Because of potential distractions and the feeling of disconnectedness that can come from learners and facilitators being geographically dispersed, designers are wise to treat virtual training similarly to post-lunch classroom training. That is, realize that participants may be sluggish and unenthusiastic, particularly at the outset, and make extra efforts to keep them energized and on task. In general, VILT should include more activity and screen actions than would be appropriate for a comparable training in a traditional classroom setting. Include a physical interaction—typing, speaking, clicking, etc.—at least every 3–5 minutes, and never go more than 90 seconds without some kind of visual engagement.
Exactly what those interactions and engagements should look like depends in large part on the technology platform being employed, as well as the course content and objectives. Many off-the-shelf VILT platforms have webinar-like interfaces, with varying features like virtual whiteboards, drawing tools, chats, and polling functionality, and it goes without saying that designers and facilitators should know the capabilities of a given platform before going too far down the rabbit hole.
Here are 7 examples of when and how to use various interactive components in VILT:
1. Brainstorm and Rank Ideas
Use virtual whiteboards to document ongoing content discussion, to brainstorm on a given topic, or make annotations on a slide or image.
In a classroom setting, the facilitator might lead the class in brainstorming a list and then ranking it for selection of most relevant topic to follow up on; this can be replicated in virtual ILT. Use the whiteboard to make a list of participant suggestions, then have participants rank them using annotation tools or quick polling.
2. Pair Chat
Pair up participants with a partner to do an activity or discuss a topic, much like in face-to-face classrooms. Have each share with their partner via private chat or third-party instant messenger.
Similar to what is often done in a classroom, virtual ILT designers might build Jeopardy-style boards using PowerPoint and hyperlinks. This is probably best done through screen sharing, for the purpose of review sessions. For VILT, you might want to break class into different groups, with a team captain for each team. Either rotate the question to teams in order, or allow the team captain to buzz-in using a raised-hand icon. The team can help their team captain answer the question using private chat.
4. Summarize It
At various points during a session, have participants summarize what has been covered. Ask them to reflect on the content so far, using the chat functionality to summarize in 7–10 words. Share some of the top messages.
Then, ask them to summarize in 3–5 words. Again, share some top summaries.
The final challenge is try to summarize in 1 or 2 words.
5. Fast Finish
When doing another interactive exercise, such as answering a set of reflection questions, ask participants to indicate they have completed the exercise by posting an emoji, or some other special notation. This makes it possible to conclude the exercise quickly, as soon as everyone has finished, rather than waiting for time to elapse.
People dedicate a good chunk of brain resources to vision; this reflection activity capitalizes on that. Show an image (or a selection of images), and ask participants to write in the chat how the image relates to the day's content.
7. Between-Session Activities
"But I don't have breakout rooms in a virtual environment!" You can use time outside of the virtual training to have individuals or teams do an activity or assignment, especially if your platform does not support breakout sessions. Common pre-/post-/between-session activities include: