Virtual classrooms remain a viable option for delivery of learning experiences in 2021, and continuing into 2022 and beyond. Truth be told, L&D can do a better job in the virtual classroom than was the case in 2020, when in many cases the chosen modality was simply video lecture. Let’s look at the possibilities for improvement that instructional designers and online facilitators should be considering.

Old standbys

Practically every variety of conferencing software offers three features that designers can easily employ in the virtual classroom:

  • Whiteboards
  • Surveys
  • Breakouts

There really is no excuse for offering online virtual learning experiences that do not use these.

There are many ways to use whiteboards in an interactive way. Any plan for a virtual session should include at least a whiteboard for providing an overview at the beginning, a whiteboard for the main learning point (and there should only be one in the typical session), and one for the summary at the end. The plan should include a question for each whiteboard and one or two points for discussion.

If the designer anticipates a large number of participants (8-10+), incorporate well-considered survey questions (again, one per whiteboard) with one or two points to bring out during a discussion. The objective is for the participants to do half or three-quarters of the talking.

For very large sessions, use breakout rooms and assign one discussion question for all of them. Assign a recorder for each room. Compare the discussions when all groups are back in the “main” session. If possible, use or other transcription services to capture the discussion and send a copy of the transcription to each participant.

Think out of the box

When you move beyond the three basics, your learning experience plan can really shine. Try these ideas.

  • Immersive work experience: Identify cross-functional projects that involve learning in the flow of work. It will help if you can base the work in the use of an app such as Trello to give structure. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are other ways to immerse participants.
  • Customer onboarding & training: Have your onboarding and training team create a plan or template for virtual use that will engage clients in specific steps of the customer lifecycle. Usually this will mean planning demonstrations with interactive training tools, but not always.
  • Team-building activities: There are many themes that can be models for this kind of experience in a virtual setting: Game-based learning (call it “Game Day” or “Game Night” as appropriate), Charades, Mystery, Escape Rooms.

Best practices

Best practices for all virtual learning experiences include:

  • Being patient with employees who don’t already know how to use various features—including how to mute/unmute, turning on the camera, etc.);
  • Don’t micromanage participation;
  • Have your producer (assistant) use chat to assist participants who are having trouble;
  • Consider using “flipped” learning designs to help participants learn to use virtual classrooms.