Ask a person who attended an in-person training and most likely s/he will comment that one benefit of attending learning events is the opportunity to learn from and network with peers and trainers. Networking happens more naturally in a face-to-face setting as participants mingle during coffee breaks or after a course concludes.
In the virtual classroom, the social dynamics are much different, and networking must be much more intentionally designed. There are typically four key occasions during a virtual course when course organizers can prompt participants to network:
1. Before the Learning Event
- Pre-course emails: This is the first opportunity to make the case to participants that despite the virtual approach, networking with your peers can be rich and impactful. Encourage participants to be more intentional and proactive networkers during the course than they might be in a face-to-face setting.
- Participant Lists: In the virtual classroom, the participant list takes on a more visible role than is typical in face-to-face learning. Get creative and use tools like Microsoft Forms or discussion forums and involve participants in creating their own personalize greetings. For example, ask participants to respond to post a photo and respond to this statement: “Here are some areas that I have worked in and have something to contribute”
2. During Small Group Activities
- Virtual classroom tools allow participants to meet in small breakout groups concurrently during live sessions. The first breakout group session can include a networking or introductory ice breaker activity. If you change the groups later in the course, include instructions and sufficient time for participants to introduce themselves to each other.
3. During Scheduled Breaks
- Many courses include a short break during the formal live session. As participants return from break, encourage informal discussion among trainers and participants.
4. After the Learning Event
- Post-course “Office Hours” Add time at the end of a session/course for informal discussion during “office hours.” This discussion typically brings out issues that some participants feel they need more time to work on and provides a way for participants to meet others who face similar challenges.
- Post-course Emails: After the course concludes, remind participants of their new network and encourage them to reach out and support each other.
Fostering networking in a virtual event requires planning and a little creativity, and a little extra effort can go a long way to ensure participants make strong connections in a class.