Although some organizations were starting to make a shift to virtual training before COVID-19, it’s clear that virtual learning has now emerged as a foundational delivery modality for learning and development (L&D). In this blog, we will highlight a few actionable recommendations for how to revisit your approach to effectively redesign and reskill for virtual learning experiences.

Revisit Your Approach

It’s important to approach the content, design and delivery of virtual training programs with the mindset that the online offering will (and should) provide a different experience than the face-to-face program. The goal is to maximize the learning experience and achieve outcomes in a virtual environment — not to simply deliver the in-person instructor-led training (ILT) content in a virtual environment.

Start by revisiting the learning objectives and evaluating the content through a new lens. Keep in mind that today’s learners are distracted and busy. Optimize your program by including only relevant content that is delivered in a way that’s engaging, logical and digestible. In other words, eliminate any “fluff” and look for content that could be redesigned as prework or provided as post-training reinforcement (e.g., microlearning, job aids or eLearning) to reserve the valuable time in the virtual session for deeper discussion, peer collaboration, practice and feedback.

One of the many benefits that virtual training offers is flexibility. An eight-hour in-person ILT session could be chunked into four or five shorter virtual sessions delivered over a period of several weeks. For a blended approach, consider integrating self-directed reflection, peer cohort application activities or one-on-one coaching touchpoints between sessions to support learning transfer and behavior change.

Redesign For Interactivity And Engagement

As learner expectations and preferences continue to evolve and shape our instructional design strategies, adapting training for the virtual environment requires an intentional focus on participant interactivity and engagement. This applies to every aspect of the learning experience for the participant, including the slides, handouts, job aids and tools your virtual program offers.

Although we have largely become more comfortable using digital tools and solutions over the past year, recognize that learners are likely to have different levels of skills and familiarity with the various virtual platforms on the market. Set them up for success with a looping video that orients them to the platform’s functionality and provides troubleshooting tips that they can reference as needed.

In a virtual session, remember: Less is not more when it comes to slides because it’s important to keep things moving. Be creative and purposeful with your slide design and engage the learner with visuals, graphics and meaningful animations that support the content.

Intuitive and relevant participant materials are a vital component of a successful virtual learning experience. Participants are essentially “on their own” and the pace is quicker, so handouts that align with the slide content help keep participants tracking with the session and serve as a post-training resource. Participant handouts should guide the learner through the content and contain a complete set of instructions for any virtual breakout room or self-directed activity.

To successfully move in-person activities online, design for the outcomes you want to achieve with the virtual platform in mind. Depending on the platform, there is a range of options to choose from to build in interactivity and engagement. Features like polling, chat, annotation tools, whiteboarding and feedback icons can all be effective and efficient ways to generate participant input as you would during a large group discussion or debrief. Small group activities, teach-backs, role plays and peer coaching can be conducted using breakout rooms but be sure to build extra time into your agenda accordingly.

Reskill For Virtual Facilitation

Among all the factors that play a role in successful virtual learning, there is none more significant than the role of the virtual facilitator. In addition to being well versed in the content and mastering the required technology, the techniques for engaging a dispersed audience are unique and require keen communication skills, agility and adaptability. If you have an in-person ILT program that you want to optimize for virtual facilitation, consider the following suggestions to help your facilitators be successful.

The most important tool in the facilitator’s toolbox is a well-designed virtual facilitator’s guide. With all the moving parts a facilitator needs to manage in the moment, a comprehensive guide should provide all the content, logistical and technical-related direction and support the facilitator needs in one place. While some facilitators can partner with a producer to help orchestrate the session, it is important that the facilitator has the skills and resources necessary to successfully manage the logistics and technical troubleshooting.

Practice and preparation before the session are key, especially when technology is involved. Conduct dry runs with the platform and test your webcam positioning, background and lighting before going “live.”

During the session, be authentic and responsive, and consistently engage participants every three to five minutes. Dialogue happens naturally in face-to-face training, when learners are in the same physical space. In a virtual setting, however, facilitators need to be more intentional to maintain an active discussion cadence. Ask questions more frequently than you might in an in-person course to solicit input; check for understanding and guide spontaneous conversation. When using the chat, extend interactions by asking participants to come off mute and elaborate on their comments.

After the session, solicit feedback from participants and debrief with team members about what went well and any adjustments that might need to happen. Most importantly, never stop learning and growing.

While many organizations are beginning to return to the office and in-person training, the flexibility, convenience and cost benefits of virtual delivery warrants its status as a core modality both now and in the future.

If converting your current ILT offerings to virtual is on your radar, check out this new e-book for tactical guidance and tips for how to adapt the design and delivery of traditional in-person ILT for the virtual environment.