Virtual Learning Best Practices, Part One: Tips for Synchronous Virtual Training


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Vir­tual real­ity sounded like such cool, futur­is­tic thing at the end of the last cen­tury. Today we live in a vir­tual soci­ety and “vir­tual” ­is our real­ity. From social net­work­ing to uni­ver­sity and cor­po­rate train­ing, we’ve become accus­tomed to accom­plish­ing much of what we need to do via vir­tual meet­ing places.

This pro­lif­er­a­tion has been so exten­sive that the mer­its of learn­ing via the vir­tual class­room ver­sus the tra­di­tional class­room are sel­dom dis­cussed any­more. The con­ver­sa­tion has shifted from which type of train­ing is bet­ter to how to make vir­tual learn­ing as effec­tive as pos­si­ble once it’s cho­sen as the deliv­ery platform.

What can you do to improve the effec­tive­ness of your train­ing for vir­tual learn­ers? The first part of this two part series explores some of the indus­try best prac­tices for real time, or syn­chro­nous, vir­tual train­ing. The sec­ond part of this series will explore the best prac­tices for asyn­chro­nous vir­tual training.

Tips for Syn­chro­nous Vir­tual Training

Pre­sen­ta­tion: Many live, web-based train­ing pro­grams are deliv­ered as a series of Pow­er­Point slides which all par­tic­i­pants are view­ing con­cur­rently. One of the biggest mis­takes made in these pre­sen­ta­tions is the clut­ter of infor­ma­tion on the screen at any given time. To keep the screen as clean and clutter-free as possible:

  • Make sure there is plenty of white space on each slide. Text and graph­ics should never com­prise more than one-third of the total space on the screen.
  • Make text as easy to read as pos­si­ble. Choose a font size small enough to allow plenty of space between bul­let points. Remem­ber that par­tic­i­pants can always increase the view­ing size on their side, so it’s not nec­es­sary to use a giant font to make text legible.
  • When instruc­tions or a list of bul­let points need to be viewed on a sin­gle slide, uti­lize the program’s ani­ma­tion fea­tures to reveal only the con­tent under dis­cus­sion. This helps par­tic­i­pants focus on the cur­rent topic and min­i­mizes distractions.
  • Avoid the use of fancy, serif type­styles. Use of a san serif font like Arial, Cal­ibri, Gill Sans or Tahoma helps the online reader focus on the con­tent and not on the design.
  • Pro­vide con­sis­tency by employ­ing graph­ics of the same media file type. If incor­po­rat­ing illus­tra­tions, avoid using highly detailed pic­tures along with very basic or cartoon-like draw­ings. If using pho­tos, avoid mix­ing them with illus­tra­tions wher­ever possible.
  • Use mark-up tools to cir­cle, under­score or high­light infor­ma­tion. Add on-screen text to bring addi­tional, just-discussed con­tent to the screen. The greater the num­ber of on-screen events (some­thing that causes the screen to change for the par­tic­i­pant), the more visu­ally engag­ing the pro­gram becomes.
  • Notwith­stand­ing the above sug­ges­tion, avoid the overuse of ani­ma­tion which can quickly become dis­tract­ing. Use ani­ma­tion only when it helps to under­score the focus, and not sim­ply to impress par­tic­i­pants with the appli­ca­tion tal­ents of the facilitator.

Pre­sen­ter: Many of the same rules apply to the vir­tual and class­room presenters.

Enthu­si­asm: Nobody attends vir­tual train­ing as a form of enter­tain­ment, so it’s up to the pre­sen­ter to main­tain the par­tic­i­pants’ inter­est in the pro­gram. Hav­ing enthu­si­asm for the topic and a desire to facil­i­tate con­ver­sa­tion between the par­tic­i­pants should be reflected in the presenter’s voice.

Vocals: Vary the vol­ume, pace and pitch of the vocals to hold the inter­est of the par­tic­i­pants (and to make it more inter­est­ing for the pre­sen­ter as well). Remem­ber that speak­ing in a lower pitch increases the per­cep­tion of the speaker’s authority.

Inter­ac­tiv­ity: It’s a given that par­tic­i­pants will be multi-tasking dur­ing a web-delivered pre­sen­ta­tion, so it’s essen­tial for the facil­i­ta­tor to engage the par­tic­i­pants as fully as possible.

  • Call­ing on peo­ple ran­domly and using open-ended ques­tions to facil­i­tate dis­cus­sion are effec­tive ways of ensur­ing peo­ple are pay­ing atten­tion.* Keep track of who has answered a ques­tion and who has already par­tic­i­pated to bring as many peo­ple into the con­ver­sa­tion as possible.
  • Encour­age ques­tions through the use of com­ments like “Good ques­tion” or “Thanks for bring­ing that up.” Always acknowl­edge com­ments and ques­tions that con­tribute to the qual­ity of the discussion.
  • To the extent allowed by the pre­sen­ta­tion plat­form, encour­age small group break­outs where par­tic­i­pants can work together on a task before rejoin­ing the entire class. While imper­fect, this helps sim­u­late the social inter­ac­tion of a phys­i­cal class­room which is often con­sid­ered by par­tic­i­pants to be the most valu­able part of the training.
  • Uti­lize the polls and sur­veys offered by the web plat­form, but don’t rely on these tools as the only forms of engage­ment. Think of them as punc­tu­a­tion to the ver­bal and visual con­ver­sa­tions, a kines­thetic oppor­tu­nity for par­tic­i­pants to inter­act with the program.

Think about how some of these best prac­tices can be incor­po­rated into your vir­tual train­ing. Part Two of this series will explore some of the indus­try best prac­tices for asyn­chro­nous vir­tual train­ing where par­tic­i­pants access con­tent on demand accord­ing to their own schedules.

Best of luck going forward!

* Be care­ful to observe cul­tural pro­to­cols about call­ing on spe­cific par­tic­i­pants to speak. Par­tic­i­pants from some Asian cul­tures will be reluc­tant to do or say any­thing “pub­licly” that could cause them to lose face with the group.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Seth Brickner
Seth Brickner is a Developer and Facilitator with Impact Learning Systems International. In addition to training and development, his background includes education, technical support and customer service. When not traveling or in front of a computer monitor, Seth can be found running, cooking, playing guitar, reading, convincing himself he can sing, or enjoying the hiking trails of Colorado.


  1. These are great tips for ensuring that virtual classroom training is a success. One tip I would add is that the presenter needs to slow down the pace of his/her speaking, especially if non-native English speakers are attending. Since we all do a bit of lip reading when we listen, the virtual presenter needs to slow down to compensate for this lack of visual cues.


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