9 Planning Steps for Your Virtual Learning Program

Begin with the End in Mind!

(First posted on Linkedin) As the need for widespread social distancing increases, the need to move from traditional training to a virtual learning program is becoming more the norm. We know (or should know) that preparing for a virtual learning program (VLP) is quite different from planning for Instructor-led Training (ILT). For virtual learning programs to be effective, greater facilitator engagement and interaction must be incorporated into the experience, this means detailed planning must be part of the project.

If you are planning to move to a virtual learning environment, then you’ll want to guarantee the participants are engaged in the session, learning from the facilitator and most importantly, retaining lessons.

Below are 9 planning steps to take before running your next virtual learning program.

Step 1: Invest in Reliable Technology

Probably the most important planning consideration when moving your ILT into a virtual learning program is finding a reliable and stable platform.

One of the most damaging mistakes you can make is to use your meeting webinar tool to conduct your VLP. That is the equivalent of trying to use a screwdriver as a hammer. You may be able to eventually pound the nail in the wall, but it’s not the right tool and the nail won’t be secure.

There are several feature-rich online meeting platforms such as GoToWebinar, WebEx, Adobe Connect, and Zoom that allow you to replicate classroom techniques such as whiteboards, break out groups, pair and share, group project work etc. Choose the one that fits best for your organization and learning outcomes.

Side note: Poor Zoom has recently been on the receiving end of a disproportionate quantity of bad reviews. Not because the technology doesn’t work, but because many people don’t know how to work the technology and fail to understand basics like bandwidth and internet speed. Also, there was a video bug issue regarding Zoom and Macs. The bug was patched last July and here is their security guide.

Step 2: Decide Between Delivering a Webinar or Virtual Learning Program

Do you need to create a virtual learning program, or is this a simple webinar containing information and knowledge?

If you are planning to show a bunch of slides and talk over them, then create a recorded webinar. There are multiple benefits to doing this:

  • Allows people to watch at flexible time
  • Lowers logistical planning
  • Don’t have to worry if people have the proper equipment for a virtual classroom
  • No concerns about time zone issues
  • Technical support is not necessarily needed
  • Eliminates webinar overload
  • Trackable in the LMS

If your program has specific learning outcomes with skill application, then a VLP is the way to go, but most times a recorded webinar or recorded PowerPoint is the better option.

Step 3: Prepare for Technical Difficulties

It’s not if but WHEN. Technical difficulties are almost impossible to eliminate. However, with proper planning, you can reduce the likelihood of some errors popping up. Most errors stem from sound/video problems and connectivity/access errors.

Avoid these glitches by planning for them:

  1. Rehearsals: Do this to become familiar with the virtual learning software and features. A quick 15-minute walkthrough before each session can ensure your program goes off without delay.
  2. Tech Support: Know who to call. The facilitator and/or producer must have the contact information of the technical person who is on-call during the session.
  3. Prepare the Participants: Send the participants information on how to test their systems, so if need be, the appropriate software can be installed beforehand.

Step 4: Invest in Great Sound

Even with the best virtual platform, you must plan for sound. Investing in a quality hands-free headset allows easier control of other tools and features, improved audio and generally more authentic delivery. Need a good microphone? Check out the “Best Microphone Options for the Training Professional.”

Step 5: Build a Communication Plan

Key to building interest in your virtual learning program is to reach out to participants several times leading up to the session date using a clearly developed communication plan. Remember, not everyone is comfortable with a virtual learning environment. To reduce the initial hesitation, strive to create a positive learning environment through proper communication.

Part One: Communicate expectations. Create interest in the session via e-mails, through designated training newsletters or through a training department landing page. Your emails should inform participants about the session, information about the log-in time and build excitement. Think marketing!

Part Two: Create nudge communication. Each nudge after the original email includes something for the participants to get excited about.

  1. Create a “sizzle video” or include testimonials. You want people to believe that yours will not be the typical zombie inducing webinar with all talk and no learning.
  2. Include handouts or other downloadables to build curiosity.
  3. Open a poll or survey to allow participants to ask questions BEFORE the training begins.
  4. Include a screencast of the virtual learning platform with instructions as to how to use some of the functions. Eliminate the intimidation.

Part Three: Before the session begins create ice-breakers: Ice-breakers help to build a sense of fun and interest from the first point of screen interaction. When you are about to start, get the session moving with an interesting ice-breaker, as a fun add-on send out an icebreaker as part of your nudge communication.

Step 6: Find Energetic Facilitators

We all know a facilitator can breathe life into a bad training session, this is especially true with virtual learning content. In the virtual learning world, the facilitator is the person who not only has to ensure the exchange of knowledge but also needs to grab and hold the attention of participants, encourage participation and keep motivation high. This is a very specific skill requirement that is not in everyone’s wheelhouse. Even experienced face-2-face facilitators struggle in the virtual arena.

If your facilitator is dull and boring, they will not be able to save your virtual program and you will have virtual zombies. This may mean putting a different facilitator in place and then if need be, have them partner with a subject matter expert to bring credibility to the program.

Step 7: Two People are Better than One. Always.

A great virtual learning experience will always have two facilitators. One who is the designated facilitator and the other who is the producer. This is for several practical reasons, for instance, while one is speaking or leading, the other can monitor the chat, address questions that may arise or handle any technical or sound issues. This allows the facilitator to do what they do best – facilitate learning.

Step 8: Create Facilitator Guides

Even if your facilitators are already experienced with virtual learning sessions and content, it’s still important to develop information to help moderate the classroom. The guide should include the standard learning outcomes of the training and content talking points, but also when/how to insert and run activities in the virtual space.

Step 9: Prepare for Feedback

Feedback for classes is normal – here we need to focus on making your next virtual learning session better than the last.

  1. Select A Polling Software: There are several survey tools online that allow for interactive surveys. Survey Monkey, Polleverwhere, Polldaddy or even creating an SMS text survey can allow participants to give you formative data before and after the session.
  2. Pre-session Poll: A pre-event poll is a great way to get attendees engaged right off the bat. Ask them about their expectations and goals.

To Wrap This Up

Virtual training requires a strong facilitator and attention to detail, more so than your typical ILT program. By focusing on the planning, you can create a learning environment that effectively engages participants and make them want to return to your virtual classroom.

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Let Learning Rebels help you. 

If you need to move your ILT training into a virtual learning solution, but don’t have the time and bandwidth to create quality content. Learning Rebels can help. We take your ILT curriculum and convert it into an engaging virtual program. We also include facilitator notes and tips with a participant guidebook.