ASTD-NRC Presentation: The Successful Virtual Classroom

ASTD-NRCYesterday, I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to Ft. Collins, CO to attend the monthly ASTD-NRC presentation,  “The Successful Virtual Classroom: Five Tried-and-True Techniques” given by Jenny Beer, Manager of Performance Consulting at EPI. Here is the announcement for the presentation:

Move beyond boring “slide shows” and have your virtual classroom come alive. We’ve got five tried-and-true techniques to help you facilitate an effective and engaging learning experience while also meeting the pressure to improve your bottom line. Many organizations are turning to facilitated virtual classrooms as a way to deliver courses cost-effectively to a more geographically dispersed workforce. However, even virtual training can be costly if the facilitator doesn’t transition successfully to a virtual environment and ensure that the learning actually sticks. Based on years of experience, practice, research, and client feedback, we have distilled the art of virtual facilitation into five critical success factors. In this session, we’ll model the five critical success factors, share case studies of successful virtual environments, and show you how to generate excitement in the virtual classroom while ensuring the participants can apply their learning directly to their jobs.

In her presentation, she spoke about five tried and true techniques for creating a successful virtual classroom:

  1. Apply what you already know about adult learners
  2. Control the learning environment
  3. Engage participants in the material
  4. Create a technology back-up plan
  5. Use a producer

This was a very enjoyable presentation, and walked away with a number of great ideas.

Don’t lecture

One of the first things, Beer stressed was “Don’t lecture.”  This is advice consistent with teaching adults; they prefer to be engaged with activities. So, while preparing your instruction, you need to focus on creating activities with plenty of interaction. She recommend including an activity after every 5 minutes of content delivery. This is also consistent with the idea of chunking your material. Provide your material in bite size bits rather than overwhelming students. You should include opportunities for students to provide their input as much as possible. Adult learners are bringing a wealth of experience to the table, and they appreciate it when their input is included. Finally, add variety to your class through the use of different instructors, media, and methods.

Use PowerPoint as a canvas

Beer provided great examples for using PowerPoint in a virtual classroom. Basically, she uses the PowerPoint slide as a place to collaborate; she uses it as a canvas to add content in realtime. Beer suggested that you type in different colors when adding student comments to a slide, as well as use different colors to draw on the slides. Ensure you leave a lot of white space on the slides so you have a place to add comments. As she pointed out, your slides are your classroom, use them for engagement and interaction.

Use the virtual tool for participant practice

As I listened to Beer, it seems as though she helps corporations with their training programs. She helps to train the trainer. Beer indicated she uses a virtual classrooms to have participants practice their presentations as they would give them to a virtual audience. She mentioned recording sessions as a feedback tool for students. By practicing with the virtual classroom tool, students will become more comfortable with the toolbox.

Prepare students prior to the class

When Beer delivers a class, she says she provides students with handouts and homework prior to the class. Part of the handouts are a list of rules and expectations for the class; this helps to set the stage. Homework may take the shape of readings or presentations that students must build. Her instruction is also accompanied by a student and instructor workbook. She uses icons in the book to help rapidly identify key sections such as activities, places where producer actions are needed, and content delivery. In the instructor book, the instructor and participant pages are face-to-face so the instructor knows what is expected of a student at a specific point in the instruction.

For a short presentation, I walked away with a lot of new ideas. Also, the Reuben sandwich was great! Come join us at a future ASTD-NRC event.