Optimizing the Use of Experts in the Virtual Classroom

The flexibility of a virtual classroom means that a speaker with specialized expertise is a click away – a far cry from the logistical challenges associated with in-person training. So, when you are designing a virtual session, think creatively about how you may want to incorporate external experts intentionally and aligned to the needs of a learning group.

Whether the speaker with specialized expertise joins for a brief Q&A session, or stays for an entire class, s/he can bring an innovative viewpoint into a virtual classroom. Some of the benefits of including expert speakers include:

  • New perspective: A new voice and point of view can inspire learners to rethink an issue through a new and innovative lens. Experts bring their own insights into operations and can provide important tips and ideas on how to manage challenges.
  • Nuance: They can provide insight on the more nuanced and highly contextual aspects of a topic and address questions such as: What would happen if…; what would you do when …;
  • Variety: External speakers add richness and variety to a training team, especially when considering the preponderance of information, the speed of change, differences between industries/sectors, and so on.

Selecting an Expert

  • Experience: Look for experts that have direct experience in the topics on the learning agenda.
  • Alignment: Be sure the expert has relevant work experience and not just an expert in a particular topic. “Street credentials” are important.

 Preparing the Expert

  • Share the participant list, agenda and summary of questions from participants with the expert (see below).
  • Explain the learners’ needs and expectations for the session.
  • Explain the roles of the facilitation team (who will moderate the live discussion, who will moderate chat, timekeeper, etc.)
  • Brief the expert on how best to tell their story to ensure they render complex subject matter in a way that matches the technical capacity of participants.
  • Invite the expert to join early to see the learning session “in action,” ideally when participants are reporting back on the results of breakout room activities or other group activity. This serves multiple purposes:
    • It allows the expert to get an insight on the learning level of a group and to adjust their commentary accordingly.
    • It provides incentives for the learning group to put their best foot forward knowing that an expert will be observing their work.
    • It allows the expert to focus more directly on the concerns and needs of the learning group by listening to their responses to their respective learning tasks.

Preparing Participants

  • Include the experts’ bio and photos and session description on the agenda, indicating the value the expert brings to the discussion.
  • Solicit questions in advance to maximize time with the expert. Group and summarize the questions and send to the expert(s) prior to the session.

 Afterwards, remember to follow up to thank the expert(s) for joining the session and sharing their expertise. Note any comments from participants about their session that may have come later in the course or in the course evaluation.

Follow these steps to delight your next virtual delivery with an expert speaker!