As L&D professionals rapidly upskill in virtual training and quickly transfer in-person content into virtual, instructor-led, synchronous learning, a large gap in virtual training still remains: the asynchronous learner experience.

Ever since the “record” feature first appeared on virtual training platforms, it has become common practice to design and deliver a live event and simply hit the “record” button to capture the content and deliver it as an on-demand, asynchronous option. It seems like a promise of more return on investment (ROI)!

The problem is, for asynchronous learners, most recorded virtual sessions are tediously long, have group discussions or breakouts that aren’t relevant because they can’t participate, and are downright boring. The learning and engagement with the content doesn’t compare to the live experience.

We’re in an unprecedented time that demands more from the virtual classroom than ever before. It’s time to think more holistically about the virtual learning experience, to acknowledge that hitting record isn’t enough, and to create virtual training that is highly engaging for a live session and is still impactful for the participants who watch later.

How do we make this shift? It starts with instructional design — using three easy-to-implement design elements that we can implement up front so that a live learning event is engaging and seamlessly creates a recorded version that is just as impactful.

The shift continues with creating a post-session protocol so that, firstly, the recording is not treated as an afterthought but, rather, is seen as a critical component to the entire training, and, secondly, the live event does not receive all the attention. A virtual training that is intended to live in a recorded format is not complete until the training team verifies that it meets the needs of the asynchronous learning environment.

Let’s begin with understanding the difference in actual learner experience between someone who attends a live, online session (synchronous) and someone who interacts with a recording (asynchronous) so that the instructional design can accommodate both.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous learning

A key difference to pay attention to, which most talent professionals have been missing, is the after-the-fact support that asynchronous learners need in order to access the virtual training and ask follow-up questions. This difference is why a post-session protocol is so critical. With that in mind, here are three design elements that will create consistent engagement between the live learners and the asynchronous learners who watch the recording.

1. Use Video

Just like in-person training, where learners look at the facilitator and make eye contact, people want to see faces in the virtual platform and in a recording. It’s human nature; faces are psychologically stimulating and engaging. There’s no reason to take this experience away from a virtual learning event by including only a voice over a slide deck; facilitators should show their faces and encourage participants to do the same.

For live learners, seeing multiple faces creates connection to the learning experience. For asynchronous learners, the event mimics the experience of watching TV, and their brains will achieve more engagement watching the face instead of just reading text on the screen. When learners must learn on their own time, from their own discipline, it’s important to make the content as engaging as possible.

2. Provide a Downloadable Activity Sheet

Many live virtual events revolve around group discussions and breakouts as the primary way to process and apply content. But for asynchronous learners, these live discussions aren’t nearly as effective. It’s like an athlete sitting on the sidelines watching a game without participating. Plus, most small group breakout discussions aren’t recorded, which means the thoughts shared in them aren’t accessible.

To ensure that an asynchronous learner is also highly engaged in learning and applying the content, focus the training around activities you can put on a downloadable activity sheet for all participants to access. This way, asynchronous learners will be able to spend most of their learning time doing the same activities that the live learners did. With this approach, you can think of group discussions and breakouts as enhancements.

3. Include an Online Evaluation

Every training, regardless of whether it’s virtual or in person, should have an evaluation to capture knowledge gain and application and demonstrate the program’s effectiveness. For virtual training, the evaluation goes further by taking on a strategic, instructional design role and acting as an important method of providing consistent engagement to synchronous and asynchronous learners alike. The act of evaluating all learners provides the asynchronous learners with the same experience, helping them to feel valued and included.

To clarify, this online (not paper) evaluation should not just be a smile sheet asking questions like, “What did you like about the training?” Instead, the focus of an online evaluation for a virtual training should be Kirkpatrick’s evaluation level 2: learning and knowledge gain.

This type of evaluation also provides holistic data by capturing knowledge gain from the entire population of learners. If, for example, 20 learners attended live and completed the evaluation and another 10 learners completed the recorded training on their own time but did not complete an evaluation because they were not offered it, one-third of the entire learner group is left out, and the data is misleading. Plus, that one-third of data could make a significant difference for decision-makers when using training data to make budget decisions.

Once a virtual training is designed with the three elements detailed above, it should successfully provide consistent engagement for all learners, but the holistic approach to virtual learning does not stop there. It’s critical to think further about the life of the recording and intentionally set up a two-step protocol to follow after the live session is over. My next article will share more.