Last year, it was unlikely anyone would expect the workforce to look the way it does now. The global pandemic has seismically changed the way we work — everything from working environments and social dynamics to the tools we are using. For professionals in the training industry, we’ve seen notable change as well. With remote work becoming the norm for organizations around the world, one training modality has seen a surge in attention: virtual instructor-led training (VILT).

We could call VILT “an overnight success, 20 years in the making.” The offering itself is nothing novel, and it’s certainly nothing new. The technology to conduct training online has been around since the late 1990s, but it’s taken a long time to encourage widespread adoption. VILT used to be an “only when necessary” option: For businesses of all sizes with widespread stakeholder groups, this type engagement makes perfect sense, as they could save money and time on travel and stay connected with disparate clients and employees.

So, what has kept VILT out of the zeitgeist for so long? To be frank, it’s the fact that a lot of VILT is not resourced, designed and deployed effectively.

Moving Existing Training Online Won’t Work

While VILT is a great mechanism for everything from skills training to company-wide discussion forums, it is not identical to in-person instruction. Organizations that rely on existing content without reworking it for this new method of delivery will have problems with execution and engagement.

It’s not that technology can’t support in-person training. The problem with VILT is not a technology problem but an application program. There are ways to make it seem as though the technology has melted away, leaving attendees with an experience that’s similar to or even better than an in-person experience.

Effective VILT Comes Down to Delivery

By considering all aspects of learning — from registration to attendance to subject transference — training professionals can shape any content so that it’s relevant and easily digested. Attention spans are much shorter online, so it’s best to change learning modalities frequently. Learners do not sign up to have a PowerPoint read to them; effective VILT comes from instructors who engage with the participants and form a community of learning during the session. By establishing elements like discussion breaks, live quizzes and polling, facilitators can make participants feel a part of the action. Beyond encouraging engagement, these types of modules that test learning can reveal to both instructors and learners which information they are missing and which information they are retaining.

It Pays to Invest in a Producer

On top of having a main facilitator — someone who understands how to engage online and break through a participant’s “second screen” — good VILT also has a producer. Producers manage the virtual room behind the scenes and are responsible for troubleshooting, answering chat messages, changing slides and managing polls. If the content is well designed, there will be many areas where participant engagement is necessary. For the session facilitator, it’s crucial to be present and engage with the audience directly. The producer collects questions or poll results in real time to find areas of insight on what will likely disrupt the flow — and effectiveness — of the session. This partnership between facilitator and producer creates a more interactive and intensive experience for the participants.

Test (and Test Again)

The fastest way to kill a good VILT program is having a system that learners cannot understand. Review the steps necessary to register and attend a VILT session; if attendees cannot overcome the technical challenges of attending, the presenter will burn up time and effort just helping people enter the session.

Internet connection also plays a major role. Presenters need to consider all of the devices being used at the same time. Local area network (LAN) connections are more reliable than Wi-Fi, as a wireless signal weakens with distance from the router. The more prepared the presenter feels, the more comfortable he or she will be throughout the presentation, leading to a stronger experience for everyone involved.

VILT has evolved over the years to be more than just a cost-saving approach to learning. It is a more efficient and scalable way to train distributed audiences. It helps remote teams establish a sense of community, and it does so in a shorter time frame to provide organizations with alternative mediums to reach people they otherwise couldn’t.

Looking at the world of work today, it’s hard to be certain of anything. What does seem clear, however, is that the adoption of technology is sustained and seismic. The need for VILT is not going to go away, and the demand for it will only grow. Organizations that embrace and invest in its best practices now will find themselves prepared — even in a future of unknowns.