Companies worldwide are ramping up skills development efforts in a remote work environment. Converting in-person training assets to virtual training is an efficient and cost-effective way to develop your employees. At PSI, we’ve been designing in-person and virtual learning for a long time. We’ve identified some “common-sense” best practices and tips to assist your transition from in-person (often called Instructor-led Training or ILT) to virtual instructor-led training (VILT).

Where do you start?  Is one hour of in-person training equal to one hour of Virtual learning? What are reasonable expectations for learning and retention? Here are 5 tips that will help your organization transition convert ILT to VILT.

Download a PDF of our infographic here.

Tip #1 – Start by Cleaning House

Examine the learning objectives for your training program to make sure they are still relevant and attainable via virtual delivery. This process is a lot like spring cleaning. Most organizations with mature training programs will need to organize, repackage, or discard some content. Spring cleaning is an opportunity to identify and prioritize information best-suited for the interaction, exercises, and instructor guidance in a VILT environment. Streamline and focus your presentation on critical pieces of content to maintain a high level of engagement with your virtual audience.  

Consider alternatives for presenting less relevant content or make it available in another format. For example, you can create an online support tool for information not covered in the live portion of your training. The support tool can be used for pre-work as well as reference during and after the session. You can also create a takeaway document summarizing the critical content that includes some of the secondary materials.

Tip #2 – Use a Mix and Match Design Style

Mix and match presentation formats to keep your learners engaged. It is easy to allow the online delivery format to drive the presentation, but effective VILT delivers information using a variety of methods. 

  • Virtual discussions
  • Exercises
  • Self-directed learning
  • Performance support tools 

A blended approach using a variety of presentation options keeps learners engaged and supports the achievement of learning objectives.

Tip #3 – Find Balance in Your Design

The pace of your VILT is critical for helping learners maintain the sense that they are making progress and moving forward. Think about options for engaging virtual learners throughout the session. Mixing and matching presentation formats also helps VILT training maintain a good pace.

Break instructor-led discussions into smaller bites. A virtual instructor should not talk for more than 5-10 minutes without breaking for interaction with the learners. We call these smaller bites “learning snacks!”

Use the interactive tools available in your delivery platform like polls, chat, virtual whiteboards, and screen annotation. These tools enhance the learner experience and keep them involved. Be creative with the tools you have available to stimulate the learner experience:

  • Chat is a great way to engage your audience. Sprinkle questions throughout the session and encourage learners to use chat to answer. Learners can also use chat to ask questions or share key points that help the rest of the class.
  • Polls help you learn about the audience or check participant comprehension. Polling is also helpful when transitioning from one section to another. For instance, poll the group on the two upcoming items on the agenda and ask what area is more important to them.
  • Virtual whiteboards encourage learners to interact with one another and the instructor. Whiteboards can supplement or replace chat as an option for getting input from learners. Call on participants to share their ideas. Ask them to list key topics or share conclusions.
  • Annotation allows instructors to highlight important content. Instructors also have the option to allow learners to write on the screen to pose questions or focus on a key part of the slide.

Leverage the internet or existing web-based tools to help make your point when necessary. The advantage of a VILT is that you are already online. It’s easy to ask learners to check out a site to help drive home the learning. 

Tip #4: Use Exercises as a Focal Point

Incorporate exercises into your VILT to ensure learners can apply the session’s skills and knowledge in meaningful ways. Using realistic situations to provide context for the training materials improves retention and engagement. While virtual training exercises might look different than in-person training, these activities help learners apply skills and knowledge in meaningful ways. 

PSI has designed many virtual exercises to fit various situations. Exercises are a great way to motivate learners and test their understanding. Here are a few examples of interactive exercises that work well in virtual sessions. 

  • Short Simulations – Ask learners to complete a series of tasks or apply skills through an online tool that helps them see the impact of their decisions.
  • Group Breakout Exercises – Use the breakout function in the meeting tool to conduct exercises where learners work in teams to role-play a situation, practice skills, or brainstorm solutions to a specific issue.
  • Quizzes and Surveys– Use online quizzes and surveys to test learners’ understanding of content and identify areas where learners may want to spend more time.

When designing virtual exercises, be sure learners can ask questions through chat. The instructor should also check in with learners during the activity. Consider effective and efficient options for debriefing after the exercise in a virtual setting.

Tip #5: Don’t Forget to Add the Finishing Touches

A good ending is the best beginning!

Summarize key learning points and present clear next steps. Use this opportunity to pull everything together and ensure the learners continue building their skills and knowledge. 

Consider adding post-work to your VILT.  Ask learners to work with their managers to incorporate new skills into their performance plan or develop an action plan to apply what they learned to a client or a specific situation on-the-job. Clear next steps and action items strengthen retention, application, and accountability.

End the session by asking learners what they learned and how they intend to apply the information. Ask them to answer using one of the online meeting tools, because a few sentences of feedback from a learner can be more enlightening than a simple rating scale.  

Bonus Tip: Before you close the session, copy learner’s comments and save their feedback to share with program sponsors and improve your next session!

Would you like to read more about how the pandemic is affecting companies as face-to-face learning moves online? This article has an excellent synopsis of information gathered through a member survey conducted by the eLearning Guild. 

You might also find our new blog on common-sense tips on instructing a VILT helpful. Feel free to share your comments and tips below.

About the Authors

Chris Lawton, a founding partner at Performance Solutions International (PSI) has been providing training and consulting services to various industries and clients for the last 29 years (after a career in public accounting).

Jill Gualtieri, a partner at Performance Solutions International (PSI) has been providing training and consulting services for the last 25 years.

Performance Solutions International (PSI)

PSI is the leading provider of industry-focused training, custom learning solutions and learning consulting services to empower your professionals with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to succeed in today’s highly competitive environment.

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