Success in the Virtual Classroom

By: Dana Peters, CEO, Mondo Learning Solutions
October 23, 2013

Designing and delivering effective, "on target" learning programs in any environment generally consists of several successful components. The more time we spend working in the virtual classroom environment the more clear the key components to a successful Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) program become to us. This article will take a high level look at this recipe for success.

We have found successful VILT programs focused on these four components:

  • Instructional Design
  • Facilitation and Hosting Skills
  • Technology
  • Participants and Culture

Component 1: Instructional Design
When repurposing a class from the face-to-face environment, successful organizations know you can't simply upload your existing PowerPoint slide deck into the virtual classroom and hold a class. And when starting a class from scratch, they don't approach the VILT design the same as they would when designing a class for the traditional classroom.

Successful VILT programs have taken Instructional Design of their VILT classes to a new level. Those responsible for VILT Design:

  • In a repurposing scenario, always revalidate each learning objective for relevancy.
  • Think about each learning objective as a separate piece. Then they consider how the pieces could come together.
  • Approach the design considering all the possibilities the VILT environment provides rather than what limitations may be present.
  • Recognize the power appealing and appropriate graphic design, visuals, and images play in the design of their classes.

Component 2: Facilitation and Hosting Skills
Organizations with successful VILT programs have a strong team of virtual classroom facilitators (trainers) and hosts (session moderators/technical producers). These facilitators/trainers have been allowed a significant amount of time and resources to spend on their own professional development. These facilitators recognized they needed to learn how to be effective in this environment where they can't see their learners' faces. They have discovered they still use many of their existing traditional classroom skills but they apply them differently in this environment. They also have determined some of their existing skills just aren't applicable in the VILT environment while other, completely new skills need to be added to their "toolkit."

Like facilitating in the face-to-face environment, most VILT facilitators don't become experts overnight. A solid development plan blending formal professional development classes, practice facilitating in real-life situations, and watching other facilitators in action has been a consistent strategy across successful organizations.

Sometimes facilitators are able to run these sessions independently (we call it flying solo), but more times than not, they need a second pair of hands (a host or moderator) to manage the technology so they can focus on the learners. If internal hosts are utilized they have access to a similar structured training and development program as their fellow facilitators do.

Component 3 – Technology
Successful VILT programs have the right technology in place to support their program. This is defined as:

  • Technology that offers as much functionality as necessary to meet the instructional design needs of their sessions.
  • The technology is not an inhibitor, it is an enhancer.
  • It is viewed as more than just a tool to get all the participants in "the same room."
  • It fits within the technical and navigational abilities of the organization's general participant population.
  • It plays well with the organization's internal network.

Component 4 - Participants and Culture
In many cases a new VILT program is a culture shift and it's a change for everyone. Leadership support here is one of the keys to success.

Learners also need to learn how to learn in this new environment; it's different for them, too. This component is often overlooked, but the successful organizations work hard in this area. Time is spent making sure learners get comfortable with the learning space, know how functions work, and have a chance to test things out in advance.

Their approaches vary but we have noticed that in these successful organizations there are consistent elements of marketing, sales, and branding involved in promoting virtual learning programs across the board. From class announcements, registrations, and course confirmations to pre-work pieces, handouts, and post session follow up items.