The Design Difference: Considerations for the Virtual Classroom

February 17, 2015 09:40 by Dana Peters

Content is king, and when it comes to delivering engaging virtual instructor-led training - content designed specifically for the virtual environment is extremely important.

If you’re familiar with our work you already know instructional design, especially created for the virtual classroom, is one of the four crucial components to the successful implementation, and ongoing success, of virtual instructor-led training programs in the clients we serve.

So what does that mean? That’s a loaded question.

I am told we should keep these posts short, so here are a few basics to consider.

Your Platform

Your instructional design should take full advantage of the delivery tools and functionality your virtual environment has to offer.  Materials should leverage the technology to drive discussion and participant engagement, but be mindful of how easy or how difficult the technology is for participants to use.

This may require a little support and encouragement from your delivery team at first but, with time, the technology should become second nature for your participants.

Your Participants

Participants should be responsible for completing relevant pre-course work that will add to interactivity and discussion during the course. Pre-work can vary significantly among classes, but its primary function is to prepare participants to be able to fully participate in activities and contribute to discussion during the course. Heavy reading, thinking, and reflection should be addressed in advance through pre-work while in class time is used to focus in on key concepts, conversation, collaboration, and experience sharing.

Participants will be putting some time and energy in before they even log into their first class.

What Already Exists

If you are working to transition a class from the traditional face-to-face classroom to the virtual environment there may be resources you can repurpose. The original instructional outline may provide you with a solid bird’s eye view of the existing course to consider how a longer in-person class could be segmented down into a series of pre-work assignment and shorter virtual classes. Often times, activities and exercises used during in-person classes can still be applied to the virtual environment; they just need to be approached differently.

Existing images, graphics, diagrams, and models from your existing presentation can be dressed up, enhanced, or modified to have the impact you are looking for in your virtual design.

The Visual

The visual elements of virtual materials are extremely important as well. Vivid and thought provoking imagery should be applied to effectively communicate concepts. In the virtual learning space use of imagery is more beneficial than text heavy presentations and long lecture segments.

To maximize impact, it’s important for something to happen every three to five minutes in the virtual environment to involve your participants.  Practice delivering your virtual session to a test group of participants, and track the interactions with participants on a chart. Plotting the interactions will visually display how often participants are asked to be involved and how long the lag-time is between interactions. However, use this a guide and not the gospel. Relevance is key, we certainly don’t want to build in interaction for the sake of interaction.

Because of the added visual imagery, session pace, and the additional instructions related to the environment, organizations should expect to have presentations with 30 to 40 percent more slides than the traditional classroom presentations.

Check out my previous post: Making the Move: Transitioning Face-To-Face Courses to the Virtual Classroom, for more specific tips and tricks on how to approach the design.

Your Facilitator

As always, your instructional design should support the facilitator by providing a strong foundation in which to share their knowledge and passion for the subject as well as facilitate captivating discussions. 

A strong facilitator, in combination with a well-designed course, will immediately draw the participants into the session and give them a reason to be involved as well as provide ample opportunities for participation in order to make the classes the most beneficial for everyone.

I have outlined a few elements here, what else would you add?

Developing your materials to effectively utilize your virtual training platforms is just one important component to making your training program a success. The other three components are outlined in my post: Building Bullet Proof Online Training Programs.

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