Your virtual training is NOT interactive just because you put in a poll

by Paula Moran

People learn not by watching or listening but by doing. This reality has lead to the phrase "webinars are not training."

If your goal is to change human behavior, showing a PowerPoint and narrating the slides will not achieve it. Effective virtual training needs to be an interactive experience between the presenter and the attendees. Interaction is bidirectional, both the presenter and the participant need to do something. Streaming a video of the presenter is not interaction. Using the chat box to discuss a video clip the presenter shows is interaction. 

To change behavior through virtual training you must create an active training experience that forces trainees to engage in the learning process. Adding a few polls in a virtual classroom is not sufficient to create an interactive training experience. 

Developing these interactions should be the foundation of virtual classroom design. As an instructional designer you must know three things:

  1. The interactive capabilities of the virtual training software 
  2. Options for using each capability
  3. How to incorporate interactions every 3-5 minutes

Interactive Capabilities of Virtual Training or Virtual Classroom Software

The specific interactive capabilities of the virtual environment depend on the software. In general virtual training software has the following capabilities:

  • Drawing and annotation tools
  • Group and individual chat box
  • Polls
  • Hand raising
  • Whiteboard feature
  • Document download
  • Go faster or slower indicators
  • Speak louder or softer

If you will be designing a lot of virtual training it is best to familiarize yourself with the differences between the major virtual training softwares (GoToTraining, Adobe Connect, and WebEx).

Never forget, while in a virtual classroom you are not limited to the virtual classroom software. You are connected to and may use the web. 

Examples for Implementing Interactive Capabilities

Creativity, not software capability, is the limitation on how interactive your virtual training is. 


In my experience, polling is the most frequently used of all interactive capabilities. It is a great way to engage the entire audience simultaneously. It is more effective in engaging if the poll questions directly relate to the training material. Presenters may poll "How many years have you been in the industry?" That question may engage the learner, but it doesn't engage the learning process. Poll questions that engage the learning process ask the participant to apply information from the presentation to a new situation. For example:

  • Based on the information from the previous slide, which of the following statements will get you sent to HR the fastest?
  • Which of the following is the BEST solution to the problem?
  • Using the definition of ethical from this presentation which of the following is Dr. Bill forbidden to do?


Chat can be used with the whole group, split up into smaller groups, or individual pairs. Whole group chat can be a good venue for sharing reactions, links, and short feedback. Questions that ask for short answers are best so the volume of text that appears simultaneously in the chat box is not overwhelming. For example:

  • What is your favorite app to capture car accident damage?
  • What emotion does this image make you feel?

Small group or paired chat is a better forum for questions with longer answers. If you do design this into the course it is best to set it up ahead of time. Small group or paired chat enables learners to have more in depth conversations because it mimics a chat room or im conversation. For example:

  • Describe to a partner how you would solve this problem.
  • Give examples of im text that can be easily misinterpreted as offensive.

For easier facilitation set up the chat pairs or groups before the training session.

Hand raising or thumbs up/down

For yes or no questions using these features can be quicker than launching a poll. They can also be a means to incorporate more questioning if your software has a limit on the number of poll questions that can be launched in a single session. For example:

  • Thumbs up if you agree with our calculated answer and thumbs down if you think there is a mistake.
  • Raise your hand if you work in the engineering department. 

Because this feature shows the response next to the participants name avoid questions that might be uncomfortable for the person. For example, "raise your hand if you don't understand the concept," or "raise your hand if you've broken any of these ethical guidelines in the past year,” would make the average learner uncomfortable. If you need answers to those questions use the anonymity of the poll.


Depending on your software the annotation feature may be available for everyone or just one person at a time. The beauty of the annotation feature is that it creates the virtual reality of everyone sitting around a table with a common piece of paper. It can be used both to identify, poll, and create. For example:

  • Highlight the three periods of greatest GDP growth for Finland on the graph.
  • Draw an X over the invasive species in the picture.
  • Circle the month in which you think the zombie apocalypse it most likely to occur.
  • Draw a dot to the right of best mission statement for the polar bear club.
  • Highlight all the incorrect grammar on this slide.

Coming Next Week: Ideas for how to implement document download, faster/slower indicators, speak louder or softer, using the web, and combinations of features in virtual training.