Virtual classrooms aren’t new; they’ve been a viable learning solution for over 20 years. However, in 2020, this learning modality skyrocketed to the forefront of almost every organization’s mind. What was once a backup option quickly became the star of the show.

Given the high priority placed on virtual learning, the significant investments going into it and the expectation that virtual learning is here to stay, it only makes sense to measure the results.

Evaluating virtual learning begins well before an online class starts. There are nine specific things you can do to measure the results of virtual learning. Four of them happen before the class, two happen during it and three occur after. Regardless of where they fall in order of operation, planning ahead must be a priority.

1. Define the Problem

There’s always a reason for developing a training program, and all training efforts should be tied to organizational issues. The training might aim to solve a noticeable performance gap – such as increasing customer satisfaction scores – or fill an anticipated need – such as upskilling team members in a new technology platform. Either way, clearly defining the problem at the beginning will enable you to identify and measure successful outcomes.

2. Determine Measurable Outcomes

Once you clarify the problem statement, identify the measures that correspond with it. For instance, if your problem relates to customer service and your organization tracks customer satisfaction, use those metrics to determine the impact of the training. For intangible issues that don’t have clear measures, look for related evidence. For example, employee engagement survey scores can be used to assess communication skill levels.

Admittedly, these first two steps should fit into any training program — virtual or otherwise. Although these practices aren’t exclusive to the online classroom, learning leaders would be remiss to not include them. Once the problem and desired outcomes are clear, it’s time to plan the virtual learning solution.

3. Design a Relevant and Interactive Program

In today’s environment, you must ensure that online classes are highly relevant to your audience. Virtual learning competes with a host of other priorities, and – unless there’s a compelling reason to stop and learn – most people won’t. Otherwise, they’ll partially commit to a virtual class by multitasking through it.

So, if people gather for a virtual class, it should be for discussion, collaboration, practice and feedback. This engages the audience in conversation and provides them the opportunity to apply learning. Avoid long lectures and save those for videos or podcasts. Instead, plan your virtual programs with a focus on engagement.

Why are these two items important for measuring success? Well, if your audience isn’t paying attention, what’s the point? The virtual class simply won’t deliver impact.

4. Set Participants up for Success

Since learners are passively participating in several forms of online events — virtual meetings and presentations being the most common — asking for active engagement in an online class may surprise participants. But the more participants get involved with their own learning, the more likely they are to achieve learning outcomes. Therefore, it’s important to set participants up for success in the virtual classroom, especially if you want to measure results.

Participant preparation includes everything from checking technology to ensuring advance assignments are complete. Participants need to know what to do, when to do it and how to do it. For example, if a leadership development workshop requires learners to complete an assessment before the class begins and use their webcams for participation during the program, these expectations need to be communicated in advance. Otherwise, program goals will not be met. A participant who shows up unprepared will not achieve the same results as well-prepared participants.

5. Ensure Everyone Knows the Expected Outcomes

It’s no secret that, when everyone strives toward common goals, they are easier to achieve. For measuring successful virtual learning, this means that everyone should understand the intended goals of the program and how they will be reached.

Specific to virtual training, three key stakeholders — designers, facilitators and participants — play integral roles. Designers create relevant programs that align to desired outcomes. Facilitators share both the program’s learning objectives and the benefits of achieving them. Finally, participants must recognize how the program will help them realize better results.

Think of it this way, when participants hear, “Today we are learning how to quickly look up customer information in the new system, so you can rapidly respond to a question and have more time,” they will demonstrate greater buy-in for learning the topic, because they understand its relevancy to their work. They will also be better equipped to share how virtual training enabled them respond more effectively to customer requests. The stated connection between what they will learn in class and how it will improve on-the-job performance will help learning leaders more easily connect the dots when measuring results.

6. Use Platform Tools Creatively

Virtual classrooms have more interaction tools than most in-person classrooms. Using these tools creatively allows for greater participant interaction, leading to deeper learning. And deeper learning leads to better learning outcomes.

For example, consider using the following tools:

  • Polls for conversation starters.
  • Chat for group conversations.
  • Webcams for deeper dialogue.
  • Whiteboards for team collaboration.
  • Breakouts for practice and feedback.

Keep in mind that it’s not about using the platform tools just to use them. Utilizing these tools in learning design should contribute to furthering learning outcomes. For instance, if participants have to learn a new job-related technique, they might respond to a poll question about their experience with it, watch a short demonstration via webcam, brainstorm application ideas with their peers on a whiteboard and then go into breakouts where they each practice the new technique.

7. Ask the Right Follow-Up Questions

Most training programs use surveys to capture participant feedback. Virtual classrooms have simple ways to gather this feedback through poll questions and whiteboards.

Besides asking standard learner reaction questions, the end-of-class survey should also gauge the participants’ technology experience. Was it smooth, or did it impede learning? Were the participants able to see, hear and interact with their peers? Were they able to engage fully, or did they spend their time dealing with distractions? These issues directly affect the program’s results and should be considered.

8. Check for Application

Rather than asking how participants felt about the virtual class, it’s better to know if they learned and applied the content. Therefore, learning leaders should build knowledge and skill checks into the program design.

For knowledge checks, use the virtual classroom’s polling or quiz feature to test comprehension. Be sure to word these questions for knowledge application rather than recall. Ask questions such as, “What would you say in response to a customer’s request for information about our product?” instead of, “What are three features of the product?”

Despite the common misconception that some skills simply can’t be taught in the virtual classroom, many skills can and can be checked by getting creative with the platform tools. For instance, a virtual class to teach hotel housekeepers how to make a bed to brand standards might involve webcams for skill demonstrations.

Checking for application draws a clear connection back to desired learning outcomes. And measuring if participants can apply the learning to their jobs will help you determine success.

9. Focus on Changed Behaviors

Once the virtual class is over, check in to see if participants are using their new knowledge and skills back at work. Also, consider how on-the-job application affects the stated goals of the training program.

To find this quantifiable data, look to the same measures identified prior to the program. Has the training affected change? Has it generated a positive impact on the organization?

If it’s possible to observe participants in the workplace, take time to do so. Otherwise, a post-task review may be sufficient. For example, listen to a sampling of customer service calls to hear the new skills in action, or review customer satisfaction surveys to identify trends and related topics. Either way, you are looking for measurable results.

Changed learner behavior ultimately determines success. It answers the questions, did the training achieve its intended outcome, and did it solve the original problem?

In Closing

With the recent shift toward virtual learning, it’s important to know if these programs are achieving results and adding value to the business. By following these nine simple steps, learning leaders can determine if their virtual training programs are delivering desired outcomes.