The early days of the COVID-19 outbreak brought with them a rush to move a great deal of face-to-face content online to a virtual instructor-led format. One of InSync Training’s lead instructional designers and producers, Jennifer Newton, was among those called on to help with the shift. She shared her experience working with two companies in early April. Here are the takeaways. (Note: a few details have been changed to mask identities.)



The organization needed to convert a two-day face to face (F2F) sales training program to the virtual classroom format.


  • Detailed facilitator guide
  • Experienced facilitator, designated to deliver the online version, available for help and consultation
  • F2F program included many activities, both group and solo. It was not nonstop lecture/presentation.
  • Facilitator experienced with a virtual classroom product
  • Facilitator was amenable to the change

Newton: “What really saved this project is that while the client only had a few slides, she had a lot of activities and discussions that were documented in a facilitator guide. There was really well thought-out scripting. It was very easy to convert that material because it said, 'Ask this question…”' There were dozens of pages of questions to ask and descriptions of activities. This made the conversion much easier."


  • Company was unwilling to reschedule the training, so designer only had a week for redesign. Priority was with not rescheduling rather than creating a good experience.
  • Facilitator provided the slide deck but prided herself on having few slides. Newton: “I applauded her for doing a lot of F2F and flip chart work—she only had about 30 slides for 16 hours of class time—but it gave me very little to work with. Her usual approach was great for a F2F environment. This is one of the special challenges of trying to “convert” material from one format to another: For the virtual environment we had to have more slides, even if just to provide a visual change—the learner’s computer screen is really the focus point of the virtual experience.”
  • Client was caught unprepared and needed some hand holding; insisted on daily check-ins that cut into designer’s time.
  • Facilitator depended heavily on discussion and flip charting in the face-to-face setting, at which she was skilled and which added to effectiveness of the experience. Figuring out how to replicate or adapt that to the virtual format proved to be one of the biggest challenges.

Redesign process

  • Daily check-in meetings were limited to 30 minutes
  • Use of MS Teams for quick questions saved having to hold more frequent or longer meetings

Newton: Given the constraints “we had to be very clear about expectations. We told the client we’ll make it as good as we can with the time allowed but it won’t be perfect. We’ll do the best that we can to convert what we can. There are other things we would recommend down the road to improve the quality.”

Final design

Four sessions of three-and-a-half hours each, over two days. While this cut the program from 16 hours to 14, the organization had some material that could be provided as pre-work to the virtual sessions.

The virtual classroom product the company licenses has sidebar “pods” that the facilitator used in place of the whiteboard and flip charts she depended on in the face-to-face setting. (Newton notes: “While you can type in those, this particular client was really talented at writing with the product’s pencil tool so the change ended up being very comfortable for her.”)

Newton: “We did a lot of run-throughs. I served as producer for first live session and could make small changes as we went, during lunch breaks and whatnot.”

Total design time

70 hours just to move it from one format to another with minimal adaptations. Newton notes: “We had budgeted for double that but the availability of detailed facilitator notes helped."

Most significant contributions to success

Detailed facilitator guide and access to facilitator who was comfortable with both the material and the virtual classroom product.



New hire onboarding for workers who needed to be trained and deployed quickly. Client specifically requested conversion from three-day F2F course to five three-hour sessions.


  • Facilitator guide
  • Slide deck
  • The company had asked for guidance on the process months before the COVID-19 crisis forced a rapid redesign of material. The project had been backburnered. While a rough plan was developed then, it had to be fast-tracked to redesign with a two-day window


  • Slide deck did not have complete information
  • Designer had two days: Saturday and Sunday, with material delivered to designer on Friday. Facilitator guide was not in manuscript (“Say this, do that”) format; no details of questions or facilitation/discussion points, no list of activities or exercises.
  • Rigid schedule for delivery (Monday following weekend redesign)
  • Limited ability for client contact over the weekend
  • Limited time to discuss content and activities to recreate them appropriately


  • Designer had to make many assumptions
  • Approach was essentially just to cover the slide content as best it could be deciphered

Final design

  • Three five-hour virtual sessions
  • Added a “virtual” column to the existing facilitator guide
  • Added generic “engage the audience” guidance, such as how and where to use the chat tool, whiteboards, respond verbally, etc. and instructions for breakout activities
  • Some material was changed on the fly during delivery

Most significant contributions to success

The facilitator and producer were flexible and able to adjust on the fly; facilitator knew material well. Scripting for facilitator, though often sparse, was helpful.

Perfect world?

When asked about the importance of allotting sufficient time for projects, Newton said: "You can do it fast or you can do it right. More time would have given me more opportunity to make activities engaging and use some creative thinking. That can still happen quickly, even if it’s just something like pulling in a third-party product such as Kahoot or Mentimeter for polling."

"If you don’t do it right the first time and do it badly, people lose faith in that capability. Do it slowly and do it right, and you’ll gain fans and supporters."

Tips for those looking at moving to virtual delivery, or worried about being better prepared "next time"

  • Document now what you’re doing F2F. Have manuscript-format lesson plans, slides with speaker notes, etc. on file. If nothing else, make videos of good facilitators delivering the material. This will give those charged with re-designing something helpful to work from and is especially helpful if (as with the first example above) the program is heavily dependent on facilitated conversation and in-the-moment notetaking.
  • Spell out key points of discussions/facilitation. Not just “discuss the Pareto Principle”, but specific questions to ask, points to highlight, etc.
  • If facilitator documentation doesn’t exist, say: “Let’s put your slides into [webinar tool]. I want you to teach me.” And then capture that.
  • The output will be only as good as the input. Access to a good facilitator experienced with the material can help fill in blanks in the written materials and help with rethinking ways of making activities work in a different environment.
  • Based on the response to COVID-19, we may be seeing changes to the way we interact. We will not be flying salespeople all over the country for meetings, and doctors are now offering virtual appointments. Now is the time to go ahead and start thinking about alternate options.
  • When designing new F2F programs, consider going ahead and developing at least a bare-bones virtual version. How would the flip charting, debates, and group activities be adapted for another environment?
  • Remember: If you can do it virtually, you can do it F2F. The reverse is not always true. Making a habit of developing new programs for virtual delivery will put you in a better position to provide them in other formats later.
  • In both example cases, quality was sacrificed because there was no flexibility about the delivery deadline. Does it really have to happen exactly as originally scheduled? Is sticking to that schedule worth the cost to quality?
  • Figure out what resources exist in your organization. What tools and people are available?
  • Content is abundant; don’t recreate the wheel. Don’t design a class if the same material exists on Google. Newton: "I’ve written the same goal-setting training two dozen times for companies that insist their content is special.”
  • Start considering what you will do about content that is difficult to deliver even F2F—driving a new model of a car, for instance. Do you need to look at investing in something like an immersive virtual reality experience?
  • Recognize that you can’t be married to the F2F design. Just because it worked well that way doesn’t mean it will work well another way. You need to be flexible enough to say, “What can we do differently to obtain the same goal?”
  • Use this time to re-skill your classroom facilitators. Find a company that will teach them how to deliver virtually. Note that this is not a “train-the-trainer” workshop on the content, but on the skill set required to be effective online. While you’re redesigning, your facilitators need to be prepping themselves.
  • Be reasonable about time frames (see the second example above): Two days will rarely be enough to obtain a quality product.
  • If possible, have the designer serve as the technical producer; that way, changes can be made on the fly, or at least sit in on the first virtual delivery

Want more?

Watch for the July 2020 Learning Guild research report on effective virtual classroom practices.