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4 Strategies for Coping with Challenging Participants in the Virtual Classroom

Posted by Melissa Grey Satterfield on 4/6/15 4:00 AM
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How to cope with challenging participants is certainly not a new topic. In fact, you’ll find numerous blog articles written by my colleagues (and myself, for that matter) on handling challenging situations in a traditional classroom setting. But what about dealing with difficult learners in a live, online, synchronous environment or virtual classroom? How you respond to a challenging behavior can make the difference between a healthy, collaborative learning experience and an awkward, uncomfortable session everyone wants to escape. While many of the coping strategies are the same for instructor-led training and virtual classroom training, there are some subtle differences.


Based on my own experience in the virtual classroom, I’ve put together a few tips to help you manage challenging situations:

1. Separate the “what” from the “why.” Instead of focusing on what the learner is doing, ask yourself why he/she is doing it. Does he want to be recognized as an expert? Does she seem frustrated because she can't use the technology? Does he wish he were back at his desk finishing a project by its deadline? Once you’ve done this separation, acknowledge the underlying need with a positive comment. For example, "You obviously have a lot of experience in this arena," or "For someone new to the virtual environment, you're getting a handle on this pretty quickly," or "I know you have a lot on your plate, so let's make sure this session is productive." Because you lose eye contact in the virtual world, it’s even more important to be mindful of your tone of voice. You don’t want to come off sounding aggressive or threatening.


2. Thank a challenging participant for their insights, questions, and challenging observations with comments like, "That's a great question," or "I've never thought of it that way before," or "That's a good point. Let me capture your thoughts on the parking lot, and we’ll come back to it at the end of our session today.”


3. Provide numerous opportunities for active participation. Allocate time for learners to express themselves and be actively engaged (every three to five minutes) in the virtual classroom. This will help manage the “chatty” learner (e.g. side conversations in the chat pod).


4. Keep your sense of humor intact. An easy laugh and a willingness to playfully handle a difficult participant’s challenging comment can relax a stressful situation.


Despite their contrary behavior, challenging participants usually want to be included in a collaborative, productive learning community. By drawing them in, instead of shutting them down or pushing them away, you can enrich the learning environment for everyone. If these simple, effective strategies don’t work, you can always speak to him/her one-on-one after the session or turn it over to your Producer to explore via private chat.


What tips and tricks do you have for managing challenging behaviors in the virtual classroom? Please share your ideas with us.


Tips for Success in the Virtual Classroom


Melissa has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. She graduated from the University of Nevada where she studied broadcast communications. During her college years, Melissa worked as an on-air personality for several radio and TV stations in Las Vegas. She’s always been a bit of a performer, which is probably why training is such a good fit for her. Before coming to Langevin, she was a senior training specialist and course developer for an organization based in L.A. Melissa knows the challenges trainers face, as well as the rewards that come with improving job performance. Her training mantra is summed up best by something she learned during her very first Langevin workshop, “Never do for the learners what the learners can do for themselves.” When not in the classroom, Melissa loves travelling, relaxing at the beach, cooking, and hosting dinner parties.

Tags: virtual trainer, virtual classroom

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Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

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