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Virtual Classroom Rules: Enhancing Online Learning & Participation

Virtual Classroom Rules: Enhancing Online Learning & Participation

This post has been updated to reflect 2023 data and trends.

Virtual Classroom Rules: Enhancing Online Learning & Participation


Discover how virtual classroom rules transform online learning dynamics and boost engagement.


Every day, thousands of virtual classroom sessions take placemeetings, webinars, comprehensive training programs. In fact, according to Backlinko, as of 2023, the number of annual meeting minutes on Zoom is over 3.3 trillion, which translates to approximately 9.04 billion minutes per day. This is just for Zoom, and it doesn't account for other platforms like Microsoft Teams or Google Meet.

This trend does not surprise usthe world, and our classrooms, have changed. And while instructional design and facilitation approaches need updating, learners also have to adapt to this learning environment. Participation, collaboration, interaction, and contribution look different in the virtual classroom, and there are virtual classroom rules that should be followed.


Visualizing the Impact: Virtual Classrooms With and Without Rules 

In virtual learning, the presence or absence of classroom rules can dramatically alter the educational experience. Here are some examples:

With Virtual Classroom Rules:

  • Focused Learning: Students log in to a distraction-free environment, with notifications silenced and a "Do Not Disturb: sign on their door. This practice fosters a concentrated learning atmosphere.
  • Active Participation and Environmental Engagement: Students are aware of the expectation to engage, leading to lively discussions and interactive sessions. The "hand raise" feature is used effectively, ensuring orderly and inclusive participation.
  • Structured Communication: Inquiries and feedback are systematically managed through chat and verbal responses, maintaining a smooth flow of the session.

Without Virtual Classroom Rules:

  • Disorganized Environment: Without guidelines, students may face constant interruptions from emails, calls, or family members, leading to a fragmented learning experience.
  • Passive Engagement: In the absence of participation norms, students might remain silent spectators, missing the benefits of active engagement and collaborative learning.
  • Chaotic Interaction: Questions and feedback can become overwhelming without a structured approach, leading to confusion and an unproductive learning environment.

Clearly, establishing and adhering to virtual classroom rules transforms a chaotic online space into a thriving hub of learning and interaction.

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5 Must-Follow Rules for Top-Notch Virtual Classrooms

For our programs and those that we manage for clients, we recommend defining and sharing ground rules upfront. Not only does it help learners to better understand expectations, but also it wards off underwhelming training that may neglect the learners' needs.

Generally, learners want to do a good job. In our experience, the following five rules help learners learn effectively online:

1. Minimize distractions

Ask learners to consider their training area and eliminate any possible interruptions. Independent of your virtual classroom setup, the best practices include 

  • logging out of email,
  • silencing the cell phone (and desk phone if applicable),
  • and going inactive in instant messaging applications like Slack and Skype.
  • If the learners have coworkers or family in the immediate space, ask them to place a “do not disturb” sign on their office door.

2. Participation

Most learners experience the virtual classroom for the first time in a webinar format, which involves very little contribution. In true virtual classroom training or collaboration events, learners need to come ready to participate. Virtual facilitators should prepare learners at the outset that they will call on learners by name and ask them to give feedback and answers verbally.

3. Encourage interaction with the "hand raise"

Most virtual classroom platforms have a “hand raise” interaction tool option. Without express permission to use this tool, though, learners may keep urgent questions or feedback to themselves. Facilitators or session producers need to not only show learners where to find the hand raise option but also encourage its usage throughout the session by responding to inquiries that come through.

4. Have patience

Learners who ask questions in face-to-face trainings expect immediate answers. Sometimes those answers are not given in the virtual classroom, especially if learners submit questions via the chat feature.

Let learners know that the instructional team will monitor chat and respond via text or verbal response when they can. This rule provides another opportunity to direct learners to use the hand raise tool if they have an urgent question or concern.

5. Ask to be kept in the loop

Even engaged learners invested in the training process may need to step away from their desks to use the restroom or grab a cup of coffee or even leave the training due to an unexpected emergency. Remind learners to use the coffee cup emoticon (if available) or to private chat the facilitator to let them know if they take a break. Keeping lines of communication open help ensure that the virtual session goes smoothly for everyone.

Case Study: How a Multinational Software Company Enhanced Virtual Training with Classroom Rules

We had the opportunity to work with a multinational software company to implement virtual classroom rules across their global training programs. Previously, their online sessions struggled with low engagement and participation. We introduced key rules: ensuring minimal distractions, mandating active participation, promoting the use of interactive tools like "hand raise," educating about response time expectations, and maintaining open communication for any learner needing to step away.

Then we taught the facilitators how to ensure these rules were followed in a way that was inclusive and engaging.

The results were remarkable. The company saw a significant increase in participant engagement and retentionlargely because they realized the facilitator and the company took virtual training seriously, and so should they.

 This real-world application demonstrates how structured virtual classroom rules can profoundly impact the efficacy of online training.

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Measuring Success: The Impact of Ground Rules on Virtual Learning

Our experience consistently shows that implementing and enforcing virtual classroom rules leads to tangible improvements in learner engagement and retention. 

But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s some data:

In a study titled "Web-based virtual learning environments: A research framework and a preliminary assessment of effectiveness in basic IT skills training," it was found that standardizing the learning model, which can include setting clear ground rules, could potentially enhance the effectiveness of learning.

Another paper titled "On Measuring Learning Success of Students with Disabilities in Virtual Environments" suggests that ground rules can represent a good starting point in preparation of specific measures of virtual learning success.

This success translates to learners being more immersed in their learning journey, demonstrating better understanding of the material, and applying their new skills more effectively in their work or studies. This evidence underscores the power of structured rules in creating a conducive and productive virtual learning environment.

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