Engaging learners at a distance

Numerous studies have shown evidence to support the benefits of 'active learning' in the classroom over the traditional 'chalk and talk' or 'passive learning' approach (Prince 2004; Michael 2006) and these benefits can be similarly valuable in remote delivery of training.  Active learning in a traditional classroom involves encouraging students, either individually, in pairs or in groups to get involved in activities that promote skills at the higher level of Bloom's taxonomy (analysis, synthesis and evaluation). Examples of activities that facilitate active learning include:

  • demonstrations
  • role play
  • discussions
  • creating
  • gathering information
  • presenting information

These activities can be just as relevant in a remotely delivered training session, and in some ways are even more appropriate where the trainer or facilitator is not co-located with the learners as activities are more likely to encourage students to participate.    Facilitating activities at a distance requires the same skills as facilitating in a face to face environment, however a number of refinements may be required due to the lack of cues from such things as body language.

In facilitating a remotely delivered training session it is important that for each activity there are:

  • clear expectations (activity outcomes; roles, responsibilities)
  • stated completion time
  • opportunities to ask questions (particularly for clarification of understanding)
  • good quality sound for all participants
  • agreed communication protocols (media dependent) - e.g. visual prompts when a task is completed, when to mute and unmute mics
  • handouts provided in advance 

For each joining location it may be helpful to appoint learners with supporting roles such as:

  • time - keeper
  • assistant in the room

Netiquette in blended and online learning

This guide aims to give some ideas and points for netiquette in blended and online learning.


There can be a tendency for remotely-delivered learning session to be very formal.  For the facilitator, it is important to talk normally and to allow time to set the scene, allow participants to check that they can see and hear you, and to ask for feedback early in the session.    Learners new to remote delivery may also require additional encouragement to participate.  An ice-breaker activity can be really useful as a way of introducing the learners to each other and to the facilitator.  In a video conference setting this provides an opportunity for learners to acclimatise to a new learning environment.  It is also important to engage each learner as early in the session as possible.  This may be through introductions or asking questions.  It may be helpful for learners to say who they are when they make a contribution.

Group work can be very effective in a remotely delivered workshop as it provides an opportunity for learners to have a break from video conferencing.  Group activities can be allocated for each joining location or if the functionality is available, learners can be allocated to meet in virtual rooms and then re-join the main group to feedback on the activity.

Engaging learners at a distance is very similar to engaging learners in a traditional classroom / face to face session. However, as the facilitator is not in the room and may not be able to pick up on cues available in a face to face session, clearer information and instruction may be required in a learning session delivered remotely. Such clarity is around, learning outcomes, activities, roles within activities and time allocated to activities.

Online collaboration

This guide aims to give some ideas and points for consideration when facilitating collaboration at a distance. It examines group tasks, setting up groups, the roles and responsibilities of the tutor, collaboration tools and assessment considerations. It also includes a useful checklist to help set up a collaboration session.

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