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Jun 02, 2014 Jennifer Hofmann

Preparing Virtual Learners

Virtual Learner SuccessWhere would virtual training be without virtual learners? Clearly, we need to set them up for success. Although participants have a wide range of backgrounds, skills, and technical experience, all must learn to navigate the virtual learning environment. We must be aware that participants need to "learn how to learn" all over again in this new medium. But how do you prepare them?

There are two very distinct ways for you to tackle virtual learner preparedness - bottom-up and top-down.


Bottom-up looks at the need to educate your learners before they even enter the virtual classroom.

Through effective communication and internal marketing of the programs offered online, you can have a willing audience attend your live virtual sessions.

Virtual classroom sessions are run according to strict online schedules, which the learners expect you to adhere to. If their schedule shows that the "presentation skills course" runs from 2:30pm to 4:00pm, they will log in at 2:30pm (some even earlier) and plan to log off at 4:00pm, whether you've managed to deliver all the content or not. Therefore, it's vitally important that you make sure you can get through all of the content during the allotted time.

In addition to giving yourself enough time to deliver 100%  of the training content, you need to allow 10-15 minutes at the start of the session for ensuring learners have access to the presentation and audio.

You also need to let your learners know that any pre-session work is mandatory, not optional.

This way, everyone begins the live session with the same basic knowledge level.

Newcomers must learn how to be effective virtual classroom learners.

Set out guidelines as to what they will be expected to do in the live session - engagement and participation should not be optional.

At InSync Training, we run a 60-minute experience for new learners called the Learn How to Learn Online (LHTLO) Workshop as a prerequisite for all training initiatives.

This session helps learners to understand the environment, the interaction tools, and the appropriate etiquette for the virtual classroom.

  • Environment: Learners often attend live sessions while sitting at their work desks, leaving themselves open to interruptions from colleagues, background noises and other office distractions. It's important that they have strategies in place to deal with environmental challenges before their virtual training session.
  • Tools: In live sessions, you can invite your learners to use chat, annotation and hand-raising tools to engage both themselves and others. You not only need to teach them how the tools work but also when to use them.
  • Etiquette: Set expectations with your learners for how they will be involved in the session and how their questions will be handled (i.e., instead of just shouting out, they should use the hand raise tool or similar).

If you don't prepare your learners adequately, then you lend yourself to the wrath of the virtual classroom gods by losing and alienating learners.


Top-down refers to working with the learners' managers and ensuring that they "buy-in" to the whole idea of giving the learner sufficient time and space to attend the virtual training session.

Often we find that it is the learner's manager that interrupts them and takes them away from the virtual training session. This is not a behavior we would expect from the manager in a face-to-face classroom unless truly necessary, so why does it happen so frequently in the virtual classroom?

Perhaps it's the fact that most learners will "attend" the virtual training event at their working desk, leading to the visual assumption that they can be interrupted (they are not really being seen as attending a training event).

In top-down we need to enable our learners by providing the right environment in which they can learn effectively in the virtual classroom. Some important considerations include:

  • Wired internet access is better than Wi-Fi.
  • Learners need a quiet office space or room.
  • Managers need to agree to minimize interruptions.
  • Learners must have sufficient time to complete all elements of the training - asynchronous and virtual classroom participation.

It is important to the success of any virtual training event that participants are given the space, time and tools to participate successfully.

Interested in what types of things your learners need to know BEFORE they attend your virtual training session? Plan to attend our Learn How to Learn Online (LHTLO) Workshop - it's free!

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Published by Jennifer Hofmann June 2, 2014
Jennifer Hofmann