ATD Blog

5 Favorite Virtual Classroom Hacks

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

I admit it: I've been dying to use the word "hack" in a blog post title. It just seems like all of the cool kids are doing it. I've gotten that out of my system. Okay, maybe these aren't really "hacks," but here are five of my favorite tips for maximizing instructional time in a virtual classroom. 

Hack #1: Ask Specific Questions

When facilitating a virtual training session, nothing is worse than when you ask your learners to contribute, and all you hear is silence. When you want learners to answer a question or contribute to a conversation, phrase your request in such a way that learners know how to respond. 

For example, never ask, “What type of project management techniques have you used in the past?” Instead ask, “If you’ve managed a project in the past, click the green checkmark. If you haven’t managed a project in the past, click the red X.” Now, you know everyone who has managed a project and can ask a specific individual what techniques they used on a particular project.

Hack #2: Don’t Let the Tools Dictate Your Design


When designing training for the virtual classroom, start with a design document. Identify the learning objectives, and then determine how you will assess whether the participants have mastered that learning objective. Only then can you determine which virtual classroom collaboration tools you will use to teach and assess that learning objective. 

Hack #3: Flip Your Delivery 

When designing a blended learning program, “flip the classroom” to maximize the collaborative impact of your design. This means deliver the lecture and content-heavy material in a self-paced format, such as e-learning, simulations, or reading. Use the valuable—and limited—live time in the virtual classroom for application of the content delivered to learners in that self-paced format. To facilitate this design style, map learning objectives to the appropriate learning technologies using a modern application of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning


Hack #4: Get a Producer 

A producer in the virtual classroom should be so much more than technical support. The producer supports facilitators by helping to manage content, timing, and technology. At the same time, a producer is a participant advocate, always looking for the "body language in the bandwidth" in order to ascertain that learners are engaged, and mastering the content.

Hack #5: Avoid “Death by Demo” 

"Death by demo" is NOT an effective application training technique! In other words, your time together in the virtual classroom is not effective if all you do is watch demos of other people doing work. Instead, when teaching something like software applications, design activities that encourage interaction, collaboration, and hands-on experience that allow every learner to practice and master the technology.  

For more virtual classroom hacks, join me for one, or both, of our upcoming programs: Facilitating Virtual Training Certificate and Designing Virtual Training Certificate

About the Author

Jennifer Hofmann, a pioneer in the field of virtual classrooms, is the president of InSync Training, a consulting firm that specializes in the design and delivery of virtual and blended learning. Featured in Forbes Most Powerful Women issue (June 16, 2014) as a New England Women Business Leader, she has led InSync Training to the Inc. 5000 as the tenth Fastest Growing Education Company in the U.S. (2013).

Hofmann is the author of The Synchronous Trainer’s Survival Guide: Facilitating Successful Live and Online Courses, Meetings and Events (Pfeiffer, 2003), Live and Online! Tips, Techniques, and Ready-To-Use Activities for the Virtual Classroom (Pfeiffer, 2004), and How To Design For The Live Online Classroom: Creating Great Interactive and Collaborative Training Using Web Conferencing (Brandon Hall, 2005). Additionally, she is a chapter contributor to The Handbook of Blended Learning (Pfeiffer, 2006), The AMA Handbook of E-Learning (The American Management Association, 2003), and The ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals (ASTD, 2008, 2014). She has co-authored, with Nanette Miner, Tailored Learning: Designing the Blend That Fits (ASTD, 2009), a book focused on taking advantage of distributed technologies to create the best blended training solution possible.

Her most recent projects include a monthly Training Magazine Online series titled Virtually There and her newest book Body Language in the Bandwidth – How Facilitators, Producers, Designers, and Learners Connect, Collaborate & Succeed in the Virtual Classroom (2015).

Follow Jennifer Hofmann at her blog, Body Language In The Bandwidth at or on Twitter @InSyncJennifer.

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