Think about the last time you visited the doctor. Was it to diagnose an ailment? For a regularly scheduled checkup? Or for preventative medicine?

When was the last time you checked on the health of your organization’s virtual training initiatives? Is it suffering from ailments that need attention? Or do you need some preventative medicine to keep it on track?

Healthy virtual training is more than just a straightforward lecture or simple online presentation. Typically, virtual training is a highly interactive, live, online, synchronous instructor-led class. It has defined learning objectives, and participants who are individually connected from dispersed locations. It uses a virtual classroom software platform that has been designed for online training.

Virtual training events tend to be short – usually 60 to 90 minutes in length – and, most of the time, have a small number of participants – under 20 – to allow for maximum interaction and dialogue. Whether this description is how you define virtual training or not, the single most important “healthy” feature of all virtual training is that it’s about learning:

  • It’s about participants learning a new skill or acquiring new knowledge.
  • It’s about participants engaging with a facilitator and other attendees while connecting together in their learning journey.
  • It’s about participants changing their behavior back on the job as a result of what they learned during virtual training.

Here are three common ailments of virtual training programs, along with their underlying causes and some recommended solutions.

Ailment 1: Undefined Expectations

You know have undefined expectations when attendees join a virtual training session expecting to remain passive participants or when an instructional designer creates an interactive session, but the speaker just clicks through slides and reads the text with no vocal inflection. These are classic cases of undefined – and mismatched – expectations.

The Solution: Define your goal, and then design, plan for and communicate your expectations.

Begin by defining success for your virtual training initiative. Determine exactly what you hope to achieve. Ask yourself, “What’s the overarching goal for the session?”, “What information should be shared, or what skill needs to be learned?”, and “What do attendees need to know or do as a result of participating?” By answering these questions, you’ll discover what type of virtual session would work (large group webcast or small group training class) and how best to achieve the learning objectives.

Once you define success, make sure everyone involved with the program is on the same page. Contract with your instructional designers to create the sessions. Prepare your facilitators to deliver on expectations. Let your participants know ahead of time via email or text message if you expect them to interact and engage. Ensure everyone involved knows what’s expected.

Ailment 2: Unengaged Participants

You know you have unengaged participants when they don’t answer questions, and they stay silent when the trainer expects them to respond. When participants remain passive throughout the session, they are most likely multitasking and only paying partial attention to the virtual training class.

The root cause is almost always a non-interactive design. Specifically, the interaction doesn’t start soon enough, and/or it doesn’t continue throughout the virtual training session.

The Solution: Design relevant, interactive virtual training sessions.

Use the following principles to create an interactive session:

  • Engage participants from the start. Greet them warmly. Invite them to respond to a poll, or use the chat feature to answer an on-screen question. Create an environment that involves participants immediately.
  • Interact at least every four minutes. Participants need to interact with the tools and with each other within the first two or three minutes, and then the interactivity should continue at least every four minutes throughout the presentation.
  • Use all the platform tools. Think about ways participants can use all the online tools available to them, including chatting, polling, whiteboarding, breakout groups, and so on. Be creative with these tools to maximize their use.

Ailment 3: Unexpected Events

When a virtual training event doesn’t go as planned, it’s the symptom of unexpected events. These events could be a power outage, a telephone drop or even a disruptive participant.

You might think that unexpected events are simply a natural part of live online training. Things happen; technology can fail. While this may be true to an extent, advance planning and preparation will minimize unexpected events.

The Solution: Over-prepare for unexpected events, stay calm when they occur and manage them gracefully.

Here are several ways to mitigate unexpected events.

  • Learn the platform features. One cause of unexpected events is a facilitator who does not know the platform tools well enough to run a virtual session. Every facilitator should be an expert on the software and its features, including what every button does.
  • Prepare participants in advance. Share technology tips with participants. Ask them to use headsets and avoid using speakerphones for clear audio connections. Advise them to use wired connections when possible to minimize wireless connectivity issues.
  • Teach tools in the moment. Help participants know exactly how to use each virtual classroom tool.
  • Have backup options planned. Make plans for contingencies or unusual situations that could occur, and be prepared to use them.

In Summary

Healthy virtual training is a vibrant place of activity and learning. When your virtual training is healthy, participants engage in the training topic, learn something new and are able to apply the acquired information back on the job.