When using webinars and virtual classrooms, a natural area to focus on is the technology platform. People need time to learn how to show slides and whiteboards, to unmute microphones and more. After that a facilitator can move on to focus on the skills of just how to deliver an amazing live online session.

ATD’s Virtual Classrooms Now report stated: “Use of virtual classrooms, and anticipated increases in their utilization, have ramifications for talent development functions and their staffs. Chief among those is the need to provide training for the learning professionals who must design and deploy learning content and deliver it in ways that engage virtual audiences.”

Engagement in the virtual classroom context is all about ensuring that the design of learning interventions makes the most of the platform available, especially when coupled with other technology in the organisation, such as the LMS. This focuses on involving attendees with the content in ways that inspire behaviour change in the workplace, rather than pushing content at them electronically.

The report continued: “For instructors making the move from traditional live classrooms to synchronous virtual environments, learning how to engage virtual audiences is a must” and 64% of leaders identified this demand on the talent or learning function. It’s a significant concern as this is a newer skillset and learning or talent functions won’t usually have this as an internal training option.

“Learning how to engage virtual
audiences is a must”
ATD Report

Technology as the facilitation tool

The ATD paper highlighted that “Instructors also need to gain familiarity with the tools and technologies that facilitate teaching in virtual classrooms.”

Some of this can be providing access to trainers and letting them use the tool, have a play and learn the basic functions. The basics of most live online platforms can be picked up by the technically savvy.

Platforms with more advanced options, such as Adobe Connect, or the nuances of how to use restrictive platforms, such as GoToWebinar’s lack of chat window, can be best learned with an experienced professional on hand.


Instructional design (either individual IDs or those with the design skills who are also facilitators) is another significant element when looking at upskilling teams. The report highlighted that Instructional Design “staff needed to learn how to design specifically for the virtual environment.” Taking a face to face session and loading it into the webinar or virtual classroom platform won’t work.

“Taking a face to face session and loading it into the webinar or virtual classroom platform won’t work.”
Jo Cook

The software needs to be explained to attendees, interaction needs to be more often than in the face to face classroom to account for the lack of physical body language, and the tools mean that activities are run differently – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

In his conference paper Michalis Xenos at the University of Patras, stated: “In contemporary virtual classroom environments, there is a variety of features available that could be exploited not only to emulate a traditional classroom, but also to move beyond the traditional classroom limitations.” This point is an essential one. A virtual classroom is not the cheap, pack-’em-in, poor second choice to the face to face classroom.

I’m impressed that the ATD report stated: “Instructional designers also require training in the use of software and design tools”. This isn’t often highlighted, but how can an ID design an activity for the virtual classroom without knowing the platform? The way a poll runs in Cisco’s WebEx Training Centre, Adobe Connect and Saba Meeting are all quite different and require changes to the design and delivery. An ID without this technical knowledge won’t be effective.

Michalis Xenos wrote: “The use of virtual classrooms hasn’t reached its full potential yet and there are features that could be employed to aid towards moving virtual classrooms beyond just emulating traditional ones.” We think the same – certainly there are more technical developments to come, but also the skills of designers and facilitators to use these tools are where we focus our work.

If you want to develop the skills of your team, we have training that can do that.