Converting an existing classroom course to an online format can be a tricky, time-consuming undertaking. The easy way out — simply moving the content and lecture portions to an electronic means of delivery — is what leads to e“Learning” at its worst: slide after slide of bulleted information and loss of engaging activities and the contributions of individual instructors.

What’s a better way to go? Look for ways to capture the richness that a good instructor brings to the classroom, such as responsiveness, a sense of humor, interesting stories and examples, and immediate feedback. Also, when considering moving a classroom course online, approach it not just as converting one form to another, but as an opportunity to improve the existing product. This is a chance to leverage technology for what it can do. Here are some specific re-design tips that work.


This is a good time to reexamine purpose, intent, and objectives. In order to “work” online, you must distill a full-day classroom program to its essential elements. Cut out extraneous, “nice to know” information. Is some information population-specific? Is some information tangentially relevant to most but really relevant to none? Every element of the online program needs to be relevant to most learners. Another issue to consider: how old is the classroom program? Are there newer means of delivering the same content, perhaps through a performance support tool?

What’s working? What’s not?

Find out which aspects of the classroom program are most successful — and which aspects fail. Talk with learners and the classroom instructors, and review any evaluation or follow-up data they are able to provide. Are learners leaving the classroom fully prepared to perform successfully back on the job? If not, where are the gaps? Where do instructors feel they need to provide additional explanation? What concepts are difficult to explain? What questions or misunderstandings come up time and again? Does the classroom use cases, simulations, and scenarios for practice? What do goodindividual instructors add to the experience?

Inventory your assets

In examining the existing classroom program don’t overlook the assets associated with it. Assemble everything — handouts, PowerPoint shows, videos, case studies, and evaluation forms — everythingassociated with the program. There are likely many paper documents—outlines, worksheets, quizzes — that you might repurpose for the online version. Likewise, slide shows, video clips, case studies and role play information may be useful too as part of the eLearning program. You may find that much can be adapted for your new purpose.

Converting from classroom to online: the process

  1. Analyze the current state of the classroom program.

  2. Update and cut-and-chunk material.

  3. Identify ways of adding interactivity and capturing the richness of the “live” event.

Example: Equal employment opportunity training program

  1. Analyze the current state of the program

    • Classroom program taught by subject matter experts (SMEs) in 2.5 day sessions

    • Extensive lecture-based review of case law

    • Long detailed cases focusing on past court issues: learners asked to discuss, but then told “right” answer per the court decision

    • “Smile sheet” evaluation only; no research on application back on the job, data as to whether incidents/lawsuits have decreased, or etc.

    • Learners provided with 110-page bound manual, no workbook-type activities or exercises, no quick references (FAQs, tabs, color coding, etc.)

    • Much content provided elsewhere, as with mandatory unlawful harassment training and hiring programs; many learners already familiar with key ideas and content

    • Heavy emphasis on fact that program is mandated, resulting in many learners feeling like “prisoners”

  1. Update and cut and chunk

    • Provide test-out sections so those with prior knowledge can go straight to new learning

    • Seek evaluation beyond smile sheet level to ascertain effectiveness of components

    • Change focus to practical application and desired behavior

    • Move legal details to optional links; improve usability of manual

    • Eliminate portions that replicate other training

    • Downplay mandate and look for ways to gain interest and voluntary attendance

    • Offer optional supplemental classroom session or provide other mechanism for questions and answers — Web meeting, discussion board, etc.

    • Provide questions and situations that provoke reflection on implications, repercussions, etc.

  1. Take inventory of assets associated with the classroom program

    • Manual

    • Video clips (available online for free from a government site)

    • Case studies

  1. Identify ways of developing interactivity and capturing contribution of instructors

    • Use scenarios – which may include facilitator “war stories” to teach concepts

    • Provide practical application and exercises

    • Use “What would you do?” scenarios instead of past court decisions

  1. Articulate the “future state” of the online program

    • Possible treatments: “A day in the life” of a manager; judge as narrator/character leading through info; first-person characters explaining their situations; simulation with “What would you do?” scenarios.

    • Choose treatment and create outline and storyboard.

(Text adapted from Bozarth, J. Better than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging eLearning with PowerPoint. Pfeiffer: 2008. Transformation model adapted from an online presentation, “Successfully Transitioning Classroom Content to Online Interactivity”, by Roni Viles and Katherine Stevens, offered by the E-Learning Guild on July 14, 2006.)