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Webinar Recap: The Art and Science of the Virtual Classroom

Cornerstone Editors

We’ve all heard it before: "Can’t we just...?"

Because setting up a virtual training session from a previous instructor led session seems intuitive and simple, stakeholders typically have high hopes for its success. They might ask: "Can’t we just put together some slides? Can’t we just set up a training session for next week?" In reality, however, hosting a virtual training session requires a great deal of work.

As part of a partnership between Cornerstone and the Training Officers Consortium (TOC), Cornerstone is delivering a series of informative sessions designed to provide tactical and practical tips for transforming the ILT to the virtual classroom. Earlier this month, Melissa Chambers, director of online instruction at MSC Consulting, and Chris King, Learning Provocateur at CEEK, LLC, joined me in a a webinar on the difference between delivering training in person and online, sharing key tips for designing the training and choosing the right tools.

But as anyone who has ever hosted an online event knows, planning the content is just the first part of the process. "In theory, it all sounds simple, but if you’re not prepared, you can fail miserably, and that leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths," Chambers said.

As a follow-up to their highly successful session, Chambers and King reconvened to share insights on the other part of hosting an online training: execution, which includes logistics and facilitation. Below are their recommendations for carrying out a successful online training session.

Develop a Virtual Event Roadmap

The first logistical step to hosting an online training event is to develop a virtual event roadmap that lays out the execution of the event step-by step to set expectations internally. The initial phase includes identifying the presenter, topic and date as well as writing the session description, drafting slides, creating a session room, sending invites and scheduling preparation sessions.

After that, the presenter should take time to prepare an immersion audio test, develop materials, prep test files, add questions, plan interactions, test everything and post any handouts that participants will need during the session. And, as part of the last phase of the roadmap, the organizer needs to rehearse and, on the day itself, log in early to test audio, welcome participants and ultimately host the training session.

Designate Producer and Presenter Roles

Though the presenter plays a central role in creating and executing the training session, there’s another key figure that can determine whether a presentation is a success: the producer. There’s a lot to facilitate during an online session, and the presenter has to focus on delivering content rather than handling any technology challenges that arise. That’s where the producer comes in.

For example, the producer can help troubleshoot malfunctioning technologies in the background or answer questions that arise from participants in the chat. "It’s multitasking in a way you’ve never had to before. You have to handle live features. The biggest thing people miss is that there’s a lot to manage," Chambers said. And, when something doesn’t go as expected, it falls on the producer to fix it without the attendees becoming aware of the issues.

Make the Most of Available Technology

There’s more to an online training session than a set of slides. Today, there are lots of different tools available, like live polling, video within the presentation, web browser sharing and even breakout rooms for separate, smaller discussions—it’s up to the design team to determine the best way to apply these tools to create an engaging and interactive session. With web browser sharing, for instance, the presenter can launch a website that participants can then navigate individually, which is good for creating scavenger hunts for reference materials. In this option, the participant, rather than the facilitator, controls where they go, yielding a more independent experience.

Set Up Participants for Success

The sessions are designed to help participants absorb training, so putting their experience first is key, Chambers and King said. That involves not only setting them up with preparation materials, but also having a plan B ready for when things go wrong. Before the session, the organizer must communicate the requirements for the event (both technological and contextual), confirm that learners have read any prerequisite materials and give detailed instructions. Because participants won’t all be in the same room, it’s important to "provide more information than you normally would have," King said. "The goal is to make the technology fade into the background."

Other Best Practices

Online sessions may be the only way that educators can deliver training for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean that they need to sacrifice the quality of the learning experience. To ensure the best possible outcome, "modulate and project your voice; give clear, succinct instructions and repeat them; keep your tone ’conversational’; and mute your mic when not speaking," King recommended.

As for things to avoid, make sure you don’t read from the screen, use too many filler words (um, uh, etc) or apologize for any failures of the technology. Don’t be afraid of the silence, King said, but don’t be afraid of any side conversation (in the chat) between participants either. "Side conversations are one of the best indicators of engagement," he said.

And for the biggest question on everyone’s mind, no, you don’t always have to use video, King and Chambers agreed. While there are some advantages to that face-to-face interaction, in the current state of things, it can be downright exhausting. Learning should be a positive experience, and if video adds unnecessary anxiety, there’s just no need for it.

To view the full session on demand, click here.

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