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Feb 06, 2023 Jennifer Lindsay-Finan

What is a Virtual Classroom Producer and What Role Do They Play?

Why Virtual Classroom Facilitators Need Trained Technical & Instructional Support

Of all the roles in the virtual classroom, the Producer may have changed the most! As Jennifer Hofmann said, the role of the producer back in 1998 was mainly to “make the talent look good”. [Read: Lesson Learned. Virtual Classroom Producers Can Maximize Training Value.]  Since then, Producers have worked hard behind the scenes of (probably) millions of classes ensuring all the technology worked smoothly. Now, they’re still doing that, but since their partnership with the others in the Instructional Team has grown, so too has their role in the virtual classroom. Now, they drive environmental engagement, and support the facilitator to engage the learners emotionally and intellectually too.

What is a Virtual Classroom Producer and what is their role?

Producer. Host. Moderator. Several terms have been used to describe the more-than-technical-support role in a virtual classroom instructional session. For more than 20 years, InSync Training has provided this service for a variety of large-, mid- and modest-sized clients. If trained properly, producers transform virtual learning programs into trouble-free, fast moving, interactive events that keep learners involved and support the facilitator to stay on track, consistent, and effective.

Often described as the ‘unsung hero’ of the virtual classroom, the Producer supports the delivery team before, during and after the virtual training event, ensuring everything runs smoothly. The Producer is there to support the facilitator, the participants, and the technology.

Of course, we would recommend a professional Virtual Producer who has years of experience in the role so that they can deal with any technical issues quickly and professionally without disrupting the class, or even drawing attention to the issue. However, the role of a Producer could be filled by someone else on your instructional team, to give the facilitator another pair of hands (and eyes and ears).

We’ve all experienced issues in the virtual classroom, but they rarely add to the learning experience! Most of the time, they’re a distraction that no one needs. Having someone there as a Producer ensures a smoother, more professional, seamless experience for everyone, ensuring that the facilitator can concentrate on engaging their learners and the learners can concentrate fully on the content.

The role of the Virtual Producer is growing all the time, so in addition to managing the technology, A producer also serves an instructional support role, as the learner advocate and a co-instructor. 

Producers have responsibility not just for the quality of the production, but the quality of the instruction. That's a big job! [Click here to Elevate Your Virtual Training Strategy: Enroll to Become a Master Virtual Producer]

How do Virtual Producers work with the Instructional Team to impact learner engagement?

The Producer works closely in partnership with the Facilitator to ensure a smooth learning experience for everyone.

Typically, a Producer will review all logistical information and raise any issues before they’re sent out to learners. They’ll meet with the Facilitator to rehearse and run through the content ahead of time, ensuring any activities will run smoothly in the virtual classroom platform and discussing any potential accommodations that may be required for learners on mobile devices or whose first language is not the spoken language in the class.

Before the class starts, the Producer will open the virtual room and check all the settings are correct and that any polls or other activities are prepared and ready to go. The Producer will help the Facilitator get set up before any learners arrive, ensuring a clear audio connection as well as checking the visibility of any slides or videos being used.

During the class, the Producer will support the Facilitator in all the ways they’ve agreed. This might include welcoming learners, providing technical instructions, signposting to resources using chat, setting up whiteboards, polls and breakout rooms. It might also include sending the Facilitator timing prompts, notes about learners who aren’t as active as others, taking attendance, managing a recording, amongst other things. Producers may even take the lead by facilitating a particular section or running an activity to provide an additional voice and let the facilitator take a short break.

After class, the Producer’s job isn’t over! They’ll often configure and distribute the recording, mark attendance and report back on any other outputs from the class. They may send information to the learners about self-directed work or distribute follow-up details. Importantly, they’ll debrief the class with the Facilitator and make any recommendations for next time.

All of this depends of course on the Producer’s assigned role, but also on the relationship between the Facilitator and the Producer. For tips on how to maximize the relationship between Producer and Facilitator, read this blog post.

In addition to working with the Facilitator, Producers can be a great asset to Designers, by taking notes that may help future revisions. Facilitators can’t always keep track of all of this while they’re teaching, and Designers can’t always attend every new class. Producers will be monitoring time anyway, so can pass those timing notes on to Designers in case any adjustments are needed. Producers can also keep notes on how effective different activities are and if instructions are detailed enough. They can also report back any issues with the content or any updates that need to be incorporated. It’s almost as though the Designer has a ‘spy’ in every class (but in a good way).

[Click here to Elevate Your Virtual Training Strategy: Enroll to Become a Master Virtual Producer]

3 Key Competencies Virtual Producers Need To Develop
  1. Foster environmental engagement for everyone. The Producer really is the driver when it comes to environmental engagement. It’s up to the Producer to ensure everyone knows how to fully participate in the virtual classroom. That means helping the Facilitator become familiar with any tools they’ve not yet used, but also helping learners become comfortable and digitally fluent in their learning environment. Not just by giving instructions, but by confidently giving clear, concise directions and providing encouragement when appropriate for learners to try out the tools themselves. Producers need to be confident in the platform they’re supporting (although many Producers will work in 3-4 different platforms a day), knowing the possibilities and restrictions inside out. They need to be able to provide that support no matter what device the learner is using to join the session.
  2. Nurture emotional engagement alongside the Facilitator. Often, the Producer welcomes learners as they join the class, so the Producer is actually that first point of contact for learners. Producers can take this opportunity to set the tone for the class and start making emotionally engaging connections with the learners before the class even starts. This puts everyone in the right frame of mind for an enjoyable, engaging learning event. The Producer can work alongside the Facilitator as a team to promote the idea of creating a learning community and can reassure learners when any issues arise, helping to create the feeling of psychological safety in the virtual classroom.
  3. Support the Facilitator in stimulating intellectual engagement for the learners. In addition to all the technical responsibilities, a Producer can act as a learner advocate, re-stating instructions in chat or even speaking up when clarification is needed. Producers can annotate key points on a slide or use the annotation tools to point to specific elements the Facilitator is discussing to help learners focus. Producers can capture whiteboards or chat feeds and distribute them to the learners after class to allow them to revisit the concepts later. Even simply putting workbook page numbers in chat can be a great help to learners during a busy virtual class.

[Click here to Elevate Your Virtual Training Strategy: Enroll to Become a Master Virtual Producer]

The 3 biggest challenges facing Virtual Classroom Producers
  1. Predicting the Unpredictable. Producers are typically highly organized people who anticipate every eventuality, but of course the unexpected can – and will happen! Speak with any Producer (whether they have produced one lesson or a million) and they’ll no doubt have a tale to tell. Some of them told their most memorable stories here. At InSync, we’ve heard so many stories of the internet crashing, or whole virtual platforms being down – always at the worst possible time. But of course, our Producers have back up plans for their backups and a team of 100+ other producers on hand to help out when needed.
  2. Troubleshooting everything, all the time. There are so many devices and possible set-ups now that Producers need to almost mindread to troubleshoot learners’ issues. Learners can be on any device, using an app or a browser and of course each browser has slight differences. They could be on a Mac or PC, Android or iOS, or Linux! Thankfully, we don’t need to know the ins and outs of every single device, but we do need to be able to work with the learner or their IT team to troubleshoot. Of course, at InSync, our Producers have a toolkit of tricks to prevent mishaps in the first place and our 4-Step Process to deal with them when they do happen, plus of course the support of 100+ other virtual classroom professionals who may well have experienced the same issue before.
  3. Being a mind reader, and anticipating what the facilitator needs next. This is especially important when it’s a new relationship and if a rehearsal hasn’t been possible for whatever reason. The Producer will be wondering what the Facilitator wants, what the Facilitator might prefer to do themselves, and what changes they might be making in their head right now. Of course, our Producers work with checklists to discuss all of this before class starts and will have an open private communication with the Facilitator throughout the class. Our Producers are also always fully present and ready to flex and adapt to whatever changes are requested.
The 3 greatest rewards for Virtual Producers
  1. A happy (and professionally satisfied) facilitator. It’s so rewarding to know that the Facilitator appreciates your support and maybe has even learned something from you. Perhaps you’ve shared an easier way to do something or a new trick thanks to a platform update and the Facilitator shares their appreciation with you.
  2. Happy (and engaged!) learners. The learners think of you as part of the team that made the class great. The reward is their thanks for any support they might have needed privately, but also all the extras you added to make the learning experience successful and smooth.
  3. The opportunity for Continuous Learning. Producers get to learn every single day! They support a myriad of subjects with people from all over the world. They also learn from other producers who are constantly sharing tips and sharing the latest information after each virtual platform update.
Why L&D Needs To Ensure it has a skilled team to technically host and instructionally support sessions.

As we’ve already said, the role of the Virtual Classroom Producer has already changed over the last 20+ years and it will continue to grow and evolve in the future. Specifically, we can expect to see changes in the following areas:

  • Hybrid Learning Environments. As more and more organizations move to hybrid ways of working, we’ll see more and more hybrid learning environments. Producers will need to understand the potential configurations, possibilities and limitations of these environments and be able to support facilitators and learners as they adapt to them. Producers will be key in ensuring no learner gets left behind.
  • Facilitators becoming more skilled. As Facilitators grow in their own skills and confidence working in the virtual classroom, so too do their aspirations of what can be done. Producers can expect Facilitators to expect more in terms of flexibility – more ‘in the moment’ breakouts, whiteboards or videos. Once Facilitators master the basics, they’ll be more inclined to try out new things and will rely on the Producer to help them.
  • Evolving technology. As Facilitators and Designers become more experienced, it will naturally lead to more experimentation with technology. For example, Producers may soon be asked to support more AI / VR experiences in addition to being able to support all the many new apps and third party tools that are constantly being released. Producers will therefore need to become fluent in the use of not only the virtual classroom platform, but also these third-party tools (like MentiMeter, Beekast, and many others) that’ll be incorporated to make the learning experience more engaging and worthwhile for everyone.
There’s more to learn!

To become a Master Virtual Producer, learn about our 4-step process to resolve any technical issue, create your own checklists and toolkits and learn how to become fully present and ready to flex. Learn to develop great working relationships with the rest of the Instructional Team so that you can all truly engage learners, no matter what technology is being used. Get ready to take on this evolving role and become the MVP your organization needs by completing our Master Virtual Producer series.

[Click here to Elevate Your Virtual Training Strategy: Enroll to Become a Master Virtual Producer]

Published by Jennifer Lindsay-Finan February 6, 2023
Jennifer Lindsay-Finan