The Global Virtual Classroom: Five Keys to Success

Imagine yourself in a virtual classroom. The instructor puts an image of a game of cricket on the screen and says: “Sometimes dealing with pressures at work may feel like a game of 20/20 limited cricket where you are chasing a score of 220 and it’s the last over.  You have the best fast bowler to face and only one wicket in hand!”  If you are an American, the analogy to cricket would probably fall flat.  You wouldn’t know what the instructor was talking about.

A scenario like this would leave learners feeling excluded and thinking virtual classroom training is not going to meet their needs.  However, when virtual classroom training includes global participants, scenarios like this happen all the time!  Here are five areas to consider when preparing for a virtual global audience as a facilitator and/or designer:

1. Logistics: When you select the time and date for the training, keep in mind time zones, national holidays and the official work week.

2. Content: In a physical classroom you can easily spot cultural misunderstanding — quizzical looks staring back at you – and quickly clarify.  Since the facilitator cannot make eye contact in the virtual classroom, it’s critical to comb through your materials and adjust or remove culturally inappropriate content.

3. Learning styles: An exciting aspect of a global audience is the diversity in virtual classroom.  Match diversity with diversity by offering participants a variety of exercises and even give them the options for responding: type in chat or verbalize.  Use polls and instant feedback tools to engage participants and overcome shyness around speaking or typing in a non-native language. Remember, there is no magical solution for addressing culturally diverse learning styles.  What is important is the facilitator’s awareness of different learning styles and incorporating a range of activities to meet those diverse needs.

4. Rehearsal: One of the easiest ways to identify and correct unsuitable content in a global training program is to rehearse with a mock audience. Include participants from the target country(s) and instruct them to listen and look for items that aren’t culturally appropriate or won’t have meaning for a global audience.

5. Facilitation: Once you’ve adjusted your material, it’s time to think about the spoken word.  As you facilitate, use “international” English that is free from slang, idioms and references that only people from one country would understand.  In a face-to-face setting, learners can rely on body language, facial expressions and a bit of lip reading to fill in language gaps.  In a virtual classroom, these cues are limited or absent, so adjust your speech to compensate.

By taking the participants’ perspective and making adjustments based on them you’ll make participants feel included and maximize learning transfer — regardless of their location or cultural background — and make them eager for more.

Read the full version of this article in Training & Development Magazine (registration required).