More ideas for making virtual training interactive

by Paula Moran


Last week I argued that merely having polls in a virtual training is not sufficient to make it an interactive learning experience. The quality of the questions and the creativity with which the designer implements the interactive tools are what create an effective learning environment.

This week I share some additional ideas for effectively implementing interactive components to virtual training.

Document Download or File share

The most common use of this feature is to share the slides from the presentation. Just because you are providing the PowerPoint slides does not mean they need to be comprehensive. The new best practice in virtual classroom design involves using the slides to develop content. Slides become dynamic places where information is revealed, filled in, re-ordered or created from scratch. If you adhere to this best practice information comes not by reading the slides but by participating in the classroom. Handouts can provide places to brainstorm before chat sessions, writing notes, applying a concept, or summarize information. If you are faced with kinesthetic learners in a virtual classroom you can use handouts as a manipulation tool. For example, have them fold paper into quarters and in each section write their main take away from each of the four presentation points. Then you can split the virtual training screen into quadrants and have them add their favorite takeaway to that quadrant. 

When I taught math in a virtual classroom I wanted the participants to practice independently with feedback and support provided through the virtual interface. I distributed a word document of math problems to participants when the registered. The math problems on the worksheet were presented in order of increasing difficulty. Some of the problems were incorporated into the presentation and others were provided for additional practice. To support independent practice feedback was provided on the virtual classroom screen as they worked. The worksheet provided participants who figured out the math problems quicker something to do other than stare at the screen while providing processing time for the other students.

Faster/Slower Indicators

This is a feature in some virtual training software. It's initial intent is for participants to indicate if the presenter is moving through the training to quickly or slowly. But this does not have to be their only purpose.  Think about all the things that can be described faster or slower and write questions that make use of the faster/slower description. For example:

  • 3 hours are provided for the test. After 2 hours Joe has finished 30 of 90 questions. Should he answer questions faster or slower?
  • Read the graph provided and compare the rate of CEO layoffs to recession recovery time. Did laying off more CEOs make a company's recovery faster or slower?

If you are being forced to use a webinar platform with limited interactive features for virtual training, faster/slower is one feature that can be used creatively. If you are going to use this faster/slower in a non-traditional fashion, you need to explain its usage at the beginning and be consistent with its usage throughout the training.

Speak Louder or Softer

Louder/Softer can be used in a similar fashion to faster/slower. Once again it is a tool good for creative reuse if you have a limited number of interactive features. For example:

  • Given the dB SPL level in the room how should the loudspeakers be adjusted?
  • Look at the design of this living room. How would you adjust the shade of red in the drapes so they better match the rug?

Making use of the web

Virtual courses that meet on multiple occasions can use a discussion forum to augment the learning in the virtual training sessions. Even if there only one virtual meeting you can use an online discussion to prepare students for the meeting or follow up with them afterwards.

The web is a vast searchable trove of information. You can pose a question, ask students to research it for a few minutes, and return to chat about it. For example:

  • Take the next 5 minutes to research failed ad campaigns online. Post the worst campaign you find in the chat box. (Note: This activity could be followed by visiting the posted campaigns and polling the class for which is the worst.)
  • Have UFOs landed on earth? Find evidence for or against this. Summarize what you found on the provided slide and post a link to your findings in the chat box.
  • A department manager divorces his third wife and remarries his first. On the intranet locate our company family benefits policy and determine the maximum time both wives can remain on his policy. Post findings and questions in the chat box.

You can also send students on scavenger hunts. For example, you are teaching about website design and want to teach about a particular flaw. Post a list of website with that flaw in the virtual classroom interface, ask them to visit the sites, and post what they think is the flaw below the list.

Combinations of interactive features

You can have a lot of fun combining interactive features. Remember, the more you engage trainees in the learning process the more effective your training.  The following is an example of integrating multiple interactive features into one virtual training.

Polls are a good tool for gathering initial understanding because they are anonymous. If you are faced with learners who have a deep rooted misconception or belief a very effective way to uproot that belief or understanding is to present a situation that contradicts what they believe.  Structure the lesson by:

  • first doing a poll,
  • then reveal content that contradicts what they said in the poll results,
  • take questions in the chat box,
  • present a new situation with a poll asking to students to predict what will happen.

That last poll is an effective way to gauge if your students have mastered the content and are able to make a correct prediction.  

Here's an example of how you can put this idea to action.  Let's say you are teaching about density of gas as part of an environmental issues class. Show a photo of an empty aquarium and a balloon held above it. Poll the students to predict what they think will happen when the balloon is released. Most students will predict that the balloon will fall to the bottom. Show a video of the balloon falling and stopping halfway down the aquarium.  Explain that the aquarium is filled halfway with carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air, thus preventing the balloon from falling all the way down. You could go on to explain more about the densities of different gasses in earth's atmosphere.  At the end you out up a new poll showing the balloon and aquarium filled with different gases and ask the students to predict where the balloon will fall to this time. You can then connect this concept to the greater curriculum by talking about environmental problems such as the Lake Nyos disaster.

Summary and Additional Resources

There are several great resources for more information about best practices for virtual training. 

The eLearning Guild put out a comprehensive report of virtual classrooms, which they refer to as synchronous learning. ASTD published a good InfoLine in November 2009 titled Designing for the Virtual Classroom.

I attended a great session on instructional design for the virtual classroom put on my Nanette Miner of the Training Doctor, LLC at Training 2012 in Atlanta. The Training Doctor's blog has some excellent resources you may find helpful.