The Real World

The Successful Virtual Classroom: How to Design and Facilitate Interactive and Engaging Live Online Learning

By Darlene Christopher

AMACOM, 224 pp., $39.95

In The Successful Virtual Classroom, Darlene Christopher provides a refreshing look at the art of virtual training and facilitation. Her writing and style of presentation is unmarred by technical jargon or abstract concepts, which provides a welcome break from rigorous academic content.

Often, writers fail to address how theoretical concepts and best practices can be applied in real-world settings. Christopher provides step-by-step instructions and proven tools to assist practitioners in successfully creating and delivering learning in virtual environments. Overall, The Successful Virtual Classroom is written in an approachable, conversational, and easy-to-read manner, with a well-designed and consistent layout.

The book begins with a clear, concise statement of purpose, and then eases the reader into the framework to follow. Throughout the book, practitioners will find the many tips, checklists, real-world examples, expert perspectives, and activities for continued learning to be helpful in real-world application. The book can be easily read in sequential order, which presents a logical flow of material for anyone just getting into virtual facilitation. However, key concepts are broken down into chapters that can be read in a stand-alone fashion by a reader who may wish to skip around.

The first chapter provides a high-level overview of virtual facilitation and introduces Christopher's PREP model (plan, rehearse, execute, and post-session review) for planning and implementing successful virtual learning. Chapter 2 discusses common features of the virtual classroom, and chapter 3 dives into how to get started with virtual training.

Chapters 4 through 7 break down the PREP model, and explore the various roles involved in virtual training, materials development, learning styles, personality types, common facilitation techniques, and how to put it all into action. Chapter 8 discusses how to work with global participants.

Practitioners will love the icebreakers and exercises provided in chapter 9, which can be used to achieve and maintain a high level of interactivity with participants. Finally, Christopher discusses additional uses for the virtual classroom and provides additional resources for the reader.

As organizations are faced with pressure to cut costs, become environmentally friendly, support remote employees, and compete globally, virtual classroom training is one solution. The Successful Virtual Classroom makes a convincing case for it, and provides a straightforward guide on how to successfully plan and deliver virtual training. Practitioners will find this resource to be a welcome addition to their existing toolkits.

Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization

Edward D. Hess

Columbia University Press, 280 pp., $29.95

If the title alone isn't enough to attract your attention, know that between the covers is an exceptional guide to organizational learning. Hess—a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia who specializes in learning cultures, systems, and processes—provides a concise evidence-based overview of how the brain works, shows how to select the right people for the right role, and provides a framework for creating a true learning environment. Readers will find case studies from Bridgewater Associates, Intuit, and UPS that illustrate Hess's framework. This book is a must-read for learning professionals.


The Attacker's Advantage: Turning Uncertainty Into Breakthrough Opportunities

Ram Charan

Public Affairs, 240 pp., $23.99

Charan, a world-renowned business advisor and bestselling author, is celebrated for his strategies that cut through the complexity of typical business scenarios, and get right to the heart of the problem—or the opportunity. His latest book shows readers how to stop reacting to change and start creating it—written with his trademark pragmatism and simplicity. Readers will learn how to identify catalysts of change that will reshape industries and markets; when to focus on short-term objectives and when to accelerate toward long-term goals; and how to link external realities to business priorities, decision making, budgeting, and key performance indicators. For those who want to gain general business savvy, The Attacker's Advantage is an important read.

Well Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love

Jon Kolko

Harvard Business Review Press, 234 pp., $28

The products and services that are most successful today are those that are simple and delightful to use, with robust behind-the-scenes technical capabilities. But most importantly, argues Kolko, they are meaningful to the consumer. In Well Designed, he lays out a clear process for designing products and services that deeply engage customers. The key, Kolko says, is demonstrating an understanding of and empathy with your customers. His process can be easily adopted by training professionals to design learning experiences that fully engage and resonate with learners. Well Designed is an especially useful read for those looking to implement—or vastly improve—needs assessment in their training initiatives.

What's on Chip Bell's Bookshelf?

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. Contagious is essentially about influence—what triggers viral effects; how to gain traction for ideas and concepts. In this era of social media, the rules of influence have changed, and I am eager to learn as much as I can.

The Innovator's Hypothesis by Michael Schrage. This book changes the game on what we know about where great ideas come from. The subtitle, How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More Than Good Ideas, tells the story.

Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation by Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback. It's about the leadership of innovation. The book offers new thinking about what innovative leaders actually do in settings where creativity is crucial for competitiveness (think Google or Pixar).