Virtual instructor-led trainings, or VILTs, are trainings run in a virtual environment, like video calls, by an instructor or a facilitator. At BrightCarbon we work with our clients to create all sort of training materials, from job aid PDFs to complex, scenario-based eLearning. And, over the past few years, we’ve noticed that VILTs have become an increasingly popular alternative for in-person training due to their reach and flexibility.

The challenge for people running virtual instructor-led trainings is that independent eLearning activities can lack the personalised human connection that traditional classroom training provides in spades. Together with screen fatigue and environmental distractions, it can be hard for learners to engage fully with online training.

It is possible to overcome these challenges! Creating a great virtual classroom experience is all about how well you use the physical and virtual tools at your disposal. Good virtual classroom learning requires clever design. There are common features to all virtual classrooms that mimic face-to-face classroom instruction, and you can use these to focus your learners’ attention, create interactivity, and encourage discussion.

To maximise the potential of your virtual instructor-led training session, you need to know:

  • The number of learners in your virtual classroom. Sessions designed for the wrong group size can lack impact and leave your learners floundering. It’s important to think carefully about the types of interactions you can employ for the number of attendees you have.
  • The makeup of your group of learners. One of the benefits of virtual classrooms is that a wider variety of learners can join. This variety can lead to larger disparities in the learners’ existing knowledge than you may have in person.

The most important parts of VILT, or at least the parts you can control, are your teaching materials. You can use teaching materials before, during, and after your virtual training session. At each stage, careful planning and design can make sure that your learners are fully engaged with your material. Think of the virtual instructor-led training as a performance. The actual performance itself is just the tip of the iceberg – it’s supported by lots of other work and materials to make the show an impactful and engaging experience.

The build-up: pre-session materials

Before any performance starts, the audience need to be engaged. Theatre shows create beautiful posters and adverts and write detailed articles to lay the groundwork for what their audience can expect.

You should take the same approach for a VILT. A great way to kick start learner engagement before the session begins is to send out pre-work materials. Pre-work or information booklets can help to equalise the knowledge levels of your learners. Not only that, but if learner complete pre-reading or more basic activities outside of the session, it allows you to maximise the time within the session to focus on difficult concepts that need more explanation, or on interactive activities rather than lecturing.

One way you can do this is send out a short quiz before your session. This could be a simple online quiz, or even a branching interactive quiz made using hyperlinks in PowerPoint! You can check out this blog post to learn all about using hyperlinks in PowerPoint: How to make interactive PowerPoint slides for eLearning. These quick activities also make great icebreakers for your participants.

You can also use pre-work to measure your learners’ knowledge level, that information can inform how you deliver the rest of the training. For example, asking all your learners to fill in an online form about their previous experience might tell you that they all have a background in the VILT content. So, you now know you can spend less time on the basic concepts. This can also give you a useful baseline measure when you come to evaluate your learners’ progress after the session.

Showtime!: in-session materials

It’s showtime! But actors don’t just rely on their own performance – set, prop, and costume design, as well as the structure of the show itself, play a starring role in engaging the audience.

While instructors are the lead performers of the virtual instructor-led training, you don’t have to carry it all on your own. Working with a slick, beautifully designed PowerPoint (your ‘set’) makes you look super professional, boosts learner engagement, and makes your job so much easier. As well as being a great tool to help you explain complex concepts, slides can be used as signposts through the session, signposting activities, icebreakers, and Q&As, to make sure your learners understand exactly what they have to do. Find out more about developing effective visual training content here: Effective visual training content and How to create visual presentations and eLearning.

We also recommend creating a facilitator guide for each virtual instructor-led training session, to support you and your instructors through the session and to keep you on time. By laying out the animation layers of each slide (the ‘clicks’) alongside the speaker notes and giving extra information on how to run any activities, you can make sure you and any other instructors are comfortable and in control throughout the session.

Some shows use volunteers to maximise audience engagement. In face-to-face training, interactivity happens naturally and it’s easy for learners to jump in with discussion and questions. But multi-channel face-to-face communication becomes mono-channel in the virtual classroom. Learners are much less likely to ask questions while the instructor is talking, and you have very few indicators to spot if you’re losing anyone. So, opportunities for interactivity need to be intentional and built in regularly. By writing interactivity in from the start, you’ll also ensure that interactivity adds to your session, rather than distracting from it!

When you include interactivity, use the features available to you in the virtual training software you’ve chosen. Video conferencing software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams often come with built-in features like polls, breakout rooms, whiteboards, and more, all of which you can use to keep your audience engaged.

For example, you can start your virtual training session with a poll asking your learners their level of experience. This not only gets the learners to interact with you right from the beginning, but you also discover the average knowledge level of your leaners. By making the poll anonymous, you can create a safe space for learners to be truthful without feeling judged. Later on in the session you could use Cloud polls. With a cloud poll, learners type in words or phrases anonymously and see them pop up on the screen. They’re good for getting people engaged without forcing them to speak publicly, so are particularly helpful if you have a large group and microphones are turned off. For more complex activities, use breakout rooms and encourage learners work together in small groups.

Giving learners resources they can use alongside the virtual training session can optimise their experience of the session and help them keep up if their minds do wander. Downloadable handbooks are a great tool, as not only can they contain all the relevant material for activities, but learners can reference them long after the session is over. For extra interaction, think about using interactive PDFs that learners can type into and navigate around in easily.

For more advice on engaging your learners while presenting in virtual environments, check out our video resource, Presenting Online, or read our ultimate guide to virtual presentations.

Take your bow: post-session materials

The show’s over, the curtain falls… but you want your audience to remember their experience long after they’ve left the theatre.

A vital part of any learning journey is testing your learners’ knowledge after the session. Herman Ebbinghaus hypothesized in 1885 that we forget around 70% of new information after a day of learning it.[1] By making an effort to revisit what we’ve just learnt, we can retain much more. Since the 19th century, a lot more work has been done in this area, and many learning journeys incorporate revisiting newly acquired information to encourage memory retention. One successful implementation of this technique can be seen in Duolingo, the language-learning app, which uses this theory of reinforcement by repetition (plus a passive aggressive owl!) to great effect.

A great option is scheduling follow-up sessions a few weeks after your VILT. Ideally these sessions provide a quick review of the content from the previous session and then focus on activities, giving learners more autonomy and the ability to practice what they learnt. But these aren’t always possible to organise around busy schedules. Don’t worry – there are many other ways to build repetition into your VILT using post-session materials.

  • An activity checklist: Put together a series of tasks or activities that learners can work through using their new-found knowledge and skills. This can be used together with a follow-up session, though you need to make sure that the checklist is achievable in the time between the sessions! You might not always be able to set specific tasks, but you can provide a framework for learners to work through and ‘tick off’ when they have practiced a process or technique using that framework.
  • Encourage reflection: Not all learning lends itself to ticking activities off a checklist. The opportunity to use new ‘soft skills’ might not come along often or on a schedule. An alternative is to ask learners to commit to a new way of working during the virtual classroom and then reflect on the success of these commitments when they implement them. It could be as simple as providing learners with a list of personal reflection questions they can work through after experiencing a real-life scenario that pulled on their new skills.

Helping your learners retain information using follow up sessions, quizzes, or questionnaires, also allows you to evaluate how effective your VILT was. You’ll not only find out what knowledge your learners retained, you can even ask them directly how useful they found the sessions.

 

As you’ve seen, a successful VILT is one that extends beyond the session itself. By prepping your learners with pre-work and setting up their expectations, using fit-for-purpose tools during the training, and rounding off the experience with reflection or review, you’ll not only maximise the benefits of your VILT but encourage learning and engagement beyond it. Laying groundwork and encouraging continued learning will enhance the effectiveness of your training and allow your learners to benefit from it long after the actual session ends.

You can find all sorts of information, tips, and tricks to help you create your session materials on our blog and on our website. If you’re not sure to help, check out this post: 3 ways to migrate face-to-face training online. And if you’d like our help, we offer design and consultancy services that cover all the materials mentioned here, and more!

 

[1] Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). Memory, trans. HA Ruger and CE Bussenius, New York: Teachers College.

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Megan Penney

Communication consultant

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  1. Image of EIM Training EIM Training says:

    Having the right training is really important to enhance skills and development of employees. Helpful ideas you shared.

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