  2. Each type of LOLA contains many different activities. For example, there are 30 different types of interactive lectures.
  3. The structure of each activity can be used as a template to explore different topics: For example, the Headlines activity can be used in conjunction with pieces of practical advice on a variety of soft skills.

So there is no excuse for making your virtual training sessions passive and boring. Nor do you have an excuse for using the same activity over and over.