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ATD Blog

Ask a Trainer: Tips for Virtual Facilitation

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Hey Tim,

Like so many others, with the recent events, my organization has had to make the quick transition to virtualizing our in-person courses. While we’ve done a pretty good job prepping our content for this change, we’re finding the transition to virtual facilitating a bit more challenging than we expected.

First, a lot of our content requires hands-on participation within our company-specific programs. When we’d teach this in-person, it was easy for us to walk around the room and quickly help those who were struggling. We’re unsure of the best way to do this now that we’re virtually teaching it.

And second, we’re struggling with how to engage with our learners to get them actively participating. Again, when we we’re facilitating in-person, it was easy to see who was and was not engaged. How can we trust that folks are paying attention? How can we get them to engage?

I’d love to know what you think and what tips you can share.

Thanks for dropping me a line! I hope you’re staying safe and healthy during these unexpected times. As I mentioned in my response a few weeks ago to another reader about converting in-person training for virtual delivery, I believe this is an opportunity for us to think outside of the box. And this mentally applies not only to the content we develop but also to how we facilitate it.

It can be a challenge for any facilitator or trainer to adapt to virtual delivery, especially when they're used to interacting and engaging with their learner in-person. However, there are some things I’ve learned over the years when it comes to this method of instruction.

Here are my top three tips for virtual facilitation.

Trust Your Learners

I remember the first time I facilitated ATD’s online Articulate Storyline Certificate. For the longest time, I had become accustomed to facilitating it in-person, which allowed me to easily assist anyone who was struggling. When I had to facilitate my first virtual course, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t see my learners’ screens (or faces), and I had to rely on them to describe the issues they were experiencing.


Through that experience, I realized that I needed to trust my learners. If they weren’t understanding what I was explaining, I needed to trust that they would raise their hands. If I was going too fast, I needed to trust that they would ask me to slow down.

The thing about virtual facilitation is that it puts more responsibility on the learner to take ownership for their learning experience. Yes, we, as learning professionals, need to make sure our content is engaging and optimized for a virtual experience. But it also requires our learners to dedicate themselves to the experience. This means letting your learners know that they are responsible for following along with the content and asking questions when they’re stuck.

Encourage Simple Forms of Engagement

When you’re used to in-person facilitation, it can be a challenge to recreate the same levels of engagement and participation. As I mentioned in my response to this reader’s question, we shouldn’t try to completely recreate the in-person training experience. This also applies when we’re trying to get our learners to engage virtually.

In my opinion, when it comes to virtual facilitation, we should rely more heavily on simpler forms of engagement. Depending on your virtual training platform, this may mean using chat features for questions and answers, or checkmarks, emojis, and polls for responses. While breakout rooms and whiteboards are great for group activities, they can become cumbersome when used too frequently.

Turn on Your Camera

My final tip is one that can help your learners feel more connected to you as a facilitator. When it’s appropriate, I think it’s good to turn on your camera. When you’re simply presenting slides or explaining a concept, turn on your camera and let your learners see your face. It’ll help keep them engaged and give them a sense of connectivity.

If you’re facilitating a small class, I would even encourage your learners to turn on their cameras. This can be helpful during small-group discussions.


I hope these tips help as you seek ways to improve your virtual facilitation. I’d recommend that you don’t overthink it. If you can trust your learners and find simple, creative ways to engage with them, then you’ll be successful.

Best of luck!


What tips can you share about effective virtual facilitation? Share them by commenting below.

Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected]. Also, visit the Ask a Trainer hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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Thank you for sharing this insight. Trust your learners! This was good.
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Have your first request for participation be a very low risk one. It will reduce the anxiety that some people have and also just "grease the wheels" because once they have actively engaged, they are likely to do it again. I deliberately put my questions in an order that goes from non-demanding, non-personal, and anonymous (e.g., a poll question with no right answer) to more challenging (like asking everyone to chat one word about how they are feeling) to very content and application-driven.
Thank you! This is helpful!
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Yes! Yes! Yes! I love this tip! Thanks for sharing, Catherine!
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