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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.

Recently, I addressed an issue that every corporate trainer faces in the virtual classroom: digital distractions. If you read my last post on this subject, you might already be taking steps to help your online participants create physical environments that allow them to be fully engaged in the virtual classroom.

Once you’ve done this, the next step is to stage your course content so it’s more compelling and captivating than any digital distraction ever could be. (Yes, it’s possible!) 

The best way to do that? Break it up. 

How to Fight Digital Distractions with Pre-Planned Breaks and Breakouts

Before we get into the specifics of online breaks and breakouts, it’s important to understand a concept called cognitive backlog. This theory is centered around the notion that what some might consider to be passive activities — such as thinking and listening — are in fact demanding cognitive processes that require a lot of brainpower. This means that the level of energy required to actively absorb information can only be sustained for so long before it leads to anxiety.

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 If you pile on too much information or spend too much time presenting, you risk creating “cognitive backlog” anxiety. The mental load becomes so heavy that it becomes too much to bare and participants drop it all. 
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 When this happens, digital distractions become all the more enticing. If it’s difficult to pay attention anyway, why not catch up on email?

You can fight these urges by breaking up your course content. There are several ways to achieve this:

1. Break up a longer training into a series of smaller components.

Whether in-person or online, there’s a limit to how much information people can absorb at once. By breaking up your training into shorter chunks for microlearning, you can help ensure people are able to give their full attention to your training. As a result, popups and alerts will be less tempting.

For example, in AirClass, a single course can be easily divided into a collection of short, engaging virtual classes. You can schedule these to recur at regular intervals or plan out specific dates and times.

2. Add pre-planned breaks when staging course content.

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A similar method for keeping digital distractions at bay is the staged break. By building these into your online training sessions, you can give participants much-needed  mental breaks and encourage participation at the same time. One simple, effective way to do this is to ask attendees to answer a new poll question every 15 minutes or so.

While participants are answering your poll question, you can practice purposeful silence to give learners some time to think, process and become re-engaged with your course content.

3. Use breakout rooms.

Dividing a larger virtual class into small groups can be a very effective way to stave off digital distractions and keep attendees engaged in online discussions. In AirClass, you can use “smart rooms” to have breakout groups automatically created based on individual Engagement Scores. This means a participant who has become quiet and disengaged due to digital distractions will be paired with someone who’s actively participating and likely to draw others into engaging conversations.

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No, you can’t completely eliminate digital distractions when training in the virtual classroom. But you can prepare for them. Breakout rooms, pre-planned breaks and shorter sessions are all great ways to do just that.

How do you fight digital distractions in the virtual classroom? We are always looking for new ideas that corporate trainers can use to improve engagement in the online environment, and would love to hear your tips in the comments.  LEARN MORE

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