Making Virtual Learning Work!

Answers to three common questions about virtual instructor-led training (ViLT), specifically pertaining to multitasking, video, and engagement.

Everyone knows about virtual instructor-led training (ViLT), but they usually associate it with the horrible “Webinar” approach, where learners listen for 45 minutes and try not to ask questions at the end because they have another meeting to get to.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Virtual learning can work.

At Training’s Online Learning Conference 2016 (OLC), to be held September 20-22 in Chicago, I’ll be leading several sessions, including a hands-on clinic, which will help you move your dreaded Webinar to true hands-on learning. In the meantime, let me offer you the answer to three common questions about ViLT, specifically having to do with multitasking, video, and engagement.

1. How can I keep my learners from multitasking?

Since the introduction of the virtual classroom, improper design for live online sessions has inadvertently taught participants that virtual sessions are akin to free time— an opportunity to listen intermittently while checking and responding to e-mail and taking care of other light duties. Often participants are so accustomed to this freetime concept that they are annoyed when the facilitator of a live online session asks for their participation.

In fact, unless you provide meaningful engagement every 3 to 5 minutes, you can be certain participants will get bored and distracted. Just like a traditional classroom, participants in a live online setting can get restless and tired and lose interest quickly if it isn’t immediately apparent the session will be worth their time.

2. Should I use live video in my virtual classroom?

Live video is a good way to engage participants, but it should be used sparingly, perhaps at the beginning of a session to introduce the facilitator and then again at the end for Q&A. Overuse of Webcams deadens the effectiveness of live video and can be distracting for participants. Besides, who wants to see the facilitator scratch his or her nose every 90 seconds? That said, some content can be enhanced by video, such as teaching bedside manner to physicians or demonstrating effective body language to use during an employee review.

However, video is not a replacement for face-to-face interaction. Eye contact via video isn’t real eye contact, even if the video is two-way. You can’t see the other person’s body language on a Webcam, and you’re not catching the other person’s eye. Video lacks the emotional impact a face-to-face interaction carries, so don’t expect the same results.

3. How do I make sure virtual learners are engaged?

It’s been my experience that training in the virtual classroom can be far more engaging than comparable classes taught in a traditional format. In fact, using an approach I call concurrent collaboration, instructional designers can design exercises that encourage all participants to interact at the same time. You would never be able to get the opinion of 30 participants on every question you pose in a traditional classroom.

Using a Producer as your instructional partner can ensure engagement by tracking participation, managing technical issues, and actively advocating for the learners.

Of course, if you want the same quality from your virtual deliverables that you expect from your face-to-face programs, you must invest the same time and effort, instructional design resources, and needs analysis process.

It wouldn’t surprise me if you have a dozen more questions right now. Unfortunately, I ’m out of space. To learn more,join me at OLC 2016 in Chicago. See you in September!

Jennifer Hofmann is a pioneer in the field of virtual and blended learning and the president of She is invigorated by people who have a passion for learning more. Follow her at and on Twitter @InSyncJennifer. And visit to take advantage of the company’s library of free resources about virtual learning.