Tips for Delivering Engaging Virtual Workshop Sessions in Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Programs

Tips for Delivering Engaging Virtual Workshop Sessions in Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Programs

SIMR Practice Brief, OPRE Report #2023-035
Published: Feb 28, 2023
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Associated Project

Strengthening the Implementation of Marriage and Relationship Programs

Time frame: 2019-2022

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation


Mark Ezzo

Sheila Cavallo

Adilia McManus

Lauren Mattox

Key Findings

Virtual workshops are a flexible option for HMRE programs, giving participants the option of attending from home and without the costs of transportation and child care. This brief shares four tips to support HMRE programs interested in enhancing their virtual HMRE services:

  1. Train facilitators on virtual delivery. HMRE practitioners who wish to offer virtual services might want to begin with a training on virtual service delivery for facilitators and staff who support virtual workshops similar to the one used in SIMR. This training can help facilitators build their confidence. It can also enable staff to identify their own barriers and concerns related to virtual workshop facilitation and generate strategies to potentially address them. In SIMR, the project team developed a training—based on guidance and best practices from the field (for example, Anderson and Derr 2020; Bodenlos et al. 2021; Yanez and Selekman 2022)—to help Montefiore facilitators overcome some of these initial challenges.
  2. Prepare participants to troubleshoot technology issues. To help participants manage technology issues, programs could develop a guide similar to the one developed for Montefiore during the SIMR project (included as an appendix to the brief). To develop this guide, programs can review the help page of their preferred virtual meeting platform and consult technology specialists at their organization. The guide could provide information for participants on: (1) joining virtual sessions; (2) setting up for success when attending virtual workshops; (3) describing the virtual platform’s features; and (2) dealing with technology issues.
  3. Encourage camera use as needed. To help encourage camera use, facilitators might consider adopting a strategy that empowers participants to be in control of when they are on camera. In SIMR, University of Denver found success implementing an intentional camera use strategy called, “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t”—a strategy developed by HMRE practitioners to fight the fatigue of virtual meetings and promote video engagement. The goal of this strategy is to get participants comfortable using their cameras when sharing information or participating in discussion, and empowering participants to turn off their camera when engaged in other activities.
  4. Deliver the content in a way that helps manage time while keeping participants engaged. In SIMR, the project team and Montefiore staff developed a process to streamline and facilitate virtual workshops in an engaging way dubbed, “Teach, Demonstrate, Practice/Coach, Process, Model,” guided by principles on how adults learn (Alamillo and Person 2021; Merriam 2008; Merriam and Bierema 2014). Other programs wishing to adopt this process should start by working with curriculum developers to identify core concepts that should be taught in each lesson. With those core concepts clarified, practitioners can identify any content that is supplemental and plan to cover it only if there is time. After this exercise is complete, facilitators can apply the “Teach, Demonstrate, Practice/Coach, Process, Model” framework to plan engaging lessons for their virtual workshops.

The virtual service enhancement tips in this brief are drawn from rapid cycle work conducted with Montefiore Medical Center and University of Denver in the Strengthening the Implementation of Marriage and Relationship Services (SIMR) study. These HMRE grant recipients are funded by the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) and based in New York City and Denver, Colorado, respectively. These organizations participated in rapid cycle learning to improve their approaches to delivering virtual HMRE services. The SIMR project has two related goals: (1) to improve the service delivery of grant recipients in the study and (2) to develop lessons from the broader HMRE field about promising practices for addressing common implementation challenges, including challenges related to recruitment, retention, and content engagement.

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