The pandemic has led to a great adoption of virtual learning as many companies moved to a work-from-home model for employees, with some committing to the model indefinitely. This change has resulted in a race to convert traditional face-to-face training programs to virtual learning experiences.

Due to the varying skill sets of the people designing and developing training within companies and the timeline to make courses available for employees, many organizations now have virtual learning experiences that are designed like traditional courses. Trainers are delivering remote sessions like they would face-to-face sessions, only with a virtual platform, or they are making training materials available online for learners to complete in self-study sessions.

But the availability of technology alone does not equate to successful virtual training. The virtual learning experience requires a mixture of methods and techniques. Thus, the people designing and developing learning experiences should be equipped with the instructional knowledge, development skills and technology competency to create effective virtual learning experiences. In doing so, they should keep these five elements in mind:

1. The Learners

Learners do not need to move from basic to expert knowledge in one learning event. Consider scaling learners from an introductory understanding to a higher level of understanding over a series of learning events.

If there is a mix of proficiency across a learning group or learners need to repeat the training, help them assess their knowledge or performance before accessing the content, as they may already know the topic well or perform the skill to the expected standard. If learners do not meet that standard, you can then make them aware of that fact.

2. The Content

In the digital age, the amount of data we consume is increasing. Therefore, learning content must be relevant and timely, and it should be delivered using multiple delivery methods, including consumable microlearning packages. The goal is to deliver what learners need to know now to perform at the expected level and to build proficiency. Be flexible, and offer multiple types of content and support materials, as your more motivated learners will explore your offerings beyond what is required of them.

3. The Environment

It’s critical to select the right method to deliver the content based on the desired outcome. Consider whether learners should learn independently (asynchronously), with time to consume content, practice and prepare for interaction with others. On the other hand, perhaps you should introduce the content synchronously, allowing for a live introduction and guided exploration in a group. Or, maybe a blended learning (hybrid) approach would be appropriate. There are technology tools available that help create an environment to support learning and allow for skill development, including simulations, virtual and augmented reality, and gamification platforms.

Note that if you are asking learners to use a new environment to complete a learning event, ensure there is enough time for them to become more familiar with the platform, and provide clear instructions on how to navigate the environment and perform related tasks.

4. Application

Another important element to consider is the application of new knowledge or skills. It’s critical to give learners an opportunity to apply their understanding of the content and perform the skills they’ve learned. Application opportunities are not assessments; they are activities to strengthen knowledge, develop skills and receive feedback in order to develop a higher level of proficiency in the content area. There are a variety of tools you can use to encourage application, and they may even be included in the virtual learning platform you use.

5. Support

Learners may multitask, become distracted or feel disconnected when learning virtually, so it is important to provide learning support that they can reference during and after the learning event. You might provide that support asynchronously, through collaboration sites, discussion boards and resource videos, or synchronously, through manager support, learning cohorts and webinars. What’s most important is that learners know that support is available and are comfortable asking for help.

As virtual learning continues to grow, learning and development leaders must commit to the professional development of their team members to ensure that they can develop effective programs. Additionally, the individuals responsible for designing and developing virtual learning must ensure that they are leveraging the right instructional methodologies to create the best virtual learning experience for their learners.