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Aug 26, 2014 Jennifer Hofmann

Preparing Virtual Learners for Success

Avoiding Confusion in the Virtual Classroom Using today's virtual classroom technology, it is easy to set up the online meeting and communicate the session details to your group of learners - but then they get reminder after reminder and often end up getting confused. Or they arrive at the session and discover they don't understand the tools or know how to learn in the virtual classroom.

At InSync Training, we deliver certificate programs for a variety of subjects, including designing and facilitating in the virtual classroom and designing blended learning programs. These certificate programs are usually held once a week, two hours per session, for up to seven weeks. In delivering these programs, we have discovered several best practices that we have found to be effective when communicating with our learners and preparing them for the learning experience.


The key to avoiding confusion is making the instructions for joining the actual live event as easy to read and understand as possible.

Just because you send numerous emails to your learners doesn't mean they will get read or acted upon. Remember, they're used to just turning up at a physical classroom and taking a seat.

You need to set the right expectations for your learners from the start and come up with a communication plan that will make learners sit up and take notice.

We have found that one communication per session with the subject line "Name of Class - Communication 1" is all we need to send. We include links to the next session, reminders of required self-paced work that needs to be completed before the next class, and anything else they need to be successful in the next session.

Of course, you can make it easier for your learners if you have a learning management system or intranet website that hosts all communications, resources and intersession assignments for them. In addition, if you are delivering programs with multiple sessions like we do, this will make communicating with your learners simple.

Learner Preparedness - Bottom-Up

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

Bottom-up learner preparedness looks at the need to educate your learners before they even enter the virtual classroom. By providing effective communication and internal marketing of the programs offered online, you give your learners the information they need to arrive at your live sessions as a willing audience.

For example, virtual classroom sessions are run according to strict online schedules, which the learners expect you to adhere to. If their schedule says the "presentation skills course" runs from 2:30 to 4:00, they will log in at 2:30 (some even earlier) and plan to log off at 4:00, whether you've managed to deliver all of the content or not.

It's important, therefore, to make sure that you give yourself enough time to deliver 100 percent of the training content, AND 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 listed pre-session work is mandatory, not optional. This way, everyone begins the live session with the same basic knowledge level. In addition, be sure to set out guidelines as to what they will be expected to do in the live session - engagement and participation should not be optional either!

It's important to also recognize that newcomers to the virtual classroom must actually learn how to be effective virtual classroom learners.

At InSync, we run a 60-minute experience for new learners called "Learn How to Learn Online" as a prerequisite for all of our training courses. 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.

Tools: In live sessions, you can invite your learners to use chat, annotation and hand-raising tools to engage both themselves and others. Remember, you 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 their question, they should use the hand raise tool or something 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.

Learner Preparedness - Top-Down

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

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 often in the virtual classroom?

Perhaps it's the fact that most learners will "attend" the 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).

We need to enable our learners by providing the right environment in which they can learn effectively in the virtual classroom. Some items to consider:

  • Wired internet access is better than Wi-Fi.
  • Provide a quiet office space or room, separate from their usual working space.
  • Managers must minimize interruptions.
  • The learners need sufficient time to complete all elements of the training - intersession work assignments as well as the live virtual sessions.

Effective communication and learner preparedness are crucial to enabling your learners to be successful in the virtual classroom. It is also important to the success of any virtual event that participants are given the space, time and tools to participate successfully. Keep all of these best practices in mind when considering your next virtual training event.

Interested in what other 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 August 26, 2014
Jennifer Hofmann