Virtual classrooms have suffered in the past from being badly delivered as organizations got to grips with the technology. The benefits in terms of cost (travel, hotels, downtime, etc.) are well acknowledged and have driven uptake of the technology. However, while more presentational online learning has taken learners out of the process, virtual classrooms can add a significant benefit to your digital learning experience by bringing learners back into the process in a way in which other learning interventions do not.
Experts, tutors, mentors, coaches, trainers, and learners can all be brought together in virtual classrooms. For example, studies show that your learners will do better by having an expert guide to lead and support them throughout the session.
The tutor plays a key role by improving engagement throughout the learning experience, and can help and motivate learners to get through their personal learning challenges. Another dimension is added through the interactions of the group of learners themselves. By creating a collaborative peer group, your learners can bounce ideas off each other in a way that more traditional digital learning doesn’t allow.
However, running virtual classrooms is not an easy thing to master, so we’ve pulled together our top ten tips for running a successful virtual training session.
1. Use Virtual Classrooms as Part of an Ongoing Blend
Incorporate virtual classrooms fully into the blended learning experience to help bind cohorts of learners together and engage them throughout the learning process. This ranges from pre-learning sessions to scenario exercises and other engaging interactions over an extended learning program, and onto follow-up sessions exploring feedback, stories, and expert Q&A. This will also help your cohort to keep in touch, share knowledge, and develop as a group.
2. Plan Your Session
As with any learning design task, start with your learning objectives. These may cross over with the rest of the blend (if there is one), but you need to be clear on the objective of your session in order to focus your preparation, materials and the session itself.
3. Prepare Your Audience
Use the tool’s email reminders to ask the audience to download any required plug-ins in advance, turn mobiles off, test their headphones, etc. Use this communication opportunity to solicit questions in advance, which will also help increase turnout rates.
4. Know Your Audience
When developing traditional digital learning experiences, we target different user types. But in virtual classrooms, you can really get to know your audience in more depth. Elicit information through registration forms, invite further information through the joining instruction emails, and use this information to really target your learning design to your audience.
5. Let Your Audience Know You
Start your session by introducing yourself and your background, along with a photo so your audience can visualize who you are. You need to build trust and rapport with your audience so they are comfortable being guided by you as an expert.
6. Storyboard Your Session
You must have well-structured content for a successful session. Defining a clear and appropriate structure for the session, and the activities you’ll include within it, are vital to a successful virtual classroom. Remember to tell the audience what you’re going to cover first, and to reinforce the key points at the end.
7. Keep It Visual
In a face-to-face presentation, the audience can see you and if there’s no visual slide, their attention will be focused on you. Keep your slides visual to keep the audience’s attention from wandering. If you’re not using a webcam then include a photo in your introduction slide too, so the audience can visualize you.
8. Use a Facilitator
This important supporting role can introduce the session and presenters, act as a moderator, manage chat or questions, run your polls and oversee other interactive features. They can also deal with any technical issues that arise during the session.
9. Engage Your Audience
Don’t just run an online lecture; use hand-raising tools, polls, chat and questions throughout the session to keep the audience interested and engaged. Your audience is typically only seconds away from their email, so you must build rapport, engage their interest and maintain it throughout the session.
10. Measure Success
Follow up the session with an evaluation form at the very least to measure the success of the session. Better still, follow up with an online quiz or an assignment to keep the learning process going.
Want more tips on engaging your learners? Watch a recording of our webinar on ‘Digital Learning 101: The Panel – Learner Experience and Engagement’.
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Note: This post was originally written in 2015 and has been recently updated.