Can Virtual Learning Be as Effective as the Classroom?

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You may be wondering . . .

Can you really do anything in a virtual classroom? Can it be as effective as an in-person learning experience? Can you engage a remote audience? The answer to all of these questions is “yes,” and you can do more!

You may be thinking, but what about experiential exercises? What about hands-on technical topics? Or about simulated role plays? The answer to all of these questions is “yes.”

The reason for the positive answers to these questions comes from three key decisions when setting up your virtual training. First, to get creative with your program design. Second, to choose the right online platform for your program’s needs. And third, to upskill your facilitators for virtual delivery. With the right tools and the right mindset, you can do anything in a virtual classroom.

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Let’s take a closer look at getting creative with the program design and tools, using two examples.

Example 1: Icebreakers

The start of any training program typically includes introductions. In a traditional in-person class, participants may take turns introducing themselves in small groups, or if it’s just a few attendees, to the large group. Often, a “fun” icebreaker element is added to help participants get comfortable with each other and to set the stage for interaction.

When transferring this activity to the online classroom, it’s tempting to skip over the introductions and jump into the content. But don’t make this mistake—it’s even more important to create a social environment in a virtual classroom and to set the stage for interaction. It’s also easy to do using simple platform tools.

You can invite introductions in chat and then use poll questions to find out what everyone has in common. Or, you could place everyone into small breakout groups at the start of the event for a quick 5-minute introductory conversation. Or, you could have a discussion question on screen and do a ‘round-robin’ to have each person answer it via status indicators or a quick verbal response. What all of these methods have in common is that everyone gets involved in a social experience right at the start of the event.

Example 2: Case Studies and Role Plays

Case studies and role plays are common methods used in traditional training classes. They simulate real-world scenarios that help participants apply lessons learned back on the job. There are several methods to replicate these activities in a virtual classroom, ranging from simple to complex.

One easy way is to post a case study description on screen and ask participants to discuss it verbally or via chat. Alternatively, you could provide the case study details in an electronic handout and use breakout rooms for small group discussion. Collaborative whiteboards allow for group note taking and brainstorming if the case study calls for that.

If you’re creative with the program design and the case study has enough depth, you could invite the small groups to work collaboratively together, returning to the virtual classroom after an extended period of time. This technique is especially useful if the training curriculum is a series of virtual classes and the same group works together throughout.

For role plays, a ‘fishbowl’ style activity allows two attendees (such as the facilitator and a participant volunteer) to demonstrate a technique. To get everyone involved, you could offer a paired chat discussion by assigning each participant to a partner and allowing them to privately chat with each other for discussion. Or, make use of the platform’s breakout room feature to place partners or trios into a private room for practice. Just be sure they have clear instructions and timeframes, along with directions on how to ask for help when needed.

Converting classroom activities to virtual ones involves creativity and consideration of how to maximize the platform tools. A combination of both elements will lead to your success in the virtual classroom.

Cindy Huggett - Facilitator
Cindy Huggett

Cindy Huggett, CPTD is a pioneer in the field of online learning with over 20 years of experience in providing virtual training solutions and more than 30 years of professional experience. She’s a recognized industry expert in teaching training professionals how to design and deliver interactive online classes. She partners with her clients to help them transition from the face-to-face to the virtual classroom and works with them to design online and blended learning solutions. She’s a past member of ATD’s global Board of Directors.

Connect with Cindy on LinkedIn, on Twitter, and at

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