Four Steps to Get Started in the Virtual Classroom

The need to move traditional classroom training to a live online format has never been greater. Learning how to design, deliver, and facilitate truly interactive and engaging virtual classroom training is just like learning any other new skill: it takes practice. If you are an experienced in-person trainer, think about how you learned your craft and honed it over time and how you can replicate that experience for the virtual classroom. Here are four steps to accelerate the dividends of your practice.


Goal: Learn About Available Features

Almost every virtual classroom vendor offers free online tutorials. Take advantage of this resource and participate in live sessions or watch a video recording of demonstration of the features of the tool. While you’re on the vendor’s website, download tip sheets or reference guides for later use. Reviewing these documents is part of the learning process. Finally, contact your organization’s IT or training department and investigate the tools and training materials that have been developed. Once you’ve gathered this information, note your learning on the features of your virtual classroom tool, then organize and store your notes for easy access later.


Goal: Learn How to Use the Features

Hands-on experience is the best way to learn any new technology. For example, when you learned how to drive a car, you probably spent some time in a classroom studying and reading about how to drive a car and learning the rules of the road. However, it was not until you started driving that you truly began acquiring driving skills. When you are ready for a test run of a virtual classroom tool, position two computers (or have a friend join you in a virtual session) side by side and log in as the instructor on one computer and as the participant on the other. As you test the tool’s features on one computer, notice how your actions as an instructor are displayed to the participant. Being able to experience these two perspectives simultaneously translates into quicker mastery of the tool and a better understanding of how to use the tool to enhance the virtual learning experience of learners.


Goal: Reflect on Your Experience as a Virtual Classroom Learner

Experiencing virtual classroom training as a participant can help you quickly gather ideas on do’s and don’ts. Since up for an online course, or simply join a free webinar offered by a professional associations or vendors. Nowadays there are plenty of free webinars on how to covert classroom training to live online training! Although a webinar is more of a presentation and not typically designed as interactive training, the experience of participating in several virtual sessions is still worth your time, especially if you’ve had little virtual learning experience. Use a Virtual Classroom Observation Template to capture your reflections on the virtual classes and webinars that you attend.


Goal: Begin Designing and Facilitating for Virtual Audiences

Now that you’ve seen the “participant” side of the virtual classroom, it’s time to experience the “presenter,” or “facilitator,” side of a session. Schedule a low-stakes meeting with coworkers and prepare as if it were a high stakes session. Think creatively about your meeting and use all the appropriate features of your virtual classroom tool. For example, if the purpose of the meeting is to plan an upcoming workshop, create a poll and have participants vote on their preferred date. Or, use the whiteboard feature to assign tasks in real time to the virtual participants as you agree on roles and responsibilities for the workshop. Create a few well-designed and appealing support slides for the meeting, such as an agenda or topics with questions you want to address.

Next, focus on facilitation techniques in a virtual setting. As you facilitate the session, consider how your audience interactions are different without access to familiar body language cues that we all use to get our message and meaning across to learners.  At the end of your low-stakes virtual session, make notes about what went smoothly and where you see room for improvement.

In closing, the goal of becoming comfortable with a virtual classroom tool is to enable you to focus on your content when delivering training rather than on the technology. Following these four steps will put you on the right path to develop engaging and interactive sessions, and ultimately, to enhance the learning experience of your learners.