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ATD Blog

Take Your Virtual Training to the Next Level: An Interview with Diana L. Howles

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

As virtual training continues as a go-to, effective learning option, and platform providers improve functionality, trainers and facilitators need to take their skills to the next level. Next Level Virtual Training, written by expert facilitator Diana L. Howles, will guide you in developing the specific knowledge and skills to facilitate online interactivity, manage multitasking, be technically fluent, oversee logistics and troubleshooting, leverage your voice, and engage virtual learners. Here's a Q&A with the author Diana L. Howles to learn more about the nuts and bolts of facilitating virtual training and what readers can expect to find in the book.

1. What prompted you to write Next Level Virtual Training?

As a seasoned practitioner of virtual training, I have been sharing my knowledge and expertise with clients in my own virtual training programs for more than two decades. When the pandemic hit, I quickly recognized that the world would need immediate help acclimating to and thriving in the virtual environment, which is where we still find ourselves today. Sharing salient evidence-based research and my insights from professional lessons learned over the years could help our industry and anyone who suddenly finds themselves working with modern video conferencing technologies. In reviewing available resources on virtual training, I saw a gap in advanced and intermediate materials that would elevate the professional development of virtual facilitators. I wanted to contribute to the profession, challenge practitioners to go beyond the basics, and help them take their virtual learning design and facilitation skills to the next level. For these reasons, I created a comprehensive framework called the Virtual Trainer Capability Model.

2. What is the Virtual Trainer Capability Model?

The Virtual Trainer Capability Model is a structured framework that identifies eight key areas for expertise for next-level virtual facilitators and thus provides a trajectory for development, criteria for assessment and ongoing measurement, and a uniform baseline for upskilling. My vision is that it will assist virtual facilitators by first identifying core areas of expertise top-level virtual facilitators need. Second, the model pioneers a path for virtual facilitators to continuously upskill in the identified capabilities. Because virtual facilitators are tasked with professionally developing internal employees and external customers, there should be a trajectory for developing ourselves as well.

The model is something that individuals can use to develop themselves but also a resource that organizations can use as a professional development benchmark for assessing the skills of employees and teams and even as a hiring rubric for adding new staff.

3. In your chapter on hybrid training, you refer to it as live mixed learning. Why is that, and what should talent development professionals know about it?

The term “hybrid” implies the combination of two different elements. For example, it’s a common reference for many things such as hybrid cars (the combination of electricity and a gasoline engine) and hybrid control systems (like a system’s ability to combine both heating and cooling of a building’s interior). In learning, some have used the term hybrid training to reference the combination of virtual learners and in-room participants together in a shared learning space, but still others confuse this with blended learning.

Although blended learning combines elements, its more modern definition refers to combining synchronous (live online) training with asynchronous (on-demand components) into a comprehensive learning program. Reusing these existing terms has caused confusion. And the term hybrid has been overused in its application across several contexts. For this reason, it warranted a fresh, new term. To simplify, what we are really doing is mixing live online learners with live on-location learners, live in real time. This is why I refer to it as live mixed learning because this new term clarifies and captures exactly what it is.

4. What is equitable opportunity, and why does that matter?

Equitable opportunity means that regardless of how a learner attends (online or on-location), they all have a comparable experience with the same learning activities. They should all have access to interactive tools and be given equal opportunity for participation. One of the great affordances of live mixed learning is its flexibility. I recommend allowing learners to select their preferred venue of choice for a given class based on their hybrid work schedules that day. This is another way to incorporate learner agency. Request that learners register for their venue via an LMS and commit to attending that way, so you can plan for the shared space appropriately. It is also important for learners to experience a sense of togetherness or “presence” in the shared space. One way to accomplish this is to set expectations in advance for everyone to be camera ready. The live camera of in-room participants helps virtual learners feel connected as if they’re also there in the room. Likewise, the displayed cameras of virtual participants remind on-location participants that virtual learners are present. Because, as the axiom reminds us—out of sight, out of mind.


5. Why is Learning Experience Design (LXD) important for virtual training?

Next Level Virtual Training is the first book to comprehensively apply Learning Experience Design (LXD) to virtual training. The concept of LXD is more than just a rebranding of traditional instructional design. I tend to think of it as an evolution—almost like instructional design 2.0. LXD is about rejuvenating conventional practices to best meet modern learners’ needs in today’s online work environments. LXD is important because it reminds us to be both task-centered and learner-centered. When we design, we want to design for the four dimensions of learning in a holistic way. I detail how LXD has been influenced by at least three other professional disciplines, and I challenge readers to adopt an LXD mindset for virtual training to best leverage the affordances of our evolving tools and shared learning spaces. For example, one field that has greatly influenced LXD is design thinking. It invites users (and in our context, learners) into the design process. This empathic practice of inviting a few learners to help define challenges and craft design upfront is just one application of LXD for virtual training, and I discuss many more applications in the book.

6. You include a chapter on evaluation and innovation in your book. What specifically is the role of evaluation in virtual training?

We have a responsibility to our organizations to identify whether our virtual learning sessions are having an impact. We should always evaluate the effectiveness of virtual training programs, because it lets us know whether we are hitting or missing the mark. It also helps reduce uncertainty because the feedback we collect helps designers, facilitators, stakeholders, and leaders make decisions about how to improve them and/or whether to continue offering them. At a basic level, many organizations track data about learners’ reaction to the virtual training. For example, these questions might ask learners if they found the program relevant, if they thought the facilitator was effective, or if they recommend the training for others. Another basic level is looking at knowledge acquisition and whether participants acquired skills. Taking evaluation to the next level also means measuring learners’ application and the organizational impact of a virtual training program. This is because “knowing ain’t doing.” Let’s say you conducted a virtual training program on cyber security and trained employees how to identify phishing email attempts in their inboxes and how to submit these suspicious emails to IT. Several weeks later, you can measure how effectively employees are applying what they learned back on the job. One way might be to have the organization send emails to the trained employees that are fictitious phishing attempts to see whether they are able to first identify the phishing attempts and whether they report them appropriately to their IT department.

7. As the preface to the book, you wrote an original poem about virtual training in the style of Clement C. Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas poem. What was your muse for including this?

This entertaining poem is my personal signature on the work. Over the years, I’ve written so many “’Twas the Night” versions and have even rewritten Dr. Seuss verses for the entertainment of others. I’ve written these creative pieces for organizations, employers, teams, individuals, and celebratory events. For those who know me best, they know creativity is a core part of who I am. Virtual design, facilitation, and leading require designers and virtual trainers to tap into their creativity as they develop learning experiences for others. My hope is this poem brings a smile to their face and inspires them to do just that. I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

8. When you think back to the functionality and the impact of virtual training 20 years ago to what it is today, what has changed?

Funny enough, people forgetting to mute and un-mute is something that hasn’t changed! Our learners and facilitators did it 20 years ago, and as we all can attest, the line “you’re on mute” still happens today. I also remember the challenge of a learner inadvertently placing their phone line on hold during a virtual training—because audio was connected through the phone back then—and this unintentionally broadcasted elevator music (Muzak) to everyone in the training.


What’s interesting to me is that 20 years ago we had the basic functionality of the platform technologies we enjoy today. In the early 2000s, we had chat, annotation, and video capability for facilitators only, although we rarely used video because bandwidth was low and video quality wasn’t as good. We could also do small group breakouts, but they were audio-only breakouts through a telephone line.

Today’s tools have certainly become more seamless with improved quality, improved ease, and less complexity. These technologies and applications are frequently evolving and changing at an accelerated rate. Because of these technological advances, there are many more opportunities for facilitators and learners to modernize, interact, and engage more effectively in virtual environments. The technology has paved the way, and now is the time to sharpen the saw and modernize with the eight core capabilities uniquely found in this book. Now is the time to elevate our virtual skills and take them to the next level.

9. Who is the book for, and how should readers best use this book?

This book is for those who professionally facilitate live online learning. It intentionally goes beyond the basics to challenge virtual trainers to raise the bar in virtual design, facilitation, and evaluation. For those who have a few years of training under their belt, this book will guide them to further hone their craft. I recommend readers begin with the introduction and first chapter to learn initially about the Virtual Trainer Capability Model. From there, they can skip ahead to the chapter(s) tied to capabilities their managers or themselves see as professional development opportunities for them. Additionally, this book outlines a total of 101 pro tips with summaries of the tips at the end of each chapter. These abundant tips are prescriptive, actionable principles to help you advance your virtual facilitation.

About the Author

An award-winning speaker, global virtual facilitator, and mas­ter trainer who brings 25 years of experience in the talent development industry, Diana L. Howles is CEO and co-founder of Howles Associates, a multimedia company that specializes in live online learning and provides consulting, coaching, and courses to help professionals improve their effectiveness with virtual training programs and virtual presentations. Diana has authored several learning and development articles over the years on and in publications such as TD, Learning Solutions, and Training. She is a past president of the Association for Tal­ent Development (ATD) Madison Area Chapter and was its first virtual presenter during the early 2000s, showcasing and championing how web conferencing technologies could facilitate online training. Diana lives in the Midwest in the United States with her family. You can connect with Diana on her website at,, and @DianaHowles.

About ATD and ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit
Next Level Virtual Training
ISBN: 9781953946034 | 398 pp. | Paperback

To order books from ATD Press, call 800.628.2783.

To schedule an interview with Diana Howles, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at [email protected] or 703.683.8178.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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