Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Getting "Productive" Feedback from Virtual Classrooms is Tough.

For the past four years we have been designing, developing, and delivering webinars (aka virtual classrooms) to tens of thousands of people. And because we know how valuable feedback can be to any training event, we have incorporated a feedback mechanism and process into each of our webinar offerings. We have even followed our own advice from our book, The Learning Explosion, by making the entire feedback process short and concise, which increases the probability of participation and completion. What we have discovered at first surprised us, but led us to make some fundamental tweaks to our feedback approach. Here are the three main challenges we discovered and how we successfully addressed them.

1. Challenge #1. Your virtual classroom participants want to get in and out.
Most will not take the time to anwer feedback questions at the end of the session. They are likely sitting at their desks with a full inbox and pile of reports to complete. And of course social media which is always eager to pull our attention away. Despite this reality, most virtual classroom feedback opportunities come after all the percieved value of the event has been met.

While the solution to the problem appeared to be a relatively easy one, implemenation was hard. The solution we chose was to build in the feedback process before the close. This only works if there is value and relevance built into the close, and the feedback takes a couple of minutes at most. Another unforeseen challenge was persuading webinar facilitators to follow the new instructional design. They have been conditioned over years of ILT (instructor-led training) and ineffective virtual classroom delivery to always provide feedback at the end of a session. Once they started trusting in the new design, participation and scores improved.

2. Challenge #2. Your numbers will be skewed.
Why? Because with virtual classrooms you are now working with a unpredictable partner. Your technology platform. No matter how well your system and network is doing, and no matter how well you utilize your webinar platform, someone will always have dial-up or bad network connection and have a crappy experience. Their feedback is usually not positive.

The solution to overcoming this challenge is two-fold. First, establish clear technical requirements, and testing opportunities before the event. Many platforms have widgets or add-ins that allow you to test your computer to see if it is compatible with the platform. You should also always have a FAQ document you can share with participants before, during, and after. The second solution is to simply ignore negative feedback that is out of your control. Like someone on dial-up who had problems connecting. Come on. Really? Or someone who doesn't have Flash installed. etc.

3. Challenge #3. You will receive more irrational comments.
Let's face it, people have been conditioned to expect a sit back passive webinar experience where they are not expected to do or say anything but show up. So, if you create a engaging experience that requires interaction and participation, some participants will react negatively. Sounds crazy, but its true. They want to be able to do emails, and surf the net, and not be actively involved. People also will want your webinar to be longer, shorter, and everything in between.

Set up clear expectations before and at the beginning of your webinar. Let participants know that this is not your typical sit back experience, and that they will be held virtually accountable. Also let them know why your webinar is the length it is, and provide additional materials and resources if they would like to learn more. Accept the fact that you cannot be everything to everyone.

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