7 Tips for Effective Virtual Classrooms

7 Tips for Effective Virtual Classrooms

I have been lucky to be involved in delivering virtual classrooms for the past 6 years. To be honest, I was not really convinced that this could be effective…until I started facilitating them. With over 200 virtual sessions delivered on multiple topics and audiences from every region of the world, I can share 7 tips to create an engaging environment for virtual learners

1. Adapt your content

Virtual sessions cannot be, at least for behavioural skills, conducted as a content download. Most people are taking these from their workstation and if you going to talk at them for 2, 3,4 or even 12 hours, it’s just not going to work. Most platforms (WebEx, Adobe Connect Pro, HP’s Virtual Classroom) allow you to include multiple functionalities like surveys, polls, list tools and whiteboards. Use them. These will give an opportunity to the participants to be active but will also give you an idea of their engagement level. This will allow for a more facilitated workshop that usually keeps people more engaged than traditional training.

2. Be personable

Listening to as disincarnate voice for many hours is not easy. Make sure you build rapport by greeting people as they log in. Make your introduction professional AND personal by sharing some personal aspects of your life. Encourage some personal disclosure from your participants and make sure your pick up on things that are shared. This will encourage others.

3. Be sensitive to cultural differences

Don’t force participants to interact in the way you think is more effective. I have seen a lot of virtual trainers losing morale – if not their temper – because people don’t interact verbally. This is especially true when dealing with participants whose first language is not English. Group orientation and an indirect communication style, as often met with Asian audiences, also add to the discomfort of participants to speak up in the VC. Work you way around this. All platforms have chat and/or question functions. Make sure you let your learners know that they can use these functions too, if that makes them more comfortable, and keep reinforcing this. In my experience this leads to much more engagement. I recently conducted a 2 day VC for participants from China, Japan Taiwan and South Korea, all of it was done through chat and it worked wonderfully well.

4. Use breakout room activities

This allows for the participants to interact with each other on specific tasks/discussions and thus know each other better. It also allows for participants that are not comfortable speaking up in the main room to put ideas forth to a smaller group and still be represented during debrief. When you have different language groups, it also allows them to discuss more effectvely in their mother tongue before sharing the group’s output in English through one speaker.

5. Put some life into your delivery

Avoid what I call the History Teacher Syndrome (at least in my experience it was History teachers). Voice modulation and energy are key to keep people engaged. If you sound passionate about your topic it will be easier for participants to feel that the topic of the session is interesting. If you drone, don’t be surprised that they switch off.

6. Ask for feedback

Regularly ask your participants if what you are doing is working for them. Ask about style, content and methodology and be ready to adapt either one of them on the spot to satisfy them.

7. Be patient

All audiences are different and adapting to this model of delivery is a skill. Like any skill it takes time to build. If you lose patience because you are not getting the traction that you expect, you will lose all credibility in your learners’ eyes.

All things considered, I love virtual delivery. I meet people from all over the world and I love the challenge of keeping them engaged…and I can do them in my pajamas.

What about you what’s your experience? Any best practices you could share?

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7 Responses to 7 Tips for Effective Virtual Classrooms

  1. Bill Reed says:

    Guillaume, thanks for this. I absolutely agree with your 7 items, especially the ones about being personable and injecting life. I also try to insist on good (what I call) “Offshore” English from the native speakers, so that the less experienced can also contribute. I make strenuous efforts to prevent any native speaker dominance, as this can kill a session dead, as it breaks into natives and silents. I’d love to hear more about your experiences.

  2. Anand says:

    Guillaume, I am using virtual facilitation regularly now, though there are challenges, I am getting into the groove…thanks for putting the tips nicely here..

  3. HI Bill, I absolutely agree that native speakers can sometimes ‘kill’ your session, especially when I have a couple of Aussies in a mostly East Asian crowd 🙂 There are nice participants to have as they usually participate verbally but this can also inhibit the rest of the audience. I usually put one in each breakout team and ask them to facilitate the discussions and make sure they leave space to others or put them all together in one breakout team if there is enough of them.

    Hello Anand and thank you for your feedback. Am glad that this can be useful!

  4. Post Scriptum: The harder they come, the harder the fall

    Serves me right for bragging…I delivered yesterday the most disastrous virtual classroom ever.Major technology failure, too much content, lack of familiarity with the plaform and I missed out on a few key messages that the client had asked me to share. Doesn’t get worse then this. Trust me. The participants were highly engaged but there was so many of them (25 senior managers from across the world) that it was impossible for me to give attentiton to all of them. As a result the my level of facilitation was very superficial as I wanted to make sure I kept all of them engaged.

    Lesson in humilty learned.

  5. Bill Reed says:

    LOL!! This, in the idiom of the British is “Sod’s Law”! If anything can go wrong, it will! To quote more exactly: Sod’s Second Law states that …Sooner or later, the worst possible set of circumstances is bound to occur one way or another. It just seems that you got it all in one day, a tsunami of disasters. I truly sympathise, Guillaume .. I too have been there!

  6. Joe says:

    Hi Guillaume,

    That’s great groundrules, that I think can be positively applied in doing any presentation that involves the audience’s participation on some level.

    I’d add to point 6 that one should ask for feedback, but never for validation.

    Asking for feedback is asking for directions in order to adapt your performance to the audience’s needs so that the information/the training can be efficiently delivered to them. Asking for validation is asking your audience to judge your performance. On top of making you seem petty and/or unconfident, it can pull you out of the “performing mindset”, which then leads to actual unease on both sides: you’ll doubt the audience will follow your lead and the audience will doubt you are leading them anywhere. And when that is the outcome of any of presentations, I know I failed.

    • Thabks Joe for sharing your insights on this post. I absolutely agree on the difference between asking for feedback or for validation.

      I hope Geneva is pretty iin the spring 🙂

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