Virtual training has a multitude of benefits — companies can save travel costs, learners can benefit from more dispersed and frequent micro-sessions, and L&OD experts can reach a wider, more diverse audience. When executed well, virtual training can be just as meaningful as in-person training. Here are some best practices to help you and your teams get the most out of virtual training experiences.
1. Build with the Same Core
When thinking through the layout and design of a virtual training session, approach it with the same basic principles and preparation as an in-person session. Start with the learning objectives. Keep lecture time concise and balanced with activities (both group and individual), along with time for questions. This balance is important for both maintaining the focus of and maximizing the learning of the participants.
Just like in-person training, keep presentations simple, clean, and visual. Slides containing too much information can be confusing and difficult to process. Consider using more animation to stimulate and engage participants, and experiment with using text only in the speaker notes — white space is certainly your friend! Above all, make sure that presentation materials are uniform and there is a consistent theme throughout.
2. Adapt to a Virtual Platform
If you are redesigning a training that was originally intended to be in-person for a virtual environment, you will need to consider some important enhancements. Break longer training modules into multiple shorter sessions with some offline work in between, since it can be hard to sustain learner engagement during long virtual sessions. An example of this would be dividing a four hour in-person session into multiple one-hour virtual sessions with break time, or even a couple of days in between each one.
You should still host group activities during your virtual training, leveraging the functionality of your video-conferencing platform. Many video-conferencing platforms allow facilitators to group participants in breakout rooms composed of sub-groups of meeting participants. Keep these groups relatively small so that they can work well together online. You can then move between breakout rooms to check in on folks and answer questions.
You may also want to provide participants with some offline materials to review and work on before or after the session. Because virtual training is often shorter than in-person sessions, leveraging the pre-reads and check-in assignments can reinforce the learning outside of the virtual classroom.
3. Become an Expert Virtual Facilitator
Don’t let being virtual take the spunk out of sessions that would have had more “life” in person. It is key to maintain high energy while facilitating a virtual training session, but it’s not solely your responsibility. Leave time and build opportunities for participants to engage with the material and with each other. When participants have the opportunity to be active rather than passive, your session will truly come alive.
Know the features of your virtual platform and practice in advance. A lack of platform knowledge can quickly overshadow content knowledge. If a mistake or glitch happens, remain calm. A quick joke about any hiccups goes a long way with participants — after all, we’re all human!
Give everyone a reason to stay engaged and focused. Make sure to read from your speaker notes rather than verbatim from what is already on the slides. Directly address participants using their names, and make frequent eye contact with the camera. Engage with session participants and qualify their questions and comments, even if it’s just to say, “great point.” When possible, it’s best for everyone to turn on video. This helps keep people engaged and you, as the facilitator, can gauge everyone’s reactions.
4. Allow Space for Processing and Feedback
There are many different ways to check for content mastery and understanding during a virtual training session. One way is through a traditional Q&A. Try using the chat box as a question intake platform, since asking people to raise their hands over video conferencing can be difficult. Designate one person to be in charge of the questions and have all questions directed their way. For a very large group, consider using an online platform for a formal Q&A. Certain tools, like Meeting Sift and Slid.o, even allow participants to upvote on their peer’s questions.
Another way to check for understanding is to use the poll feature on your video-conferencing platform. One method is to ask a multiple-choice question where different topics covered are the choices; participants then select those topics that they believe they can speak confidently about. Low scores indicate topics that may need more attention.
In smaller groups, you can replicate the in-person experience more closely by having people answer questions popcorn-style out loud. Keep in mind, though, that in larger groups, it can be difficult to minimize confusion with everyone talking over one another.
Remember, being virtual can change the way people process information, and it may take them more time to respond to a question. When a question posed to the group is followed by silence, pause and give the group time to respond. Try not to fill the silence by talking. If participants do not answer the questions, feel free to answer the question and go back to the topic to provide any needed clarification.
There are many different ways to adapt virtual training sessions and keep them as informative, meaningful, and fun as they are in person. The process might seem different from what you are used to, but they can still be successful with proper planning and execution.