Supporting the Offline Participant in an Online Setting

This recent demand that we all become online participants and facilitators has many rewards and challenges.  There is a different intention to our interaction and our time together. Our learning environment has become more isolated and independent, regardless of a virtual screen. And though the boundary may be virtual, it should not replace checking our assumptions about our participants as we plan for these events.

As member of an instructional design team for an Early Childhood training and consultation agency which provides professional development training around our state, I have been designing trainings that will be conducted by various people in various settings. I also train future facilitators to ensure that consistency in training happens throughout the state. Since we do multiple iterations of trainings as part of our work, I have had an opportunity to learn some lessons from our past few years in distance and online learning.

My advice? Keep it simple.  

1. Navigation should be easy.

How does the participant move through the content/ with or without you?

Depending on which platform or system you are using, keep the navigation of the course and content easy to follow. Try to avoid moving to a site outside of the course and then and back again to complete an assignment. Keep the flow or agenda consistent each time there is a meeting. When navigating the content for learning is easy, the likelihood of full participation is increased.

2. Use online time to connect and offline time to task.

What does the participant need to do with you and what can be done independently?

You as the facilitator are responsible for the material and resources the participant will need for learning new content or sharing information. Take time to decide what needs to be done online, and what can be done offline either before, during, or after the event?

Before the online event. An agenda, article, small assignment, provocation or image sent upfront can speak to the intended content before you begin.

After the online event. These same tasks can be given at the end of an event to be completed before the next class or training and can be used as evidence of practice.

During the online event. It is also possible to set an offline task during the event. This gives participant time to be in a safe and familiar learning environment to practice the application of skill, expand knowledge, or contemplate a new idea.

When bigger tasks or applications take place offline, you can use online time to connect to the participants with reflection or sharing of experiences. You can respond to group questions and invite dialogue whether in a virtual, hybrid or asynchronous format.

Use online time to provide information and to engage through reflection and dialogue, and offline to apply the learning.

3. What will the participant do, see, and hear?

What content is best shared online? What content could be offered offline?

Just like in-person events, you need to plan for how the participant will access the content and ask yourself: what will they see, what will they do once they see it, and what might they hear? There are a variety of methods of sharing content meaningfully. Videos, added colors, less text, narration, graphics, effects, uploaded articles, hyperlinks, etc. all help support the learners as they access the content.

When writing online learning objectives, think about verbs that encourage the participant to connect with their heart and head. Use respectful or productive verbs such as share, imagine, remember, speak to, decide, or name ideas, are ways to connect the participant to the content in an online setting. These verbs can generate ideas that “expand” the content for us.

For offline tasks, think about verbs that encourage participants to connect with their heart, head, and hands. Use tough or productive verbs to engage with the content like find, illustrate, solve, compose, prepare, or diagram. These verbs promote higher level thinking that takes time to process or manipulate or that may require movement and is best applied offline.

4. Visuals, visuals, visuals.

What can you say with an image that replaces text onscreen?

One of the challenges we now face is the need to be literate in any number of languages, including the technical language we are now using with each other. Sitting for hours and reading text can become exhausting. Decoding lots of text is hard on the eyes and takes time to process for intent.

To help the learner process, chunk text to bullet points or small bite-size pieces and pair your text with an image. Some participants will connect with the visual before the text, others may need conversation to understand the meaning, and still some will read the information provided. A slide deck is a quick way to keep the attention of your participants, as long as your slides are limited and reinforce the conversation.

A participant guide or worksheet can be helpful for capturing what normally would be documented in a face to face event. You can nominate a scribe or take notes yourself on this document. It can be sent out to the participants ahead of time so they may follow along and after completion once all thoughts have been captured.

Taking offline participants online for learning is daunting. For now, keep it simple.

How do you keep online learning simple for participants?


Jesica Radaelli-Nida ( is a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner. She mentors teams who are designing learning-centered events and helps facilitate workshops using this approach with New Mexico’s consultants, trainers and coaches in early childhood education.