The Power of Silence in the Virtual Classroom
VIRTUAL TRAINING – Cindy Huggett, CPLP
For the brain, silence is as important as sleep is for the body
When was the last time you paused to hear yourself think? It’s probably been a while. Most of us are constantly surrounded by noise. It could be external noise (electronics buzzing, outdoor sounds, coworker or family members talking) or internal noise, such as our busy thoughts with endless to-dos, stresses and worries. The ability to tune out distractions takes work.
Silence is a rare and valuable gift. Silence is also an important part of learning. Silence allows you the time and space to reflect on beliefs, actions and reactions. It lets you absorb new information. Think of silence for the brain like sleep for our bodies. It’s a necessity, and a chance to renew and recharge.
The best virtual classes incorporate silence as a learning tool. They don’t have so much content crammed in that there’s not enough reflection time. They have facilitators who allow discussion. Skilled virtual facilitators are comfortable with silence and use it in ways that help the audience learn.
Unfortunately, many virtual facilitators are afraid of silence because they think quiet participants are not paying attention. However, a well-designed, relevant class full of interaction and discussion will keep participants involved.
Some virtual facilitators also fear silence because it means releasing control of the session. They think if they aren’t talking then they aren’t doing their job. But as the saying goes, “telling ain’t training.”
Here are four techniques that facilitators can use to talk less and use silence as a learning tool:
- Ask a specific question with instructions on how to respond, and then pause before speaking again. For example, say “What is your No. 1 challenge with today’s topic? Please type it in chat.” And then wait for most of the audience to answer before talking. Don’t be a play-by-play commentator on responses. Instead, give the group time to formulate and type their answers.
- Let the audience lead activity debriefs. For example, let’s say you have a large-group collaborative whiteboard activity. Once you’ve set the stage, provided instructions and ensured everyone is equipped, then stay silent while they work. As the whiteboard contributions start to wane, ask participants to “raise hand” when finished typing (both to indicate they are done and to ensure their last text is visible to all). Then, during the debrief, ask participants to review the board and mark or stamp anything that resonates with them. That way, participants can silently review the class input and reflect upon it.
- Use individual breakouts. Who says breakout rooms must be for group activities? While small groups can be a fantastic way to collaborate and practice, breakouts can also be used for personal time. For example, let participants know that they have five minutes to complete an assignment. Provide instructions, and then send each person to their own breakout room to complete it. Keep them accountable by visiting each room, and/or including report out time at the end.
- Take “intentional thinking” moments. Provide a thought-provoking reflection question, and then let everyone know that you’ll give them a few moments to review it. Play reflective music and include a countdown timer on screen. Invite participants who finish early to raise hand, so that you’re aware of their progress. At the end, either have participants report out, or send them to breakout rooms to work with an accountability partner.
By allowing time to think and pause in a virtual class, you will give participants a better learning experience. You’ll also create a sense of shared responsibility for the learning outcomes. Ultimately, your organization will benefit from better results and a greater return on investment.
Use silence as the powerful tool it is.
Cindy Huggett, CPLP, is a consultant whose books include Virtual Training Tools and Templates and The Virtual Training Guidebook. Email her at email@example.com.