You are about to facilitate your first virtual classroom session. You are familiar with the content, have delivered it in the face-to-face classroom setting, and have been a participant yourself in the virtual classroom before. Surely it can’t be that hard to facilitate online. As an ATD facilitator for both the traditional classroom and the virtual classroom, I see firsthand how important it is to prepare differently to lead the virtual training experience. It has taken me many years to build up my skill set to aim to perform flawlessly in the online environment. Whether you are about to lead your first ever virtual classroom facilitation or you have been facilitating virtually for a while, freshen up on best practices to ensure superb participant satisfaction, engagement, and learning transfer.

Here are five best practices that are essential for a positive experience, not only for yourself, but for your learners too.
  1. Set up your technology for success.
    • Connectivity is critical. You need a stable internet connection, a landline phone, a backup mobile phone, and a headset.
    • Two monitors are key. I have worked from hotel rooms and delivered my online classes from a laptop. Not ideal. The screen is small, you cannot view the facilitator guide electronically, and it feels clunky. Do yourself a favor—splurge on the second monitor.
    • Have a backup plan for when technology fails. I have a hot spot that I can connect to if my power goes out. I have ear buds in case my headset battery runs out. And extra batteries for my mouse in case they go dead. And yes, your technology will fail at some point.
  1. Ask to work with a producer (or partner)
    • It pays to have a technical partner in the virtual classroom. A good producer allows you to focus on the content and the learner experience while they handle logistics and any technical snags. I give sincere thanks to all the producers I have worked with in the past.
    • Discuss expectations with your producer before the course. Talk through how you want to communicate, ask for timing reminders, and review how the producer should handle participant questions in chat while you are facilitating.
      • For instance, I communicate with my producer via text rather than WebEx chat to keep the communication lines different from the participants.
  1. Leverage interactive features
    • Use a conference platform that allows for interactivity. Think Adobe Connect or WebEx Training Center. When these tools are used appropriately, the virtual classroom experience can be as interactive as a typical classroom experience.
    • Try to include an interactive element every three to five minutes. Use whiteboard annotations, chat, agree/disagree, and emoticons. Having a balanced mix of these features sprinkled throughout the session will keep learners engaged.
      • For example, it could be as simple as, “Who has facilitated in the virtual classroom before? Green check for yes, red x for no.”
    • Use breakout groups to send learners into small groups just as you would in the face-to-face classroom.
      • For example, separate learners into virtual breakout groups and ask them to discuss key findings on different topics. Instead of asking learners to use flip charts, add whiteboards to virtual breakout rooms so that learners can draw, type, and annotate thoughts. At the end, bring everyone back together and share the whiteboards (instead of flip charts) as part of a large group debrief.
  1. Utilize a Discussion Board
    • Use the discussion board to send a warm welcome to the group with your photo before the class. Share facts about yourself and expectations for the course to create a sense of community. Ask learners to respond with a photo and similar information.
    • After each session, use the discussion board to post follow up resources or respond to questions that you did not have time to fully address. Post discussion questions to keep the conversation going between sessions and grow peer relationships.
      • For example, in my Instructional Design class, learners share design materials–PPTs, participant guides, infographics—and respond to each other by giving and receiving feedback on the materials. Some designers never get this type of experience in their day-to-day, so they love bouncing ideas off like-minded peers.
    • When the class is finished, post congratulations, note recommended next steps, and create a thread for learners to share contact information.
  1. Personalize the experience
    • Try calling individuals by their first names and initiating conversations before and after class. Remember experiences and questions that learners share so that you can refer to them in later conversations.
    • Think about what you do in the face-to-face classroom and work to create that same vibe in the virtual space.
      • For example, I do a pace checker activity in the face-to-face classroom where I have a flip chart that has three circles on it. 1. Slowdown 2. Just Right 3. Speed up. Learners leave sticky dots to indicate what they need changed in relation to pace. I use this same technique as a slide in the virtual classroom. Instead of a sticky dot, learners use their drawing tools.
      • Another activity I do in the face-to-face class is called “one word.” I ask a question and ask someone to catch a ball and respond with one word. For example, “One word: What’s your fav travel destination?” Then, we take turns passing the ball around. I do this same activity in the virtual chat when we return from a break. I ask each learner to reply with one word in chat to various questions. This allows us to learn more about each other and re-energize the room.

As you gear up for your next virtual facilitation commit to trying one new tip or technique to elevate the learner experience. Once you master one technique, add on another and build from there. Over time the best practices become habits and part of your normal virtual classroom preparation and execution routine! Feel free to reach out to me directly if you need further details on this content! I would gladly assist. My email is nokeeffe@td.org. You can also connect with me via LinkedIn!