This comprehensive and detailed guide to best practices in virtual training offers more than 100 practical tips for facilitating successful live online and hybrid learning, including concepts such as blended learning and the “flipped classroom.” Training expert Diana Howles builds her advice around her “Virtual Training Capability Model.” This model delves into eight areas of expertise, spanning the entire design, delivery, evaluation and improvement process. Newcomers to live online learning will benefit most, but even experienced facilitators will find this guide a useful resource.
- Incorporate Learning Experience Design (LXD) into virtual training to broaden and invigorate conventional approaches to traditional instructional design.
- Create an effective virtual learning environment and guide learners in becoming co-creators of their learning.
- When on camera in virtual training, keep in mind that you’re connecting with real people in real time.
- When employed thoughtfully, the interactive tools available for virtual training can boost learner engagement and foster deeper learning.
- Learners can become habituated and disengaged in live online learning if you don’t mix things up.
- When things go wrong in online training, remain calm and agile so that you can recover quickly.
- Continuously assess the impact of your programs. Take time to evaluate their value and analyze data for ongoing improvement.
- Practice “blended learning,” in which you combine live online training with external assignments to extend the learning.
- When combining live and online learners in a training session, prepare even more carefully.
Incorporate Learning Experience Design (LXD) into virtual training to broaden and invigorate conventional approaches to traditional instructional design.
Although you may be a veteran in-person classroom trainer, virtual facilitation requires somewhat different skills. You must be confident managing online interactivity, multitasking and logistics. You need technical proficiency, the ability to troubleshoot and a professional on-camera presence. Voice modulation and the ability to engage virtual learners are also important. By honing these skills and acquiring new knowledge, you can better meet the needs of the modern-day hybrid work environment.
Use traditional learning objectives to drive your instructional design, but reframe and share them in a way that makes it clear how the training will help the participants. Your goal is to get them thinking, “Yeah, I want to learn that.” Integrate all of the elements of the four learning dimensions framework throughout your virtual learning experiences: cognitive – the information; emotional – learner motivation; social – give and take between the instructor and participants; and behavioral – putting learning into action. The blend of these elements can vary depending on learning goals, content type, learner characteristics and the tech tools available within the virtual class environment. Together the four elements make learning experiences more engaging, meaningful and impactful.
“Design virtual training as learning experiences that integrate the cognitive, emotional, social and behavioral learning dimensions.”
Prioritize your learners’ perspectives by considering their ideas, decisions and preferences. Ask for virtual learners’ input in the early stages of the course design process. Develop virtual learner personas to guide the design of larger-scale virtual training programs. Create an experience map that envisions the virtual learning journey of participants, from start to finish. Incorporate the “peak-end rule”: Help learners retain their new knowledge by pausing at the end of important chunks of learning and asking them to reflect on what stood out to them. This prompts participants to lock highlight moments into their memories. Re-imagine the traditional four-walled classroom paradigm to an open and shared virtual learning space.
Create an effective virtual learning environment and guide learners in becoming co-creators of their learning.
The learning environment affects students’ participation level, sense of belonging, and ability to express opinions and make mistakes. Use multiple communication methods to welcome participants. Encourage and reward active participation. Take proactive steps to minimize distractions and interruptions that could impede learning by asking participants to find quiet spaces for their sessions and silence their phones and digital alerts. Build personal connections by greeting people with a smile and by using learners’ first names throughout the training. At the outset, walk learners through the technology you’re using for the class.
“Just as facilitators shape learning environments, learning environments shape learners and their overall experience.”
Establish expectations for learner behavior and etiquette, and reinforce them as needed. Promote initial connections using chat, breakout groups, whiteboard activities or verbal introductions for smaller classes. Foster psychological safety during virtual training: Learners must feel they can take risks and make mistakes without fear of criticism, shame or embarrassment.
Assist virtual learners by providing context for pauses and silences – or anything they can’t see happening: For example, “OK, I’m bringing up the PDF here.” Address potential learner objections to your presented material out loud: “Some of you are probably wondering how this new project management system…is going to make the process more efficient.” Designate periods of silence to allow learners to complete activities or study complex visuals. Communicate beforehand when, why and for how long the silence will occur.
“Skilled virtual facilitators guide learners to be co-creators of their own learning.”
Provide open conversational space (such as chats) for all participants, and alert learners ahead of time when they may be called upon to share. Provide instructions in multiple ways and, for more complex activities, repeat them at least three times. Acknowledge and build on learners’ contributions. Refer back to learners’ previous comments throughout the training to reinforce connections and memory. Increase learner agency by providing many opportunities for them to be heard and by offering guided choices in the different ways they can contribute.
When on camera in virtual training, keep in mind that you’re connecting with real people in real time.
Your camera frame subconsciously tells your learners to pay attention to everything within the frame. To minimize distractions, ensure your camera frame is free of visual clutter and opt for a backdrop that doesn’t draw undue attention. Blurring your background is one way to cut down on distractions. Alternatively, purchase an appropriate physical backdrop or use slide content as a background.
“As facilitators, be on camera with proper Background, Lighting, Expressions, Angle, Clothing and Headroom (B-L-E-A-C-H) during purposeful connection moments.”
Poor lighting can hinder your learners’ ability to see you clearly. Ensure that your face is well-lit from the front with soft, even lighting. Be expressive and maintain eye contact with the camera when appropriate. Avoid excessive body movement and wear solid colors that contrast with your background. Position yourself in the center of the frame with your head consuming most of the space.
How you say something can be just as important as the content itself. Your “vocal delivery” conveys your intention, care, energy, enthusiasm and professionalism, among other things. If your virtual training platform lacks ambient noise reduction, use noise-canceling headsets or an external mic in a quiet area.
“Enhance your online presence as facilitator by elevating the quality of your audio and vocal delivery.”
Maintain an upright posture and breathe from your diaphragm while facilitating online. Pause momentarily between sentences to give learners time to process the information. Speak in phrases to slow down your speaking rate and vary your vocal delivery for emphasis and attention. Use a conversational style with informal language and personal pronouns like “you,” ”us,” ”we” and “let’s” to promote deeper learning. Enhance interest by varying your pace and vocal emphases.
When employed thoughtfully, the interactive tools available for virtual training can boost learner engagement and foster deeper learning.
Use these tools with a clear rationale for their application, rather than relying on them simply because they exist. Aim for a well-reasoned strategy for their use, including when, why and how each tool can support desired outcomes and learner objectives.
“Strategically leverage virtual platform tools at the right time with the right activity for the right reason.”
Use chat for quick, short responses. Promote learner interaction features, like virtual hand-raising, for questions and to encourage real-time comments. Employ screen sharing to clarify visuals or illustrate content. Engage all participants on camera for large group discussions, and use live annotation to highlight key visual elements. Utilize whiteboards for collaborative brainstorming and multi-participant activities. Ensure clear understanding of breakout activity instructions before starting and always debrief afterward, as the resulting connections can often be highly valuable.
Learners can become habituated and disengaged in live online learning if you don’t mix things up.
When you speak in a monotone voice, leave a single slide up too long, use repetitive slide designs, or fail to include diverse learning activities or training tools, your learners may tune out. Mix up your content, including its layout and medium, use text, images, videos and sound. Where possible, use multiple facilitators for vocal variety and increased engagement.
“Leverage the power of movement in multiple ways to engage learners throughout virtual training.”
Incorporate visuals for clarity and variety when instructional content requires it. Construct complex slide visuals progressively in real time using animated builds. Direct learners’ attention to the relevant parts of your presentation using pointers and other visuals while discussing them. Tailor slides to the content type. Encourage learners to use various tools in the virtual training platform for dynamic movement. Incorporate breaks into training sessions to help maintain focused attention.
When things go wrong in online training, remain calm and agile so that you can recover quickly.
The 3 Ms Method of troubleshooting and recovery can help when you run into problems: mitigate, manage and move forward. Mitigate by brainstorming potential issues before virtual classes begin and taking steps to prevent or reducing the risk of those problems ahead of time – asking participants to log in early, for instance. Manage by confidently and promptly handling challenges as they arise: If you accidentally leave your phone on and it starts making noise, for example, don’t interrupt the session; throw it in a drawer and deal with it later.
“Use the 3 Ms Method to mitigate risk, manage the expected and unexpected, and help learners (and yourself) keep moving forward.”
Finally, move forward: Bounce back from technical and other difficulties rather than getting stuck in the past. Quickly recovering and moving forward is essential for the class’s benefit. Having a plan in case of potential disruptions can aid in faster recovery.
Continuously assess the impact of your programs. Take time to evaluate their value and analyze data for ongoing improvement.
During your project’s design phase, establish an evaluation plan based on knowledge and performance objectives. Consider well-known learning evaluation frameworks, such as the Kirkpatrick Model’s four-level process and the Phillips ROI Methodology. Determine the evaluation levels most important to customers, employees, managers and stakeholders to gauge virtual training effectiveness. Communicate the crucial role managers play in evaluating and reinforcing training outcomes.
“To continually improve, evaluate the effectiveness of your virtual training programs and push past the limits of what you’ve previously done to discover what could still be.”
Collaborate with managers to observe and measure workplace applications of learning, providing support through aids or evaluation rubrics. Partner with stakeholders or professional evaluators to collect organization-wide impact data when necessary. Embrace risks, experimentation and innovation in virtual training. Engage experts to address learners’ questions in real time during online sessions. Stay open to conversational AI’s potential role in virtual training facilitation, and stay informed about the future of the virtual training industry.
Practice “blended learning,” in which you combine live online training with external assignments to extend the learning.
Blend synchronous and asynchronous elements for a comprehensive virtual training program. Utilize asynchronous (self-study) course components for independent class activities. Use synchronous class time for live discussions, group breakouts, collaboration, brainstorming, analysis, problem-solving and skill practice with feedback.
“Blend synchronous online instruction with asynchronous components to improve learning.”
Review questions help learners practice recall and receive feedback. Assign required pre-work for completion before live classes to pique learners’ interest in the topic. Track pre-class assignment completions and follow up with learners who haven’t completed the pre-work. Set automated reminders to complete review tasks at one-day, one-week and one-month intervals after training. When assigning readings or videos for asynchronous learning, indicate what to focus on and the benefits of the content.
When combining live and online learners in a training session, prepare even more carefully.
Prioritize audio technology: Use a wireless microphone or a high-quality omnidirectional in-room mic for mobility and clear audio. Select supporting technology based on quality and ease of use. Arrange the physical setup of your space thoughtfully, considering its effects on sharing and discussion.
“Determining whether live mixed learning may or may not be viable depends on your resources for the requisite technology, staffing co-facilitators, design flexibility, ability to keep total class size small and access to additional IT support.”
Allow learners to choose between attending the training virtually or in person. Work with co-facilitators for live mixed classes, designating a lead facilitator for both on-site and online participants. Have an IT technician available for pre-class tech checks and to address issues during the class. Strive to ensure an equal learning experience for both remote and on-site participants – asking remote learners for their feedback first can help counter any bias in favor of the in-person learners.
About the Author
Diana L. Howles is a master trainer for live online and blended learning. She is a past president of the Association for Talent Development, Madison, and a regular presenter and keynote speaker at conferences worldwide.
“Next Level Virtual Training: Advance Your Facilitation” by Diana L. Howles is a comprehensive guide that equips trainers and facilitators with the necessary tools and strategies to excel in the realm of virtual training. Howles dives deep into the challenges presented by online training and provides practical advice on how to overcome them, ensuring engaging and effective virtual learning experiences. The book covers a wide range of topics, including instructional design, technology integration, participant engagement, and evaluation, making it an invaluable resource for anyone involved in virtual training.
Diana L. Howles’ “Next Level Virtual Training: Advance Your Facilitation” is an exceptional book that offers a wealth of knowledge and insights for trainers and facilitators looking to enhance their virtual training skills. With the increasing prominence of remote work and online learning, this book comes at a perfect time, providing a comprehensive roadmap to navigate the intricacies of virtual facilitation.
One of the standout features of this book is its meticulous attention to detail. Howles leaves no stone unturned when it comes to discussing the nuances of virtual training. The author begins by establishing a solid foundation in instructional design principles, carefully explaining how to adapt them to the virtual environment. This systematic approach ensures that readers have a strong grasp of the fundamental aspects before delving into more advanced techniques.
Throughout the book, Howles demonstrates a deep understanding of the challenges faced by trainers in the virtual realm. She addresses common issues such as participant disengagement, technological glitches, and the lack of non-verbal cues, offering practical solutions to overcome them. Her insights are backed by research and real-world examples, making the content highly relatable and actionable.
One aspect that sets this book apart is its emphasis on participant-centered learning. Howles highlights the importance of creating interactive and collaborative virtual experiences to maximize learner engagement. She provides a wide array of innovative facilitation techniques, icebreakers, and group activities that can be seamlessly integrated into virtual training sessions. These strategies not only enhance participant involvement but also foster a sense of community and connection among learners.
Furthermore, the book’s focus on evaluation and assessment is commendable. Howles stresses the significance of measuring training effectiveness and provides practical frameworks for evaluating virtual programs. This valuable guidance enables trainers to gather feedback, identify areas for improvement, and continuously enhance their virtual training offerings.
The writing style of “Next Level Virtual Training” is accessible and engaging. Howles explains complex concepts in a clear and concise manner, making it easy for readers to follow along. The book is well-organized, with each chapter building upon the previous one, creating a cohesive learning experience.
If there is one minor drawback to the book, it is that some readers with limited experience in virtual training may find certain sections slightly overwhelming. However, this should not deter anyone from exploring this valuable resource, as the book provides a solid foundation and gradually progresses to more advanced concepts.
In conclusion, “Next Level Virtual Training: Advance Your Facilitation” by Diana L. Howles is an exceptional guidebook for trainers and facilitators seeking to elevate their virtual training skills. It offers a comprehensive toolkit, encompassing instructional design, participant engagement, technology integration, and evaluation. Howles’ expertise and practical approach make this book an indispensable resource for anyone involved in virtual training. Whether you are a seasoned facilitator or new to the virtual realm, this book will undoubtedly help you unlock the full potential of your virtual training sessions.