Ten tips for delivering great virtual learning

Virtual learning is as effective as face-to-face training, as long as it’s done well. Gary Cookson shares his top tips to ensure virtual learning success.

Almost every research report shows that – despite many teething troubles – remote or virtual learning is here to stay. In fact, it’s usage is likely to continue to grow. And CIPD research shows that virtual delivery is as effective for learners as face-to-face – if done in the right way. So, what is the right way? 

So much here depends on the context. But – as no doubt you have discovered – simply trying to replicate the face-to-face experience online doesn’t give anyone the best experience, or make the most of the technology available or people’s skills. 

We know that we need to design and deliver virtual learning differently to face-to-face, so here are some common principles to follow.

1. Adopt a blended approach. Consider live virtual sessions as a piece of a part-completed jigsaw puzzle. Learning will be taking place both before and after the virtual session. Quite what shape and form this will take will depend on the context, but the live virtual session is not a standalone activity. So those designing and delivering virtual learing need to be able to blend the live session into the other parts, and signpost to where and when they will be found.

2. Spend longer designing virtual sessions than face-to-face. Design for this type of remote learning needs to be a conscious, deliberate approach. The use of the tools, the choice of the activities, the way you want to interact with learners all needs much more advance planning than face-to-face. 

3. Market the benefits. Engaging your learners doesn’t start when they turn up for the session. When promoting and marketing live and virtual learning, give sufficient information to convince remote workers to attend. Find out more about marketing learning on the Charity Learning website.

4. The first five minutes are critical. Ensure people are engaged from the moment they arrive, using the initial period to welcome and settle those for whom remote learning can be an isolating or awkward experience. The first five minutes, and how people feel in that time, can often dictate whether the remote session will be effective or not.

5. Keep live virtual sessions short. Cindy Huggett’s research suggests that 60 minutes is the most common length, to keep engagement high and to avoid digital fatigue. If sessions need to be longer, then factor in sufficient screen breaks to make the content more manageable.

6. Build in meaningful interactions. Involve remote learners frequently throughout the live session, but make sure interactions are meaningful – so avoid closed questions and things like the token use of polls.

7. Avoid having ‘all cameras always on’. Insisting on everyone being on webcam throughout a live, virtual session can be an easy trap to fall into. Think about what you are trying to achieve by doing this. Are you trying to replicate the face-to-face learning experience? Is being on webcam throughout achieving anything other than checking people’s presence? Having cameras on throughout can actually be a distraction and therefore hinder learning. Instead use webcams like other functions in your conferencing platform – as a tool to be used when it adds value. 

8. Use all the tools available to create positive engagement. This may be breakout rooms, chat functionality, whiteboards, polls, or third-party apps, along with appropriate camera and open microphone use and many more.

9. Ensure you are proficient on the web conferencing platform that you’re using. Not all platforms are created equal, and their design may not match what you want to do. Some platforms were designed for video-based communication but aren’t brilliant at delivering live learning events and may need supplementing with third-party apps for remote workers. Some platforms were designed for live learning events but aren’t great at video-based communication. When looking for a suitable platform, there will be many interested parties in your organisation and compromises may need to be made – and ultimately you may have to just use what is available. Whatever your platform, ensure that you know how to use it, and how to access third party apps to bridge any gaps.

10. Enjoy what you do, and do what you enjoy. Delivering virtual learning is not for everyone. Many experienced L&D professionals are brilliant at designing and delivering face-to-face learning but may not want to operate in the virtual space. To succeed, those designing and delivering remotely need to actively enjoy doing that.

About by Gary Cookson

Gary Cookson is a father of four and a husband of one, and runs a successful business in his spare time. He’s an expert in workplace performance, with extensive experience leading and directing HR, OD and L&D functions across all sectors. His clients like working with him as he is authentic, honest, knowledgeable, communicative and people focused, with a broad and deep range of skills and experience. A glance at his prolific social media output will verify this. He is a leading expert in the design and delivery of online and virtual training programmes, an inspiring and entertaining keynote speaker, a trainer on a range of leadership and HR issues and the recipient of multiple industry lists and awards. His book, HR for Hybrid Working, was published in June 2022 by Kogan Page. Find out more at epichr.co.uk/ Follow Gary on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn


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