Digital Distractions in the Virtual Classroom
Dan Beckius
Posted by Dan Beckius

Beckius has been on the frontlines of virtual training for as long as he can remember. It all started 20 years ago, when he was often seen carting around desktop PCs and monitors for face-to-face training sessions. A vocal advocate for the power of online training, Beckius helps companies get as much as possible out of their virtual classrooms.

You’ve planned, prepped and staged. But how many attendees are actively engaged in your virtual classroom? A lull in participation could be a sign of copious note-taking… or it might indicate that participants are multitasking.

 Problem is, you have no way of knowing. Don't know what is happening behind the screen in virtual training.

In the online environment, where you can’t physically see which activities people are performing, digital distractions remain a big challenge for facilitators. The same devices that attendees use to access your virtual classroom are often populated with tempting alerts and browser tabs.

Thankfully, one easy-to-implement method can go a long way in capturing attention and keeping participants focused on learning. 

Help Virtual Classroom Participants Create the Right Setting

When accepting an invitation to an online training session, it can be easy to overlook the need to prepare physically. After all, participants can log into your virtual classroom from just about anywhere. All they really need is a laptop or desktop, right?

What your attendees might not realize until it’s too late is that their physical surroundings can have a direct impact on how well they’re able to focus within the digital environment.

For example, consider the participant who’s joining your online training session from an open office space. Unless this person finds a quiet corner or closed room, there’s a high likelihood of background noise — an office mate's phone conversation, the ping of a coworker’s instant message — that studies have shown can make it difficult to focus on and absorb information.

And the more difficult it is to pay attention, the more tempting digital distractions can be.

This is problematic for yet another reason: Once your attendees give in to a digital distraction, you can expect it to take more than 23 minutes — nearly a full quarter of the one-hour virtual classroom session — for them to get reacclimated and refocused on your training. The more often this happens, the less capacity learners will have to understand and recall important information or valuable insights.

You can help prevent these scenarios by being upfront with participants when you invite them to your virtual classroom.

First, encourage them to find a quiet setting. The fewer pings and ringtones during online training — including those that come from colleagues — the better. Participants may not think to factor in these “outside” digital distractions ahead of time, so don’t hesitate to encourage them to identify a quiet setting in advance.

For example, you could include language in your invitation that inspires attendees to reserve a quiet conference room or arrange to work from home. Find a quiet conference or meeting room to take virtual trainings. 

Next, let them know what type of device you recommend. While it can sometimes be tempting to join a virtual classroom from a mobile device, this isn’t always the best idea. In addition to distracting calls and texts, smartphones and tablets often don’t grant participants access to the full scope of features. Some of the most engaging ones, such as interactive whiteboards and polls, are only available in their entirety on laptops and desktops. From laptops to tablets to cell phones, there are many digital distractions during virtual trainings.

You can help cut down on the potential for digital distractions — and set up your learners for success at the same time — by letting them know in advance when the full desktop version will be required for optimal learning.

Template: A Virtual Classroom Invite to Minimize Digital Distractions

Using the above strategies, your virtual classroom calendar notice or email invitation might look and read something like this:

welcome message

Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Training

Participants are encouraged to find a comfortable, quiet environment that allows you to be fully immersed in this interactive session. While noise-canceling headphones can help to an extent, the following preparations are also highly recommended:

 Choose or reserve a quiet location prior to training

  • If you have a door, consider using a “do not disturb” sign for the duration of the training
  • Silence your phone
  • Disable all alerts and popups before joining the virtual class
  • Log in from your laptop or desktop to ensure you’ll have access to a full range of interactive features and activities 

While you can’t prevent digital distractions in the virtual classroom, it is possible to prevent and prepare for them. This one simple virtual classroom technique can go a long way in keeping them at bay. shutterstock_434620324 

How do you fight digital distractions in the virtual classroom? What else would you add to the template above? We are always looking for new ideas to improve engagement in the online environment and would love to hear your tips. Please share your suggestions in the comments! LEARN MORE


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