A Guide to Building Human Connections across Classroom, Online, and Blended Learning Environments

As a learning expert, I understand how to build human connections in any learning environment. I often see safety directors who want to simply check a box for training so they can say they offer it. What if I told you there does not have to be a hurdle or huge learning curve to build human connections in learning, particularly online learning?

Here are tips and strategies to help you begin building meaningful training that your employees will remember.

Be a Coach

It is important that you set the stage from the beginning: learners are in charge of their learning. Give them permission to take an active role in what and how they learn. This builds trust and rapport. Be a guide by their side instead of a sage on the stage: lead them in learning but avoid lecturing.

Examples for implementation

Structure the room in pods or groups.

Give learners a link to the resources and information so they can work at their own pace.

Walk around as a guide to answer questions and support the learners with questions they may have.

Invite leaders to come in, introduce themselves, and communicate safety culture expectations.    
Set up online discussion boards.

Let the learners answer divergent and open-ended questions to get them thinking, and follow up with clarifying points.

Create video messages in which leaders share their expectations and their vision of the organization’s safety culture.        
Use the online strategies, and then use the classroom time to answer questions and present information that may be especially challenging.    

Make Your Presence Purposeful

The reason for connecting with your learners must always be communicated, no matter the environment or format. This gives you an opportunity to communicate your safety culture and build relationships.

Examples for implementation

Communicate your organization’s core values and mission. Discuss what the core values mean to each of the learners.  

Communicate your safety purpose statement clearly and consistently.  

Post safety message key words and your company’s core values in various locations throughout your organization.  
Communicate your company’s core values and mission through expert video messages and images.   Invite feedback through the discussion boards.  

Communicate your safety purpose statement clearly and consistently in the learning platform.  

Post key words of your safety message and core values in video messages, and send them to learners throughout the year as reminders.   
Use the online leaning management system to leverage the consistency and messaging for the core values and safety messages.  

Reinforce messaging with visual representations throughout your organization’s terminals.

Be Authentic

The last thing any learner wants is learning that is not relevant or meaningful to them. When was the last time you wanted to take a training course that was generic and didn’t speak to you and your needs? Never! Create a curriculum that draws on learners’ immediate environments and delivers them just-in-time training experiences.

Examples for implementation

Deliver content that is most relevant for that particular in-person training session. Content will need to be repeated because learners can only retain a specific amount of content before their working memory unloads or dismisses the information.Deliver content in meaningful, small pieces of information at the time when learners need the content.   

Set up automated triggers to deliver just-in-time content.  

Make sure the topics and formats are most relevant to your organization’s needs.
Deliver safety messages and coaching in real-time, online training through video conferencing, such as LumaLive®, and then follow up with face-to-face coaching as needed.

Create a Safe Environment for Sharing

Tell the learners what to expect when working together in the learning environment. Provide rules for communication and activities.

Examples for implementation

Set rules and post them in the physical classroom. Examples may include: Set rules and post them in the online classroom. Examples include:
  • Set etiquette for the dos and don’t s of online communication.
  • Encourage participation over spelling and grammar.
  • Remember there is a human on the other side of the message.
  • Respect people’s time and bandwidth.
  • Stay on topic.
  • Be kind.
Post the rules online and in the classroom. The rules can apply to both the physical and online classroom settings.

Connect Emotionally

Lessons must be worded and communicated in a way that draws on multiple levels of human psychology. Use multiple mediums (e.g., text, images, video, audio, and gaming) in languages that align with how people want to connect. Ignoring how the learner wants to connect creates a gap in engagement.

Examples for implementation

Show content examples with pertinent photos and short videos.  

Invite participation through games and in-person discussions.
Post examples of the topics being covered with photos and pertinent short videos, and invite participation through games and in-person discussions.  

Build connections with learners through the text you use to communicate with them.  
Use a combination of both methods.

Encourage Reflection

Invite learners into the learning experience by asking a question to activate their prior knowledge. Wake up their brain. Give their brain a reason to pay attention. Give the learner the opportunity to make connections to information they already care about and know.

Examples for implementation

Give learners time at the beginning of, during, and after lessons to reflect on what they know, what they want to know, and what they learned.  

Post activities on worksheets or presentation slides.
Give learners time at the beginning of, during, and after lessons to reflect on what they know, what they want to know, and what they learned.

Post activities in essay questions, in learning modules (like Luma’s eNuggets®), and/or on discussion boards.
Have learners reflect in a physical class and as part of online follow-up assessment messaging 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days after their initial reaction.

Be Responsive

Consider the disconnect you may experience when you call someone and get their voicemail. Connection is important to us: it means someone or something is on the other end to help. You must set expectations for how and when you will communicate with learners and what learners can expect from your role as the instructor.

Examples for implementation

Make a poster of the communication expectations, and include how often the instructor will interact with the learners and the expected response wait time.  

If you are not available during certain times to communicate with the learners, share those times to create transparency and establish communication expectations.
Embed the communication expectations in the learning management system, and include how often the instructor will interact with the learners and the expected response wait time.   

It is important to communicate to the learners if you are not available during certain times.  
Include the learning team’s information on terminal posters and the front end of the learning platform.

Seek Insight

Feedback is essential to showing learners that you want to know where they have been and where they are going. If the learning is stagnated without ongoing feedback, it is difficult to know where your learners are and what they need. Building human connection means collecting insight from the learning experience.

Examples for implementation

Distribute an evaluation or rating sheet. Collect responses at different points during class to determine engagement and likability levels.Collect ongoing feedback at the end of every training. This can be done through surveys or the learning management system analytics.Use a paper-based evaluation sheet in the classroom setting, and follow up with ongoing feedback through the learning management system.

Act On Feedback

Once you get feedback, act on it. Showing learners that you listen to their feedback deepens trust and credibility.

Examples for implementation

If you provide evaluations before lunch, you can implement changes or address hurdles in the afternoon.    

This could also be true at the end of the class. If there is a day 2, adjustments or future improvements to classes can be made.
Feedback can be acted on in real time by adjusting content and discussions.   

Instructors can reach out to individual learners through live sessions or chats and messages to address concerns.   

Future online classes can be adjusted.
Communicate either online or in person the adjustments that will be made for learning.

We all seek personal connection and human interaction. As automation and technology continue to expand their abilities, we must not lose the essential components of building human connections. Research shows that strong personal connections can be built without ever meeting in person. The key is to implement teaching strategies that put the needs of the learners first.

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