Virtual classroom platforms offer a variety of tools to enhance the sessions. A popular—if overused—tool is virtual breakout rooms, or VBRs. “Addicted to Virtual Classroom Breakout Rooms? Get Help Now!” discussed how to most effectively use this tool. In a similar vein, a discussion of aligning virtual tools to actual learning goals can help designers create more effective virtual classroom sessions.

Goal: Learner engagement

In instructor-led training, it’s easy to find opportunities for participants to talk about what they need to learn, share examples from their own work, and contextualize how they can apply what they are learning.

Virtual instructors cannot see who is present and paying attention and who has wandered off, physically or mentally. A winning strategy for encouraging participants to confirm that they are with you and learning all throughout the session is asking lots of questions, both open-ended and closed or poll-type questions.


  • Invite participants to respond by typing in chat, by clicking on a poll response, or by showing “agree” or “disagree” indicators
  • Invite participants to raise their (electronic) hands to request permission to unmute and speak up
  • When verbal responses are appropriate, encourage individual or all participants to unmute and speak up

An additional goal might be ensuring that all participants contribute equally. You can take steps to encourage this:

  • Invite volunteers to verbally respond
  • Make sure that participants without microphones are equally able and welcome to contribute to the discussion

Encouraging sharing can make the virtual participants feel more connected and therefore more inclined to engage.

Goal: Assessing learning

Along with verifying engagement and participation, some virtual instructors find it challenging to assess learning and progress. Consider scoring learners using more formal testing, for instance:

  • Add polls with test questions inside the live session
  • Use survey tools after or between live sessions

Feedback is essential. Provide validation when participants are getting it right, and help them adjust when they’re not!

  • Take time to read and react to typed (chat) responses
  • Read aloud accurate responses and thank the contributor
  • Identify inaccurate responses and ask for more detail, clarify the question, or state the accurate answer
  • If responses are way off, follow up with the learner later

Goal: Learning transfer

The ultimate goal of learning is knowing that students can and will apply what they are learning in the live session to their work. Research shows that learners find as much value in watching someone be coached as they do with being coached themselves.

Several tools that can facilitate learning transfer are:

  • Whole-group discussions in single or, if available, multiple chat pods
  • Chat subgroups
  • Whole-group activities using polling, video, or verbal participation
  • Instructor-led demos that participants key along with on their local setups
  • Live coaching including:
    • Turning over live application sharing to a participant who “drives” the presenter’s demo or whiteboard
    • Turning over presenter whiteboard controls to a participant to share a local demonstration

Improve your virtual classroom events

Designing content for a virtual classroom session requires specific expertise and an understanding of how virtual classroom learning differs from both instructor-led training and eLearning. Join Karen Hyder and Melissa Chambers for a day-long BYOD workshop, “Instructional Design for Virtual Classroom Events,” ahead of DevLearn 2019 Conference & Expo. The workshop is October 22; DevLearn is October 23–25 in Las Vegas. See you there!