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Apr 03, 2014 Jennifer Hofmann

Virtual Classroom Tool Design Basics: A Virtual Engagement Primer

This is the first post in a series of seven titled Virtual Classroom Tool Design Basics: A Virtual Engagement Primer.

Virtual training design doesn't need to be difficult - but designers do need a working knowledge of the features each virtual classroom tool provides.

Glowing_ToolboxIn this blog series, Virtual Classroom Tool Design Basics, I'll be sharing high-level summaries of virtual classroom tools, including chatbreakout roomswhiteboards, application sharing, synchronized web browsing, and survey and feedback tools.  

Why use these new tools at all?  Because the virtual classroom is not the same as the traditional classroom, and we need to adapt our engagement techniques in order to create meaningful, learner-centered programs. 

Create Meaningful Engagement

Since the introduction of the virtual classroom, poor design for live online sessions has inadvertently taught participants that virtual sessions are a "free hour" – an opportunity to listen intermittently while checking and responding to e-mail and taking care of other light duties. Participants now are so accustomed to this free hour idea that they are often annoyed when the facilitator of a live online session asks for their participation.

In short, unless you provide meaningful engagement you can be quite certain that participants will get bored. Just as in a traditional classroom, participants in a live online setting get restless, get tired, and lose interest if it is not immediately apparent that the session is worth their time.

Online, the boredom factor is particularly dangerous. Without eye contact and body language, you (the facilitator) can't know whether participants are paying attention – and they know you don’t know.

Consequently, designers must craft live virtual sessions carefully in order to battle boredom and its inevitable disengagement. Fight the ho-hum factor!

How? The strength of live online learning is in its capacity for engagement. (for more on how to engage, interact, and collaborate, see the post Use Interaction & Collaboration to Maximize Engagement in the Virtual Classroom)

For now, remember this: Keep content-heavy presentations to 45 minutes absolute maximum, with interaction every three to five minutes. And no session, no matter how collaborative and engaging, should be longer than two hours (we'll address the exceptions to this rule another time).

Every Three To Five Minutes

“Good design is key,” says a national e-learning manager in Novato, California. That means “creating plenty of interaction opportunities every three to five minutes and using real-world examples and questions.” A Design Specialist at a bank in Toronto says she has adopted this motto: "Design for activity, not content!"

It should come as no surprise that regular engagement helps participants learn. One company says it prepared a course for virtual online delivery and later adapted the same course for the traditional classroom. The company found, somewhat to its surprise, that participants in the traditional classroom course adapted from the live online course actually learned better.

Why? The frequent activities built-in to the live online course stayed in the design for the traditional classroom. That kept participants in the traditional classroom engaged, and participant engagement makes any learning more effective.

This reminds us of an important lesson: As with any adult learning, adults participating in live online learning need to be involved and contributing in order to learn most effectively. This is true in any delivery medium. And it certainly remains true in live online learning. 

But what do you DO every three to five minutes? Just the thought of designing that much content can be daunting.

That's where using all of the great tools available to you in the virtual classroom comes in.  By using these tools effectively and appropriately, you can create engagement and participation in your live online learning events which leads to the ultimate goal in elearning - training that "sticks."

To see all of the articles in this series click on the links below.  

Virtual Classroom Tools

  • Virtual Classroom Chat - Chat is probably the most familiar tool in the virtual classroom, but in order to design for this tool, you need to understand its capabilities. 
  • Breakout Rooms - Ready to kick your virtual training up to a higher level? Design for true collaboration with breakout room activities. 
  • Shared Whiteboards - Creating engagement in the virtual classroom is easy when you design effective whiteboard activities. Here are some tips to get you started.
  • Application Sharing - Make sure your application training is more than a demonstration. Design collaborative exercises that exploit application sharing in your virtual classroom.
  • Synchronized Web Browsing - Synchronized web browsing can add great interaction to a virtual classroom design, if only anyone used it. Create engagement using this versatile tool. 
  • Survey, Feedback, and Other Tools - This post discusses often overlooked virtual classroom tools. They can easily be inserted into a program to create interactive and collaborative activities.

And if you're ready to learn exactly how to apply these ideas in the virtual classroom, check out our Virtual Classroom Design Mastery Series certificate course and discover how you can earn your Virtual Classroom Instructional Designer Badge by clicking on the graphic below. 

Virtual Classroom Design Mastery Series Badge

Virtual Classroom Tool Design Basics Series

Published by Jennifer Hofmann April 3, 2014
Jennifer Hofmann