Building Bridges

Making the Move to a Virtual Classroom

Perhaps our current distancing restrictions are just the gentle nudge—or powerful push—we needed to leap daringly into a virtual world that many have been part of for a long while. Collectively, we are learning how to make the most of our virtual tools, and I believe that in doing so we are positioning ourselves to create better experiences for our learners.

In my last e-letter, I wrote, “We are writing some new rules as we go, one day at a time, as we try to grasp what our workplace will hold for us next week, next month, and in the year to come. Let’s figure them out together.” In that spirit, we launched our EnVisioning Virtually Peer Group Forum. During our first meeting, a group of instructional designers and trainers gathered virtually to share and learn best practices for converting live to virtual instructor-led courses. Here are some of the takeaways:

1.  Focus on the Learning Objectives
This is no surprise to instructional designers, whose focus is always on supporting learning objectives. When we begin converting our live classes to virtual, we have a wonderful opportunity to review the learning objectives and content in our existing courses. Are all the objectives critical? Does all content support at least one of the objectives? If any content is “nice to have” and not critical, can it be removed or placed in reference materials?

We can also examine knowledge-oriented (vs. skill-focused) content. Can some of that be pulled out of the class into pre-reading or elearning, ensuring learners come to the class with the same foundational knowledge and enabling you to reduce class time?

2.  Engage Learners
One key to engaging learners is keeping the virtual class size manageable – no more than 16-20 learners. That way, the facilitator can monitor individual engagement (we suggest creating a tracking checklist), appropriately call on people, and watch the videos for visual cues.

It is also helpful to keep the virtual class shorter than an in-person version. Many experts suggest no more than 90 minutes or 2 hours, including a break or two. Try different lengths and see how it works for you and for your learners. Just remember that, the longer your class, the more challenging it is to keep learners engaged. You may need to get creative about scheduling.

It is also helpful to remember that, though virtual meeting applications offer many ways to engage participants, it is important to select the approaches that support your key points. While polls can be very useful, just because polls are “cool” doesn’t warrant using them.

3.  Practice. Practice. Practice.
You will become intimately familiar with your virtual classroom application including how to monitor chat while you are facilitating, manage breakout rooms, create and execute a poll, and share your screen while watching learners. There are a lot more balls to juggle with a virtual classroom than an in-person classroom, which is why experts recommend having another individual in a “producer” or “host” role.

In addition to learning the facilitator side of the application, it is helpful to practice as a learner, experiencing their view of the videos, breakout rooms, and polls.

In our next EnVisioning Virtually Peer Group Forum, participants will have the opportunity to practice facilitating short course pieces while using virtual classroom tools. There are a few Forum spots left. If you would like a chance to practice or learn from others in a supportive setting, please email me please email me by 5pm on May 5 and let me know the hottest two topics you would like to see or try out.