7 instructional design tips for virtual classrooms

The number of instructional design models is staggering. One challenge is that they barely inform the specific needs of any given medium of communication.

What follows is a long way from an exhaustive list, but it does touch on some of the common challenges I observe as I’m working with organizations on training-oriented use cases.

Think iteratively

Unless you have radically mastered the platform you’re using, you are likely to discover new things that you can do (that you didn’t design for). Instead of “Plan, test, launch,” try “Plan, launch, test.”

Use registration pages as mini-research opportunities

Most training happens with groups that are internal to the organization, and most of the time the invite is a date and link. Don’t kill people with too many questions, but used thoughtfully, you can learn more about your learners and serve them more effectively.

Create learner personas that include social

Personas help you target your learning objectives. When you plan for the virtual classroom, however, one dimension worth including is the relative level of comfort/discomfort with interacting in a virtual environment.

Probe the SME for the “aha!” moments

If you’re developing the class for others (subject matter experts), it’s likely they know too much. Ask them to describe what’s happening when they see others have “aha!” moments regarding the content. Those are great for the live interactions of the virtual classroom, and if that means you don’t have time for all the content, you then…

Move some content to other media

Live human interactions are a huge part of learning, and virtual classrooms a great medium for concurrent collaboration. Shorten the amount of time you talk by making some content available elsewhere.

Plan to demonstrate interaction almost immediately

It’s likely your learners have experienced webinars that were “listen and watch” experiences, and they’ll likely bring the presupposition to your class that “this is one of those.” Get to “do and share” quickly.

Help the facilitator find their inner Elvis

By analogy, music that is written down never captures every nuance of the live experience. The conductor or musician brings something to the table. So do trainers and facilitators. Give ’em direction, but give ’em a little space to bring themselves, too.


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