Not all classroom instructor-led training (ILT) programs are ideal candidates for a direct conversion to virtual instructor-led training (VILT), and while there are a host of benefits to reformatting ILT as VILT, you’ll want to conduct careful planning and analysis at the outset of a conversion project.

VILT saves money over classroom ILT by eliminating travel costs, and it also makes it easier to break up courses into shorter chunks delivered over several days or weeks—a benefit both for learner retention and workload balancing. And you can leverage VILT by repurposing snippets of recorded VILT sessions into eLearning as content that is easily renewable, reusable, and sharable.

When evaluating whether to convert classroom instruction to VILT, consider the qualities that make good classroom instruction successful, like hands-on practice and interpersonal interaction. If building personal relationships is a key objective of the training, then face-to-face training is recommended, but still, consider redirecting some classroom content to virtual sessions and creating a blended course to reduce travel costs and out-of-office time.

Still, there are intrinsic differences between classroom instruction and VILT, and there are challenges in virtual learning that face-to-face training mitigates. Specifically, VILT facilitators have minimal control over the learner’s environment, and social norms that motivate learners to pay attention in a classroom setting are lessened. Thus, outside distractions become a far greater obstacle in VILT, so maintaining engagement becomes much more important.

Here are some questions to consider when planning a conversion of classroom training to VILT.

Is this the right material to present online?

As with any course development, the first step is to review learning objectives and source content. This is where you can decide whether the objectives are appropriate for virtual delivery, what current content you must update, and whether you could deliver any content through other methods, such as between-session homework. Having existing course content to start with is great, but you need a solid review of the content.

How engaging are the visual elements?

When creating slide decks for live classroom training, less is more—when we want eyes on the facilitator, not on a screen, we like to have fewer slides and instead focus on discussion among learners and/or with the facilitator. In VILT, the learners need something to look at, so you’ll want more slides to cover the same amount of content. Create more slides, with less text and more graphics, to keep the learners’ eyes on the training—and not multitasking to other screens.

What about the interactive components?

Quality classroom instruction provides opportunities for practice via exercises, activities, and discussions. Make sure you think through the conversion of interactive components, and if critical activities won’t translate to virtual, you can stop right there.

In some cases, you can easily retrofit interactions for VILT, but in others not so much. A classroom flip-chart activity can become a virtual whiteboard activity. You can do pair discussions using private chat features and leverage classroom social learning strategies and tools to continue learning between sessions. However, it’s quite difficult to convert hands-on activities, like a team competition to build a Lego bridge, or running a ropes course! Hands-on skills may be beyond VILT, but teaching concepts and background for those skills is possible. You wouldn’t want to learn heart surgery in VILT, but you could learn a lot about the anatomy of the heart or best practices for managing time when scheduling a surgical suite.

How will you keep learners engaged?

In the classroom, it’s easy to see who is paying attention, who is multitasking, and who is falling asleep. Virtual facilitators need other methods to gauge attention, so build in frequent checks. Factor in time to take a poll, ask for responses in chat, or take everyone off of mute and ask each person to say something. Give the facilitator ways to keep tabs on who is participating.

Changing the learning format also requires changing assessment methods. Consider the role that the classroom facilitator plays in assessing how well participants are learning during the session, and plan ways to test for understanding within the course in a virtual environment, such as using chat questions, polls, and whiteboard activities.

Are we ready to deliver?

Trainers need to be aware of the differences between classroom facilitation and VILT facilitation, starting with mastering the technology. Insist on multiple practice sessions for first-time virtual facilitators, with the first few sessions focused strictly on managing the technology. For mission-critical training, consider having a technical producer work with the facilitators. VILT facilitators should also understand the importance of vocal variation in virtual sessions, to deliver content with higher energy to keep learners listening.

Being able to leverage existing training materials provides a head start on developing VILT, but you should not convert all training. Take time to plan out the conversion before wasting time and resources on a conversion project that won’t ultimately bear fruit.