In today’s unpredictable environment, organizations are looking for ways to develop the skills of their workforce in a remote work environment. Converting existing in-person training assets to virtual training is an efficient and cost-effective way to develop your employees. At PSI, we’ve been designing and developing in-person and virtual learning for a long time. To help you convert your in-person courses (often called Instructor-led Training or ILT) to virtual learning, we’ve identified some “common-sense” best practices and tips for you to consider.

Where do you start?  Is one hour of in-person training equal to one hour of Virtual learning?  

Tip #1 – Clean House

Begin by examining the learning objectives to ensure all the objectives are still relevant and attainable via virtual delivery. This process is a lot like the spring cleaning you do in your home, getting rid of some of the content you had before but didn’t need, and moving other content to a better place. The cleansing process helps you reprioritize and focus on what’s essential to include in the virtual instructor-led training (VILT) where you want interaction, exercises and instructor guidance.

When designing VILT, think about how to refocus and streamline the content to ensure it is appropriate for a virtual audience and maintains a high level of engagement. Your focus should be on including the critical content for the live virtual portion of the session. For less critical content, consider how to best present it or make it available using other formats. For example, you can create an online support tool for the remaining content. The support tool can be used for both pre-work and reference during and after the session. Or create a takeaway document summarizing the critical content that includes some of the secondary content.

When you convert in-person learning to VILT, it’s often difficult to separate the process of streamlining the content with determining the best delivery approach for the VILT. This brings us to tip #2…

Tip #2 – Mix and Match

Considering the content and determining the delivery format(s) often happens simultaneously. Your decision on which delivery format is most appropriate for the content should be driven by meeting the learning objectives, treating the content appropriately and keeping learners engaged. Options you might consider include live virtual discussions/exercises, self-directed learning, performance support tools or a blend of each option. We talk more about these options below, but we almost always end up blending the approach using a mix of options.

Once you’ve identified the content that is appropriate for the virtual session and considered the delivery format, you want to ensure that you keep learners engaged and actively participating throughout the session.

Tip #3 – Keep it moving…nothing to see here!

Review the current agenda and consider how to deliver the content in more engaging ways for virtual learners. This may include:

  • Breaking instructor-led discussions into smaller bites (a virtual instructor should not be talking for more than 5-10 minutes without any interaction from the learners). We call these smaller bites “learning snacks!”
  • Using the interactive online meeting tools available to you, such as polling, chat, whiteboard or screen annotation to 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 learners. Sprinkle questions throughout the session and encourage learners to use chat to answer. It is simple but effective. Also ask them to use chat to pose questions during the session or to add key points that help the rest of the class (make them instructive).
    • Polling helps you learn about the audience or ensure participants comprehend critical areas of content. Polling can also be used to transition from one section to another. For instance, poll the group on the two areas of upcoming content and ask them what area is more important to them.
    • Whiteboards are great for visual learners and encourage learners to interact with one another and the instructor. Whiteboards can be used in place of or in addition to the chat feature to get input from learners. Call on participants to share their ideas, add to a list of key topics or make a conclusion for the section.
    • Annotation is an excellent tool for the instructor to highlight important content and for learners to write on the screen. Use annotation to encourage learners to write on slides where appropriate to pose questions or focus on a key part of the slide.
  • Leverage the internet or existing web-based tools/sites 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 make your point.

Incorporate exercises into your VILT to ensure learners can apply the skills and knowledge from the session in meaningful ways. The fact that the session is virtual does not prevent you from developing effective exercises.

Tip #4: Exercise Early and Often

Just like good in-person training, effective VILT should include exercises that allow learners to apply the information in the training to realistic situations.

At PSI, we’ve designed several virtual exercises that can be tailored to fit various situations. Exercises are a great way to motivate learners and reinforce/test learners’ understanding of the topics covered. Some interactive exercises we’ve found that work well in virtual sessions include:

  • Short Simulations – Develop a mini-simulation that asks 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 role-plays 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 have the ability to ask questions through chat, for instance, and the instructor can check in with learners as they are completing the activity. You’ll also want to consider how best to debrief the exercise effectively and efficiently in a virtual setting, which can be different than in-class.

Round out the VILT with a strong conclusion and well-defined next steps. This is your opportunity to pull everything together and ensure the learners continue building their skills and knowledge. After all, a good ending is the best beginning, so make sure your VILT includes a call to action.

Tip #5: Put a Bow on It

Similar to in-person training, good VILT needs to summarize the key learning points. End the session by asking learners what they learned and how they intend to apply the information and allow them to answer using one of the online meeting tools. This approach can be more enlightening than a Level 1 evaluation, as learners tell you what they learned in a few sentences or two vs. just a ratings scale.

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

Consider adding post-work to your VILT.  For example, ask learners to work with their managers to add their skills to their performance plan. Or develop an action plan to apply what they learned to a client or a specific situation on-the-job. It’s important to have some sort of next step to strengthen the success, application and accountability of the learning.

The eLearning Guild ran a survey to find out how the pandemic is impacting members shifting from face-to-face learning to online.  This article has the results.

Stay tuned for our next blog, where we’ll share some common-sense tips on instructing a VILT. 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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